Sunday, November 30, 2008

Videos of Chabad House in Mumbai


Every morning we read the passage of Akeidas Yitzchok in hopes of arousing Hashem’s mercy. None of us can truly comprehend what it must have felt like for Avraham Avinu. None except the parents of the kedoishim of Mumbai who gave up their lives for yiddishkeit.

May the memory and holiness of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Holtzberg protect us all. May they intercede for us in front of Hashem and ask Him to send Mashiach tzidkeinu speedily in our days. May their example and their actions echoing in this world and all the spiritual worlds every second give us strength to speed up the coming of geula, when the veil hiding Hashem’s Light will be lifted and all darkness will be banished forever.

This tragic event showed all Jewish nation how foolish and pointless discord and disunity are. We are one soul and one body. Let us unite together, and our oneness will reveal oneness of Hashem with the Universe. Let us together bring the day when He and His Name are One.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hillary Clinton on Mumbai murder

Give credit where credit is due.
My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families touched by these acts of terror in Mumbai. We still do not know the full measure of this tragedy, which has taken the lives of Indian citizens, Americans, and others who had traveled to Mumbai from around the world. Two New Yorkers, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg of Brooklyn are among those who have died, leaving behind their young son. The young couple had traveled from Brooklyn to manage a small Chabad House, welcoming Jews from India and elsewhere to learn, pray, and serve the community.

There could be no sharper a reminder, nor a more poignant call to action, than the brutal and heinous violence visited upon the Nariman House and the Holtzberg family, living and working in Mumbai on a mission of peace, scholarship, and spiritual guidance.

As those responsible are brought to justice, as we aid and support the victims and their families, as we work to defeat radical extremism and the terror it spawns, let us find strength in knowing that in the face of those who seek to take lives, there are those who seek to give hope and comfort. In the face of those who wish only to destroy, there are individuals like Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg who travel great distances far from their homes to build a better world.

Sounds nice. I have one question, however: what “action” is the Senator speaking about? The action that Bush started and that she and the other idiot opposed in their campaigns?

The price of pacifism

Hindus are pacifists. They don’t believe in harming other life forms, including chickens, cows or Islamic terrorists. PowerLine blog reports:
"I first saw the gunmen outside the station," Mr D'Souza said. "With their rucksacks and Western clothes they looked like backpackers, not terrorists, but they were very heavily armed and clearly knew how to use their rifles.

"Towards the station entrance, there are a number of bookshops and one of the bookstore owners was trying to close his shop," he recalled. "The gunmen opened fire and the shopkeeper fell down."

But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back." ...

As the gunmen fired at policemen taking cover across the street, Mr D'Souza realised a train was pulling into the station unaware of the horror within. "I couldn't believe it. We rushed to the platform and told everyone to head towards the back of the station. Those who were older and couldn't run, we told them to stay put."

The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D'Souza added: "I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point of having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera."


I wondered earlier today how a mere ten terrorists could bring a city of 19 million to a standstill. Here in the U.S., I don't think it would happen. I think we have armed security guards who know how to use their weapons, supplemented by an unknown number of private citizens who are armed and capable of returning fire. The Indian experience shows it is vitally important that this continue to be the case. This is a matter of culture as much as, or more than, a matter of laws.
More about Indians’ shlemazelkeit in “India’s Test”.

Pacifism, tendency to take it slow, phlegmatism and general mellow nature are OK, but not in times of crisis. If they want to stay ahead with their fights with Muslim animals, Indians need to wake up a little. Be non-aggressive towards cows and chickens. Please kill terrorists. And more quickly than in 12 hours. reports:
Israeli counterterrorism experts are critical of how Indian security forces handled last week's terror attacks in Mumbai, especially their raid on the local Chabad center, Nariman House.

While acknowledging that Israel has never experienced a coordinated attack of such scope, the Israelis said the Indians failed to contain the attacks and raided Nariman House too lackadaisically.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) David Tzur, a former commander of the police's counterterror unit Yamam, who now runs a security consulting firm, acknowledged that when terrorists attack more than seven sites simultaneously, “it's very hard to handle.” However, he said, this difficulty was compounded by the lack of prior intelligence, “which is the colossal failure in this story. This was an organization in which dozens of people were surely involved.”

