A group of Jews endeavors towards total domination of the blogosphere.

Friday, May 28, 2004  

I spent my 38th birthday reading Jewish books. As a Torah Jew, birthdays have no meaning to me as they are not celebrated in our tradition. The only birthdays I observe are those of women I date.
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg: B (for women and children) D (for men)
The Ladies Auxillary by Tova Mirvis: B (for women) D (for men)
Shiksa : The Gentile Woman in the Jewish World by Christine Benvenuto: C+
Consolation: The Spiritual Journey Beyond Grief by Rabbi Maurice Lamm: B+
I'm like the little boy rescued by Kevin Costner in my favorite film - A Perfect World.

posted by LukeFord | 6:10 PM |

Liaura Zacharie's goal is to have Israel emulate Singapore. That should have the Human Rights Watch up in arms. But no, it's just the latest way to solve a singles crisis. Good idea?

posted by Rivka | 1:46 PM |

Hello Protocols people. My name is Rivka Bukowsky, I am almost 21 years old, and I've worked as an intern at The Jewish Week for about three years. Sometimes I write articles.
We work pretty hard at the JW but when it comes to getting up-to-date news fast, the Internet obviously kicks our butt. I like blogs more than news sites because they save me time and they're more fun to read - especially blogs like this, that allow for multiple perspectives. Even somewhat nutty perspectives (hello Luke Ford.) And the instant feedback in the comments section allows for interactive journalism, which you can't get from a newspaper. So this will be a new experience for me.
My humble goal as a guest blogger will be to find interesting Jewish-related news/events and write about them. If I think of something intelligent to say on a current issue, I will. Words of warning: I can't access comments on my laptop at home (it's a Compaq; it often doesn't work) so response to them may be delayed until I can log on to a newsroom computer and blog on the down low.
Forget Shavuot; I'm excited about Memorial Day weekend. Chag sameach everyone.

posted by Rivka | 1:38 PM |

Rabbi Beryl Wein says Ultra-Orthodoxy isn't the problem. Village Idiots respond.
Which brand of religion do I think will win? That which creates the deepest bonds between its adherents and inspires in them the deepest devotion. If you feel more connected to people at shul A than any other shul, that is where you will belong.

posted by LukeFord | 1:16 PM |

Ouch! But then again, he's got a point, and it's not directed at me, so why am I saying ouch?

posted by Sam | 11:23 AM |

Tuesday, May 25, 2004  

I was going to wrap up my week here with something in honor of Shavuot -- something about whether blogging will ever produce a body of work that can stand the test of time, either intellectually or artistically, alongside the great texts of Jewish literature. (In the Humanistic tradition, we celebrate the holiday not as the day the Torah was handed down but as an appreciation of Jewish learning and teaching throughout history. Yes, yes, I know it's a shanda that we would "change" the meaning of the holiday. As if it wasn't a simple harvest festival before the rabbis added that religious stuff.) Will the work of the great sage LUKEFORD be passed down from generation to generation?

But as you could probably tell from my sparse postings in general, I can't seem to find much time for even the simplest posts, so instead I'll end with a random comment about Jews in science fiction. Or the lack of them. I mean, sci-fi movies and television have no shortage of religious characters, including a fair number of Christians who apparently kept their faith alive through the centuries. But have you ever seen a Jew on Star Trek? (please don't mention the Ferengi). Maybe there is something to all that handwringing over intermarriage. So anyway, I was delighted to see, while watching an unaired episode of Firefly, an Orthodox chap running a small space station visited by the crew. It was not a plot point, nor was there any stereotypical accents or character traits. Just a guy in a yarmulke and tzitzit. Thanks for thinking of us, Joss.