“To the Indians' credit, they were determined and sought contact [with the enemy] all the time,” Tzur continued, adding that a terrorist takeover of a hotel is “the nightmare of every counterterrorism unit,” because it is hard to effectively “cleanse” so large a site.

However, he said, this excuse did not apply to the much smaller Nariman House. The 12-hour battle to liberate the building was “unreasonable,” he said, because “there's no chance in the world that captives will survive an incident that doesn't end within minutes of the break-in.”

The Indians, he added, apparently assumed the hostages had already been killed.

Col. (res.) Lior Lotan, formerly a senior officer in the army's elite Sayeret Matkal unit, said the Indians had operated as if there were no hostages.

“When you're rescuing captives, you enter fast, with maximum force, and try to reach the hostages as quickly as possible, even at the price of casualties,” he said. “Here, they operated much more cautiously.”

Television pictures from Nariman House also raised questions about the professionalism of the Indian forces. For instance, it is not clear why the area was not cleared of bystanders, or why the comparatively risky option of a helicopter-borne assault was chosen.

Moreover, the explosion that blew in the ground-floor door occurred before soldiers landed on the rooftop, whereas for maximum effect, they should have occurred simultaneously, the Israelis said.

CNN: What is Chabad House?

Correction: Chabad shluchim are not missionaries. Missionaries convert someone from one state to another. Chabad shluchim make a Jew aware of who he or she already is and teach him how to reveal that.

Chabad Leaders’ response

A full video of press-conference.

What we are fighting for

Both spiritually and physically, we are fighting for and are protecting this (full album).

Don’t forget — we are at war

As Jews, we cannot be angry. “Someone who is angry is like an idolater”, Talmud tells us. We know that everything is controlled by Hashem, and even though we cannot explain everything, we trust Him to control all events. Something evil is but a concealment of His Light.

But we live in a physical reality, and it is our job to shape it and do our best to make things better. Usually this is done with rationality and positive emotions. But sometimes negative emotions — like anger — are necessary to help us in our fight.

On Shabbos, I was talking to my rabbi. He said: “What can you do when eight men with AK-47’s run into your house? We can’t ask, ‘What can we do?’ on the physical level when things are already happening. We need to prevent these things from happening.”

On the spiritual level, we need to recognize that the source of all evil in the world is Concealment of Hashem’s Face. We are in control of how much Divine Light is visible in this world — we increase its flow with our mitzvos, with our unconditional love to fellow Jews, with our oneness. This is our priority in this world, this is what we must focus on in our lives. But we should not be like a Jew (in a joke) who was waiting for G-d to save him from a flood and ignored a boat, a helicopter, etc. (which he should have recognized as physical manifestations of G-d’s help). When we have opportunity to protect ourselves, we need to take it.

On the physical level, we need to recognize that we are in a war. A war, with Western Civilization built on innovation in morality that Judaism brought into the world on one side and a civilization that worships death on the other. The way you can help in everyday life is to support our side in this war. Don’t ignore protests against war on terror — argue with them. Don’t silently agree with liberals who support negotiations with terrorist states. Don’t agree that prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have rights granted by Geneva Convention. No convention ever protected dedicated murderers of innocent people. Terrorists don’t have rights. Animals don’t have rights.

Don’t forget the kedoishim of Mumbai who gave their lives for spreading yiddishkeit and bringing closer Mashiach. Don’t forget a boy, who turned two years old today, after turning an orphan the day before. Don’t forget the rebbetzin, who helped many women physically and spiritually, who was murdered on the night of the raid, whose body was covered by talles of her husband. Don’t forget the rabbi, who was a teacher, a mohel, a shoichet and a friend to many Jews who came through India. Don’t forget all the other Jews who were murdered on that day: Rabbi Bentzion, a mashgiach who went to Chabad House to daven, Rabbi Teitelbaum, son of Volover Rebbe and son-in-law of Toldos Avroham Yitzchok Rebbe, and Israeli tourists (both in Chabad House and hotels).

Keep them in your memory. Keep these pictures in your memory.
It appears that Rebbitzin Rivka HY”D was killed the first night of the attack based on the state of her body when it was recovered on erev Shabbos, referring to rigor mortis. The body was covered with a tallis when rescuers arrived, which we presume was done by the rav, whose body was found on a different floor. Rav Gavriel Noach HY”D appears to have been murdered shortly before the event ended. ZAKA volunteers reported his body was still warm when they received it from local officials on erev Shabbos.

• The body of Rabbi Leibish Teitlebaum HY”D was found in the library slumped over a open Gemara Brochos.

• The bodies of two females HY”D were found with telephone cord wrapped around them.

• The body of R’ Bentzion Chroman HY”D was brought by local authorities to ZAKA at the entrance to the Chabad House. All they know is that he was murdered on the 5th floor.

• Terrorists placed booby traps and hand grenades in the hands of the victims, making their identification and evacuation significantly more dangerous and complicated.

• A local physician who knew the Holtzbergs assisted in identifying their bodies. He appears to be working with ZAKA as they try to prevent autopsies.

• ZAKA head Yehuda Meshi-Zahav remains in constant touch with Maran HaRav Elyashiv Shlita as he did erev Shabbos pertaining to the many questions, which included how and when to notify the Toldos Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe Shlita.

• Shabbos was the second birthday of Moishele Holtzberg, who no longer has parents to celebrate the day with him. May HaKadosh Baruch Hu give him the strength he will require during this difficult period, along with his grandparents, the entire family and the extended family of Chabad shlichim worldwide.

• According to a Kol Chai Radio report on Motzei Shabbos, the entire five-story building that housed the Chabad House was trashed. “There was not a room that was not destroyed. Every book in the library was ransacked and items thrown around. The entire building was destroyed. The only thing that remained untouched was a picture in a glass frame of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L on a wall in the library.”

• Shimon Grossman, a member of the ZAKA team in Mumbai and a relative of Rivka Holtzman reports dealing with the removal of the bodies is extremely difficult due to the fact the building and bodies are booby trapped. He also reports authorities are insisting on performing autopsies but they continue efforts to prevent them. [Indian authorities agreed not to do autopsies, according to an updated news report.]

Don’t forget.

As Jews, we should respect all life, in all of its expressions. But we cannot respect death. A terrorist is already dead, whatever his biological state. A person who believes in a religion of death is already dead. Someone who supports them supports death and does not deserve life. When a supporter of death also dies, it is a collateral damage we cannot be sorry for (and don’t say that the victims of terror are collateral damage too — they are the targets of those acts, not just “bystanders”).

We have no respect, no mercy, no pity for death. On the spiritual level, we need to bring light into it and turn it into life. On the physical level, we have to destroy it, support those who are destroying it at the moment and fights against those who oppose this destruction.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Coverage of Mumbai terrorist attacks — Western media in all its glory

Oh, I am sorry, not “terrorist”. Militant. Freedom-fighter.

From PowerLine blog:

The New York Daily News profiles the American/Israeli rabbi and wife whose fate at the Chabad House in Mumbai was left hanging overnight. CNN reports that the bodies of five hostages have been found at the Chabad House. CNN describes the perpetrators as "militants." This morning FOX News was holding out the possibility that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks are Hindu extremists. The willful blindness involved in the reportage is as striking as the news is tragic.

JOHN adds: Hindu "mujahadeen"? That would be a first.

UPDATE: Barry Shaw writes from Israel:

As the Indian terror event reaches it tragic end with reports of the killing of all the Jewish hostages in the Chabad House (Nariman House) there are important points that must be made. The marathon terror campaign was horrible and deadly. Despite in-depth coverage, its presentation in the Western world raises serious questions.

From the start British and American coverage concentrated on the hotels with stress of the targeting of British and Americans. The Jewish target was ignored until day two and day three. The two luxury hotels were selected by the terrorists because they are occupied by tourists. People who escaped from the hotels claimed that the terrorists asked for British and Americans. However, they were selected because they were foreigners.

Nariman House was selected by the terrorists because the Chabad building was a specific Jewish target that also included Israelis. Let me make this clear. Chabad House was the only target chosen by the terrorists in Mumbai because of its specific character - Jewish and Israeli. Hostages in Chabad House were killed because they were Jewish and Israeli.

Yet this terror venue was largely ignored by most of the Western media until the final day. We, in Israel, were able to follow events there because of the involvement of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli media. Information from these and other sources was essential for me to relay reports to many people in Britain and the States who were unaware that Jews or Israelis were deliberate terror targets in Mumbai. When revealed, the final story of Chabad House will be tragic yet not properly covered by the world's media.