And thanks to Steven and the whole gang at Protocols. The friendly welcoming voices easily drowned out the obnoxious self-righteous ones. See you around.

posted by radosh | 6:40 PM |

Are we allowed to tell jokes on this site? In honor of Shuvuot:
Jesus and Satan were having an ongoing argument about who was better on his computer. They had been going at it for days, and frankly God was tired of hearing all the bickering. Finally fed up, God said, "THAT'S IT! I have had enough. I am going to set up a test that will run for two hours, and from those results, I will judge who does the better job."
So Satan and Jesus sat down at the keyboards and typed away. They moused. They faxed. They E-mailed. They E-mailed with attachments. They downloaded. They did spreadsheets. They wrote reports. They created labels and cards. They created charts and graphs. They did some genealogy reports. They did every job known to man. Jesus worked with heavenly efficiency and Satan was faster than hell.
Then, ten minutes before their time was up, lightning suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, rain poured, and, of course, the power went off. Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld. Jesus just sighed.
Finally the electricity came back on, and each of them restarted their computers. Satan started searching frantically, screaming "It's gone! It's all GONE! "I lost everything when the power went out!"
Meanwhile, Jesus quietly started printing out all of his files from the past two hours of work. Satan observed this and became irate. "Wait!" he screamed, "That's not fair! He cheated! How come he has all his work and I don't have any?" God just shrugged and said, "Jesus saves."

posted by LukeFord | 6:24 PM |

If you can, before Yom Tov begins, run out to your local newsstand, and pick up the current issue of the New Yorker. The article by Jeffrey Goldberg on The Settlers might be the best piece of writing that I have ever read on this subject. It's too long to write about now, but I hope to blog about it after Shavuos. Meanwhile, get the magazine and read the article.

posted by Uri | 4:24 PM |

Rabbi Gadol in Israel has ruled it is OK to tear toilet paper on Shabbos. What says Daniel Radosh about these pressing questions? How long will he stay silent?

posted by LukeFord | 1:45 PM |

Dr. Samuel C. Heilman on the death of Modern Orthodoxy. Nothing new here. Ho hum. Link thanks to

posted by LukeFord | 1:01 PM |

The New York Times ran this editorial yesterday, commenting on the controversy over whether or not John Kerry should receive communion, due to his stance on abortion. This line in particular hit home:

The lawmakers, including some who are firmly anti-abortion, raised questions that show how shaky the footing becomes when religious leaders start dabbling in politics. They asked, for instance, why there is no comparable controversy over Catholic politicians who support capital punishment and the war in Iraq, despite church teachings.

Sound familiar? It's remarkably similar to the debate over Orthodoxy and homosexuality: Why ostracize gays when we don't do the same to those who eat treif, violate Shabbos, etc.?
The answer, in both cases, should be obvious. The issue is not adherence to the teachings of the church or Halakha. It is social order. Feminism and the gay rights movement challenge the authority and hierarchy of religious society. A Jew who drives on Shabbos does not. Rather than deal with the challenges presented by these groups, the religious communities have chosen to circle the wagons and fight a culture war. It's not a winning battle, so lets see how the attitudes change in the coming years.

posted by Uri | 12:11 PM |

Jewish ethical Rorschach text: What do you think is worse, Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior saying this:
Rabbi Lior stated that "in the course of battle the IDF is allowed to hurt an ostensibly innocent civilian population." He also maintains that "there is no reason to feel guilty because of the morality of infidels."
Or Shinui Party Leader and Shinui leader Tommy Lapid saying this:
"On TV I saw an old woman rummaging through the ruins of her house looking for her medication, and it reminded me of my grandmother who was thrown out of her house during the Shoah (Holocaust)…. The destruction of homes must stop because it is inhuman, un-Jewish, and causes us great harm around the world. In the end we’ll be kicked out of the UN, we’ll be put on trial in The Hague [seat of the International Court of Justice], and no one will want to have anything to do with us."

posted by Silow-Carroll | 11:17 AM |

And here, courtesy of Bangitout, is a (semi-comprehensive) list of UWS shiurim tonite, which I post purely as a cultural exercise. Interestingly, Meir Soloveitchik seems to be slotted in to the late night spot at the JC, and in revenge, is giving a shiur with a title so meaningless and laden with buzzwords - "Creating Jewishness: Rabbinic Authenticity and Jewish Identity" - that it could be about anything (or nothing, more likely).
Also, there's something at OZ called "Mizva of Appoint Judges", clearly being given by Borat.
Note that the shiur entitled "Shavuos and the Greatness of Women (women only)" seems to be a mistake. Wouldn't you want men to hear this?
In all seriousness, some (well, one or two) look interesting. Pity I'll be sleeping (and in Lawrence).