Shaw's message explicitly makes the points I left implicit in this post.

Sorry for the double-quote. Couldn’t help but include the whole post.

Am I surprised? Not at all.

See also this about a suspected gunman, holding a gun in his hands.

Chabad House in Mumbai

In pictures, from

Boruch Dayan HaEmes


When you feel sorrow, or when you feel anger, remember, there is nothing but Him. All the events in the Universe happen through His Will. The shluchim in India — and everywhere in the world — made it their goal to spread this message throughout the world, as Avram Avinu once was doing, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe made it his goal to do. Today is Rosh Choidesh Kislev, a Yom Tov for Chabad Chassidim celebrating in farbrengens last night throughout the world their connection — physical and spiritual — to their Rebbe, to our Rebbe, to the one responsible for establishing our connection with Hashem and geula in this generation.

No body can survive without a head. If a muscle cell is not connected to the brain through nervous system, it dies.

As one commenter on VozIzNeias said, “Everyone talks about the mesirus nefesh of Lubavitchers, to go out so far, etc. ‘How do they do it?’ Think about the answer. How really do they do it? There’s obviously something driving them… You might come to new conclusions. Particularly about the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the learning of Chassidus.”

If you want to help, do so. Do so in practice by doing a mitzva, by learning Torah lishmah, by learning the Essence of Torah, Chabad Chassidus, and practicing its message in your life, allowing the Rebbe’s teachings transform you and lead you to the deepest aspect of who you are, who the world, Torah and Hashem are — b’gilui (in revelation). This will cure the essence of the problem that the world today is experiencing. Do it in honor of the Jews throughout centuries that performed acts of mesirus nefesh. Do it to help the Jews alive today. They need your help.

Also, say tehillim for a two-year-old boy who has experienced what nobody of any age, a Jew or not, should ever experience in his life.

From VosIzNeias:

Mumbai — Outrage. Anger. Pain. Tears.

No words.

What can we even say?

How can we fathom a two-year-old who won’t see Ima again ad ki yavo Shilo?

How can we comprehend two ehrliche mashgichim catching a simple maariv on business who will never come home?

And how can we even begin to understand the loss of the kedoshim, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, who lost their own lives after a holy career of giving of their own lives? And before 30?

Ribbono shel Olam…

Today, we are all Toldos Avrahom Yitzchok Chasidim. Today, we are all Israeli. Today, we are all Chabad. No distinctions. Just Jews.

Perhaps an even bigger tragedy is that it took this tragedy to bring us together.

We might not know what to say. But now we know what to do. Stick together.

Because there was a little house, in a corner of the world most of us never heard of, where Ahavas Yisroel lived.

Now, that Ahavas Yisroel lives on. In our houses. In our hearts. It must. The victims would have it no other way.

It’s the only solution to end golus and to bring geula. We’ve known it for centuries. It was baseless hatred that drove us apart and away from Eretz Yisroel, from the Beis HaMikdosh, and it will be baseless love that will bring us back. Unity — of all Jews with each other, of Jews and Torah, of G-d and this world — will bring redemption, is redemption.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Please commit to saying tehillim for the shluchim

The situation is still unclear. Both the shliach and his wife are reported alive but unconscious. If you want to participate in saying the book of Tehillim, e-mail to commit to a kapitel or more.

Tehillim with English translation can be found here (modern translation here).

Many people report amazing unity amongst Klal Yisroel in response to the troubling events. May it be that we are united even when things are good — although things are never good until we are in exile. So, we must unite for the exile to end and that geula — which will cure all the physical symptoms of golus that we see around ourselves — arrives soon.

Whatever US did, we will do too

... according to Indian Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Following terrorist attack, that is.

One of the things he mentioned (besides usual stuff like training, military response, planning, etc.) was “media education”. Halevai (one could wish) that happened in the US.

The media were just interviewing a Chinese guy, who kept saying “all is OK” but then admitted that he was scared. It’s not clear if he was just confused, if he was worried for his family or other people inside who would be harmed had he reported things not to be OK, or if he was just having a Chinese reflex: say everything is OK when in front of a camera.