posted by Sam | 9:55 AM |

Haaretz on Tikkun Leil Shavuoth. Ironically, (well, on a personal level) it's getting more and more popular with a wider variety of people, even as it gets less and less popular with me. e.g.:

"People feel a need to be involved with God, but with a small God who knows how to win basketball games with a 24-point advantage," says poet and writer Benjamin Shvili, who will be participating in a tikkun tonight at the poetry festival in Metula. "On the one hand, there is a spiritual thirst for something greater, and on the other, there is a desire not to commit oneself, not to become newly religious or to observe Shabbat. The people who come to the tikkun are people who want freedom, and the framework of the tikkun does not require commitment - you come for two hours, study and return to the place from which you came. You leave with only this evening, your storehouse grows and you add more things to it. That has advantages and disadvantages."

Gee, all I want to do is be up for Akdamus, and I find that increasingly harder to do on no sleep as I get longer in the tooth.

posted by Sam | 9:46 AM |

Making of a Godol: A Study of Episodes in the Lives of Great Torah Personalities. Author: Rabbi Nathan Kamenetzky. Price: $2000 each. "Rabbi Nathan Kamenetzky" is my pen name.

posted by LukeFord | 9:22 AM |

In the new issue of The New Yorker, I have a short piece about a literary agent who is seeking authors from the blog world. I don't normally need an excuse to promote my own work, but seeing as this is Protocols, there should at least be a Jewish angle.

Fortunately, there is. Not only is our protagonist a nice Jewish girl (well, nice by my debauched Humanistic standards), but the first book she sold is based on the humorous yet terrifying Web site Bar Mitzvah Disco.

Want to be included in the book? Go answer the question, If you could have planned a bar/bat mitzvah for yourself, what would your theme have been?

posted by radosh | 9:12 AM |

R' Schachter on the sheratzim in the water (via Simcha)

posted by Sam | 12:23 AM |

Monday, May 24, 2004  

Wearing my black kipa, I was walking through an African-American community Monday afternoon, seeking converts, passing out Torah tracts. Two black boys played on the sidewalk. I smiled at them as I strode on, absorbed in my Torah studies (Bee Season by Myla Goldberg). They kicked something my way. I walked on. They chased after me yelling. I removed my headphones. I couldn't understand what the boy was saying. Then, when I thought I understood what he was saying, I couldn't believe it. Finally, I believed my ears.
"Do you want to steal me?"
Has he had bad experiences with Orthodox Jews?
I said no. They ran off.
Kids love me.

posted by LukeFord | 8:32 PM |

The Los Angeles Times Swerves Off the High Road in its Israel Coverage.

posted by LukeFord | 7:06 PM |

Three years ago, I made a complete ass of myself and got thrown out of my beloved Orthodox shul, leaving many of its members feeling betrayed and angry.
Within a month, the shul will hold a yahrzeit lecture and brunch in honor of the late yeshiva bocher Ariel Avrech. Rabbi Dovid Orlovsky will speak. I love him. He's hilarious.
The shul rabbi says I can come. I don't think I can step inside the shul without breaking into tears. That's ok as long as I am not crying for myself. What if I tell myself I'm crying over Ariel and I'm really crying over me? I think I'll have to stay away. More on Ariel.

posted by LukeFord | 5:25 PM |

What type of repentant sinners do Jews love?
Repentance is much more demanding in Judaism than Christianity (in the Jewish way, you have to make reparations to those you've wronged before you can approach God). Therefore, Jews tend to kvell less about big sinners finding their way back than do Christians. We don't rejoice over murderers and rapists finding God as much as Christians do.
But certain types of sinners are embraced by Jews. Those sinners whose sin was hating Jews.
Tuesday afternoon, UCLA Hillel hosts "Wallid Shoebat, former PLO Terrorist whom was once a PLO Fatah Terrorist that backed out of his suicide mission at the last moment. Come hear the testimony of how he once only wanted to become a martyr. He now spends his time confronting the culture of hate, jihad, and martyrdom which he sees as the major source of conflict in the Middle East."
I'm listening now to Wallid on Dennis Prager's radio show.
I know Orthodox Jews like to hear the stories of sincere converts and baalei teshuvot, particularly former Reform rabbis. Jews like to hear from Christian clergy who used to hate Jews. Who else?
Anyone read that great I.B. Singer book, The Penitent?
The more we reward behaviors such as penitence, the more we will get of them. Still, we only have limited love to give. I like the New Testament parable of the prodigal son, and I must confess my sentiments lie more with the upright son who never strayed (though my life more resembles the prodigal).
I say unto you, go and sin no more.

posted by LukeFord | 2:14 PM |

Palestinian terrorists threaten to kill Madonna. See, they're not all bad.

posted by radosh | 12:20 PM |

Proving that writing stuff for shock value is not restricted to porn and pederasty:
So, unaccountably, I found myself thinking about reality TV. What's the attraction? Why has it utterly usurped the traditional spaces of the sitcom and drama? Is it the seductive possibilty that ordinary people like us could actually be fodder for mass consumption by others? Is it a sign of the final dumbing down of the American audience - so pronounced that we can no longer waste time on things like character development and plot? Is it the same fascination that makes us stare at train wrecks - the desire to witness people's lives uprooted and their weaknesses exposed? Is it the siren song of voyeurism?
All of these theories have been suggested over the past few years, and I find each of them compelling, to some extent.
But there is one idea that I haven't heard - an idea that sort of presented itself to me in light of the overwhelmingly visceral reaction of disgust to Luke Ford's posts:
A staple of these reality shows - whether the Apprentice, Survivor, or the Swan - is the idea of voting members off the show. In a sense, what's going on, is the polity (on a small scale) rearing its head and exercising its power to determine who should be counted among its members. We take citizenship for granted these days. Today, no one would ever dream of enacting a law that would allow for the revocation of community or national membership by popular vote. Such an idea would be anti-democratic, horrifying, an injustice toward the Others cast out and isolated by virtue of small numbers and unpopular opinions.
Remember, though, that Athens, the so-called "cradle of democracy" had a system of ostracism, where a member of the polity could be expelled from the city by popular vote - in fact, our word "ostracism" comes from the Greek "Ostraka" - the potsherds on which the disgraced former member's name was written to signify his banishment.
Of course, ancient Athens had slavery too, not to mention all sorts of other anti-modern concepts (hemlock, anyone? Oh wait, we do that too, we just call it potassium solution). Not exactly a shining paradigm of our contemporary values, right?
But the idea has some sort of attraction nonetheless. Who can't think of someone - anyone - they'd like to see kicked out of the country? Who isn't drawn to the idea of being able to restore sanity to discourse in today's multi-cultural society - where there can be no effective self-policing of a community, and where any idea, no matter how outlandish, masquerades as legitimate opinion. The complete devolution of the medieval idea of the kehilla is a case in point - back in the day, excommunication was the ultimate punishment - without a social network, which was often all-encompassing, people were lost, adrift in an unfriendly world without any means of support. Nowadays, if someone fights with his shul rabbi, he can go down the block to the local shtible. In modern secular times, in fact, the entire notion of a religious community as all-encompassing seems alien, incomprehensible. If you don't like religion, just be secular, and you have no problems.
Protocols, and other blogger communities, though, are somewhat anachronistic. They are societies where one's only net value is in his or her ability to post, to comment, to make one's voice heard. If you could restrict that voice, perhaps you could exercise a newfound (or oldfound, really) sense of control. Sure the offending member could go and start his own blog - but banished from this one, in its own self-contained universe - he'd be as good as dead. Of course, the idea of one person's whims dictating such courses of action are fascist, totalitarian and completely awful, right? But what about a vote? What about the restoration of direct democracy to ascertain the most basic of questions undergirding the foundation of a society - whom does that society consider to be its membership?
There's been a lot of anger directed toward Luke in the comments of his (and others' posts). There's been a lot of ridicule thrown the way of protocols due to his continued membership. We've lost long-standing members of our community, who've fled in disgust. Why should we let the voice of one man dictate our e-polity's future? I say, lets vote to see whether Luke gets to (over)stay on the island. I'll cast the first stone: Luke - You're fired!
Anyone second the motion?