Indian spokesperson talking to the British High Commissioner was concerned about the cricket team. The British guy was being British, spoke with British accent, talked about English citizens and gave some vague comments about cooperation between India and Britain. “We have some peop-pelle coming from Lon-ndon on Mon-nday. [...] We think these are appalling, completely unjustifiable attacks.” As opposed to other, justifiable terrorist attacks. He also mentioned that in his opinion travelling to Mumbai today is not the best idea.

The Israeli “girl” who escaped with a woman (a maid) was actually one of the shliach’s boys, who is well, B"H. The parents’ and another boy’s situation is still unknown.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Say tehillim for Jews of Mumbai

Chabad House seized by terrorist with Jews inside”. More information here, including reports of people killed inside Chabad House, r”l. (Update: possibly, a terrorist.)

Five Israeli families are held hostage. Chabad shliach and his family have been impossible to contact so far.

Please say tehillim for Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma, his wife Rivka bas Yehudis and their son Moshe Tzvi ben Rivka — and anyone else who may be in danger or suffering.

Watch news from CNN live.

(Somebody just asked TV channels to exercise caution and respect the fact that it is sensitive situation and it is difficult to conduct an operation with all the details being constantly revealed. What a surprise.)

Update (12:04 am): three hostages managed to escape, two of them Israelis, one — an Indian cook who worked in the building. One of the Israelis (seemingly) was a woman with a girl who was crying and was taken away by an ambulance. Five or six terrorists are in control of the building.

Yeshiva World News reports: “According to Chabad spokesman Rav Menachem Brod, Rivka Holtzberg and her daughter were seen running from the Mumbai Chabad House. He warns this is not confirmed but we remain hopeful at this time. Rav Brod states that despite the reports circulating on the Internet, the Chabad network has not received any such notification from any official sources.”

Banning short-selling is bad

Why? Here’s the answer.
Banning short-selling delays price adjustment to the correct value. [...]

If a certain stock (or other asset) is overvalued, yet the people who realize this have already gotten out of the stock, then the way for them to correct this overvaluation is to sell the stock short. That way, these informed investors can bring the price closer to its fair value. But if short-selling is banned, this kind of adjustment can’t take place.

Another aspect of this is that people who for some reason believe a certain stock is too cheap can use their money or even borrowed money to buy stocks they think are too cheap. Yet people who come to the conclusion that a certain stock is overvalued can’t do anything about it unless they already owned the stock in the absence of short-selling.

A slippery slope of dressing like women. Importance of a beard
(this guy skipped a few steps)

This is what happens. First, men start trimming their beards (bad idea according to Kabbala). Then they start shaving (halachically forbidden according to Tzemach Tzedek). And the next thing you know — they are wearing bras. OK, not exactly, but according to Judaism, shaving is considered to be an activity that leads to men imitating female look, which is forbidden to Jews (as is practice of women imitating masculine look).

Many people believe that just because it says in Shulchan Aruch and Rambam that it is OK to trimm one’s beard, these sources allow use of electric shavers that “trim” all the way to no beard (as opposed to obviously forbidden shaving with a razor). That’s not true. Shulchan Aruch and Rambam talk about halachically allowed (although still kabbalistically forbidden) trimming of beard to maintain a symmetric shape. According to Tzemach Tzedek (whose psak din relates not only to Chabad Chassidim but arguably to all Jews of Russian heritage), trimming all the way down to no beard is immitating a female look, which is not allowed.

In general, having a beard is considered in Judaism a sign of fear of heaven (a Russian shochet who moved to Germany and started shaving should not be bought meat from). In Chassidus, it is considered important to have an untrimmed beard. Listen to Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur explaining the reasons.

* * *

Coming back to the topic of male bras. Those Japanese… what would we do without them? They are the only ones with common sense not only in cars, but, as it turns out, in clothes too.

“Executive director of Wishroom, Akiko Okunomiya, hopes the [men bras] will help men understand women better.” Umm… Yes. This makes sense. I think… Get even more in touch with our feminine side to understand women. And women should get more in touch with their masculine side to understand men. (Women playing Unreal Tournament and paintball, drinking beer and watching soccer? Sounds good to me.)

Regarding this new phenomenon in men’s attire. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is probably assur.