posted by Sam | 11:52 AM |

Miriam writes about the large number of successful but single women in Orthodoxy: "...[M]any of our men don’t know how to relate to, or just plain don’t like the idea of, women who are more educated, more ambitious and more successful in their careers than ever before in history."
I hear this point all the time. As someone who has frequently dated women who are above him in social status, I think the issue lies elsewhere: Women, overwhelmingly, will not marry someone who is below her in social status. I don't blame them for this, as I don't blame men who do not want to woo women that do not attract them physically. This is just how God made us.
It's amusing how often men and women want to blame the opposite sex for their singlehood. In this Haaretz article, one woman claims that single women "are warned not to be too successful." Well, I hate to be harsh, but look at her picture.
I also find it interesting that in these discussions that it never seems to occur to women that they may be doing something wrong, such as pursuing career rather than marriage when they are at their most eligible (their 20s).
Professional and educational accomplishments don't make a woman attractive to a man. Frequently, the opposite. What a man most wants is a woman who cares to make herself look sexy for him and to make him the most important thing in her life, more important than work (from Dennis Prager). What women seek in a man is much more complicated, which is why women file for two-thirds of divorces.
The reason most single people who want to be married aren't married is because of their own bad choices. It's not primarily the fault of Jewish life or the larger culture.

posted by LukeFord | 11:08 AM |

Sunday, May 23, 2004  

First review is out on my new book, XXX-Communicated: A Rebel Without a Shul. Neither the review nor my book should be read by the religious or morally sensitive.

posted by LukeFord | 10:48 AM |

Apropos my last post (below), perhaps this is what the Orthodox Rabbis are scared of:

"The branch of American Judaism that pioneered elevating women to leadership positions is now wrestling with an uncomfortable issue: Where have the men gone?
"Reform Jewish leaders in many communities say females outnumber males in areas ranging from summer camp to synagogue leadership, prompting concern that men feel abandoned by the religious movement and are turning away from it....
"'Men just don't know where they fit in,'" said Doug Barden, executive director of the Reform movement's North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods. "They're kind of betwixt and between.'"
"Several rabbis said it is not unusual for synagogues to have nearly all women in the clergy and lay leadership.
"There's been what some people call a feminization of our movement," Rudin said. "We need to have a Reform movement for everybody."
Interestingly, the article points out that there's no gender imbalance in the Conservative Movement. Can anyone explain the difference?

(Cross-posted to Bloghead)

posted by Miriam | 7:57 AM |

Bracha Rutner has become America’s first female “Yoetzet Halacha,” or “Advisor on Jewish Law,” trained to answer women’s questions on the laws of family purity. She has been employed for almost a year now by the Riverdale Jewish Center – but the press has only just picked up the story.
Predictably, there is a big rush to deny that the appointment is in any way “revolutionary,” or a real change to women’s leadership roles in Orthodox circles.
“This is not a revolution. This is not about feminism. This is about Torah,” said Rabbi Rosenblatt, who hired Rutner. “She doesn’t have a rabbi’s portfolio.... This is an educational function — a community educator.”
Adds Samuel Heilman, professor of Jewish studies and sociology at the City University of New York and an expert on the Orthodox world: “This is an administrative thing, it’s not a rabbinic thing... I don’t know that it’s different than having a woman who is an assistant to the rabbi” and handles certain educational and administrative duties.”
Well, of course it’s different: Rutner is giving religious rulings, not doing bookkeeping. And as far as I’m concerned, a good thing too. There is no reason why if an Orthodox woman knows as much about halacha as a man, he should have the option of becoming a halachic authority, while she shouldn’t. Men should not have a monopoly on halacha, which concerns us all.
What the Rabbi (although probably not Heilman), of course, is trying to preempt, is the ‘slippery slope’ argument that by appointing a woman to give any sort of official halachic advice, women rabbis are just around the corner. Instead of denying the revolutionary nature of the appointment, he could perhaps explain that in Israel, where there are dozens of “Yoatzot Halacha,” or “Yoatzot Nidda” as they are called there, the practice has so far not resulted in women gaining any other religious roles.
But truth be told, it is only a matter of time – perhaps a long time, but a matter of time nonetheless. As women begin to get comfortable dispensing halachic opinions in one area, they will justifiably begin to wonder why they are not allowed to rule on others. As women begin to get comfortable asking other women for halachic advice in one area, they will naturally begin to ask if it is a cultural tradition, rather than law, stopping women giving rulings in other areas. Call them women rabbis, call them pseudo-rabbis, call them something else – they’re on their way. And like I said, a good thing too.

(Cross-posted to Bloghead)

posted by Miriam | 7:52 AM |

Met a chick recently with an interesting job. She works at a company that designs IQ tests. So, of course, I asked her the obvious question(s) – do applicants need to take an IQ test (or have a minimum IQ) to work there? Turns out, no. “We just need to be able to understand how the test works.”

Ok, now I’ll concede that this particular chick did seem intelligent, but she got me thinking about some of the problems that could arise from the egalitarian policy.

“Yes, Mrs. Jones. I’m afraid little Bobby has a very mediocre intellect. Technically speaking, he’s a dimwit.”

“But that’s impossible. My husband and I are both accomplished professionals.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. But the test doesn’t lie. Look for yourself.”

“Aright. Fine. Hmm…how is he supposed to know what 17 squared equals? He’s only eight. I bet you don’t even know the answer. What is 17 squared?”

“Well, it it’s not my place…”

“Not so tough without the answer sheet, are you, Bitch!?”

(violent struggle ensues)

posted by Deranged GOT Fan | 1:54 AM |

Because of the love and tolerance I feel here, I've chosen this blog to make a very important announcement about my personal life. I'm gay. I don't act on my homosexual impulses, however, because the Torah says not to. I am currently in reparative therapy to become straight, so I can marry and have children as the Torah intends. I need you to pray for me. Let's start a Protocols prayer circle. Put your special requests in comments.

posted by LukeFord | 1:45 AM |

What does Judaism have to say about racism? I can think of very little in the sacred texts that directly addresses this issue (beyond everyone is made in the image of G-d).
I got this thoughtful email: "Listen, I don’t have issues with most provocation, and I understand that you are trying for a parodic/absurd style. But while you might think your “schvartze” posts are exposing orthodox attitudes towards race, I find that most people are oblivious to the satire, and see them as blatant racism. Remember that protocols is a group endeavor, and we all stand to be tarred by the same brush as you do – I have plenty of non-Jewish hits to our site who have been appalled by some of your stuff. You are entitled to do what you want on your own blog, but please exercise at lease a modicum of restraint and judgment on ours."
PS. Daniel Radosh asked me to post a lot tonight. He said, "I'm out searching for G-d. Be back later."

posted by LukeFord | 1:31 AM |

What was the last novel you read about Orthodox life that was intellectually challenging? I can't think of any since Chaim Potok's.

I just finished "The Outside World" by Tova Mirvis (Knopf, $24). Sandee Brawarsky, of The Jewish Week, gives it a gushing review.

"The Outside World" is a quick, easy, shallow read. Nothing in it surprised or delighted me. It never once caused me to laugh.

I think girls might like it but there's nothing in here to please a man.

I'm thinking the problem here goes deeper than just another shallow novel about Orthodoxy.

What's really going on is that since Rabbi Hertz, Orthodoxy has ceased taking modern scholarship seriously, and the greater world. Orthodox rabbis don't struggle with Biblical criticism or historical scholarship that shows that the Exodus did not occur as portrayed in the Torah.

Orthodox Judaism is now lived without reference to the wider world (beyond making a living and adapting to trends and mores). It's insular. It doesn't struggle with questions that come from without. The only reason to interact with goyim is to make money from them.

The reason that the best spokesmen for Orthodoxy come from the diaspora is that diaspora Orthodoxy is less insular than Israeli Orthodoxy.

There's a reason we study the Babylonian Talmud today and the Jerusalem Talmud little. The Bavli was produced in the diaspora, in a more intellectually challenging environment.

I can't think of a character in novels about Orthodoxy since Chaim Potok who has struggled with reconciling his faith with the learning of the wider world.

Outside of its own boundaries, outside of political and social trends, Orthodox Judaism as lived today is largely intellectually dead. Just look at the trivial concerns of the Protocols until I came along.

Please provide me with example of where I am wrong.

The person who asks the best questions of Orthodoxy today is not Orthodox -- Dennis Prager.

PS. I only post here because of popular demand. I'd much rather spend my time with gemara.

posted by LukeFord | 12:59 AM |
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