I wonder, however, how long it will take for some MO rabbis to declare that it’s OK, since in our culture, an image of a man in a bra is not shocking (after all, Seinfeld already introduced the concept) — especially, if it contributes to a man’s feeling of self-worth. Just like women feel inadequate by not being given opportunity to wear talles… well, you get the idea. (Lehavdil.)

* * *

Returning to the topic of beards, a joke.
A modern, cleanely-shaven Jew is approached by a traditional-looking Jew with a full beard. The latter says to the former:
— When you go up to Heaven, they will ask you: “Jew, where is your beard?”
The first Jew answers:
— And when you go to Heaven, they will ask: “Beard, where is your Jew?”

Obama is thinking about offering Lewinsky a position

... in his administration, that is.

At the same time he is thinking of offering Hillary a position too. If the above news is true, I wonder what it is: twisted sense of humor (having both working for him at the same time), a way to stick it to Hillary (or just provide a hint not to get ahead of herself too much) or just to follow stupidly the whole process of rehiring as much of Clinton’s administration as possible to the end. Whether it’s the second or the third, it says a lot about the new President.

The Clintons themselves have not commented on the possibility of a Lewinsky appointment though people close to her have said that Sen. Clinton was shocked and appalled by the idea. “It’s a non-starter for her,” said Philippe Raines, a longtime aide to Sen. Clinton. “She doesn't want to run into Monica in the West Wing ladies’ room,” he added. [No kidding.]


Since the scandal, in addition to her status as a pop culture icon of sorts, Lewinsky has had a brief career as a handbag designer and then attended the London School of Economics where she received a master's degree in Social Psychology. Her thesis was titled "In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the Third Person Effect and Pre-Trial Publicity."

No decision has been reached as to exactly what sort of job Lewinsky might be offered. "With her background, I could imagine her doing something on either the jurisprudence side at the Department of Justice or on the handbag side, at either the Department of Commerce or the Department of Agriculture," said Deborah Kaye, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the Executive Branch.

Monica Lewinsky was not available for comment. Through her attorney, William Ginsburg, she released a statement, which read, in part, “I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve my country again at this crucial juncture in our history.”
Well, being a President of the US is a stressful job — I am sure there will be a demand for Ms. Lewinsky’s service at this crucial juncture.

Is this man going to have anything original in his term? Perhaps he exhausted all potential for originality by the fact that he is the first Black President.

I guess history teaches political leaders nothing. Had Bill Clinton known the story of Emperor Xuanzong, perhaps he could’ve avoided a lot of trouble for himself.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two worlds in modern Judaism: reinvention vs. tradition

(how some people see Judaism)

Interesting post on Circus Tent blog regarding two worlds of Orthodox Judaism: one consisting of Jews following an unbroken chain of tradition of how to look at Judaism, and the other, not having that mesora, discovering Judaism de novo.
Today in the US we have a whole range of people under 60, American born, whose knowledge of Judaism is based exclusively on books, and those books are the Shulchan Aruch and Gemora. Most of these people had parents whom I am sure were fine people but left behind the emotional attachment to echte Yiddishkayt in Europe. Here they belonged to Young Israel synagogues and became very acculturated and lost that special hergesh. In America, Judaism was reduced to learning and doing Mitzvos by rote. These people include most MO Jews, the so called Yeshiva community, and even some “Amerikane Chasidim”.

On the other side we have people whose view of Judaism was shaped by seeing how their parents acted, felt, laughed, cried, talked and walked. These people tended to have a genuine Mesorah. They saw Judaism as more than just book learning, and the book learning included Midrash, Chassidus, Sifrei Mussar vechulu. This people tend to be Chassidic and a few Misnagdim who come from European homes. And in the background of all of this loomed the Holocaust, not Coney Island! To the first category Rabbonim are “machinove”, automated people who act in a mathematical way, and have no emotions.
The second category knows that Judaism is more than the dry letter of the law.
Of course, a third category exists: ba’alei teshuva, people whose parents were not religious at all and who “returned” to Judaism. For those people it is a matter of choice which Judaism they are returning to: the one routed in unbroken chain of tradition going back to Mt. Sinai or the one that treats Judaism as a combination of creative writing project and a lab manual.

And I cannot help myself but to bang on the kettle again — within the group that sees the spirit of the law in the letter, two approaches exist: 1) look at Judaism as a path, as a tradition, as a community-preserving/shaping force, 2) look at Judaism as a way of connecting to G-d.

What's in your telephone
(do we care about the phone because it connects us, or because we like it as a gadget?)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Modern Orthodoxy — a religion of compromise. Difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chabad


To the right is Gan Eiden, to the left is Gehinnom, and they walk in the middle, afraid to step into either one.

Modern Orthodox Teshuvos”, a lecture by Rabbi Adam Mintz (courtesy of the Hirhurim blog) about perpetual balancing act in Halacha that defines Modern Orthodox movement.
I know how to build a Modern Orthodox shull. I know how a Conservative shull looks like. In a Conservative shull, there is no mechitza — so, I will have mechitza in Modern Orthodox shull. In a Conservative shull they use microphone on Shabbos — so, I will not use microphone on Shabbos. A Hareidi shull has mechitza to the ceiling. I know how to build a Modern Orthodox shull. It will have a four-foot-mechitza. That’s easy, because the extremes are very clear. When it comes to Halacha, Modern Orthodox have no room to maneuver. [...]

He said: “Modern Orthodox have ceded halachic thinking on the one side to the Hareidim, on the other — to the Conservative.”

Now, with all due respect, I don’t agree (for what it’s worth) with Rabbi Mintz regarding what he said at the end of the lecture: that the idea of a rabbi paskening according to specific needs, situation and circumstances of his specific congregation is unique to Modern Orthodox Judaism. I think this certainly exists in all areas of Judaism, although an idea of a rabbi who is not a rav making a psak din (if I understood correctly what Rabbi Mintz was saying) may indeed be shocking to the rest of Orthodox world. What distinguishes Modern Orthodox specifically is the goal MO rabbis have when making halachic decisions (or not making them, as the case may be): to address social issues (such as women singing and getting an aliyah) that is so dear and near to the agenda of Conservative rabbis — with the difference being that MO rabbis do it within the framework of Halacha.

They are perpetually interested in obtaining heterim for minimizing any conflict they may have with the outside world, increasing their ease of life in this world (this, of course, is veiled in such arguments as feeling of self-worth by women — as opposed to the Conservative argument about morality). Hareidi Jews, on the other hand, are interested in paskening in such a way as to guard Judaism from any potential outside influence, as much as possible, and to preserve their “inward” and isolated style of life, to separate themselves from the world (as a result, while Modern Orthodox rabbis are constantly looking for new sources of heterim, Hareidi rabbis’ favorite activity is banning things and issuing chumras).

Chabad differs from both approaches.

When Alter Rebbe was in Russian prison, he refused to eat non-kosher food. One of the officers who was on duty and knew a little bit about Judaism reminded Alter Rebbe that if he died from starvation, this would be the same as suicide — Alter Rebbe may lose his share in the Gan Eiden. Alter Rebbe answered: “I don’t want physical world, I don’t want spiritual world. I don’t want lower Gan Eiden, I don’t want upper Gan Eiden. All I want is Him — His Essence alone.” This is the focus of Chabad Chassidus: not on this world, not on that world, not on preserving community, not on balance between Halacha and modern social agendas — but on G-d alone.

This, indeed, affects how Chabad (and Chassidus in general) paskens Halacha. Although generally it tends to more stringent opinions, Chabad too may find loopholes in Halacha to obtain a heter (e.g., not to sleep in sukkah, not to eat sholosh seudos meal, to be less strict with zmanim of davening, to eat before davening Shachris) — but the reason it looks for these loopholes is starkly different from the reason MO rabbis look for heterim. The latter are interested in this world. Chabad is interested in drawing closer to G-d and therefore paskens according to the anatomy of G-d’s relationship with the world, Kabbalah. More about this in Rabbi Paltiel’s audio-shiur, “How Kabbala Fits into Avoida”.

Lawsuit against Apple

Who-hoo! A man sued Apple for having too many dropped calls on his iPhone. Apparently, when an iPhone user tries using a normal phone, the first reaction is surprise at how easy it is to speak without dropped calls, how easy it is to dial and use the phone, how easy it is to hold it. But then the addiction to shininess of the Apple abomination kicks back and the person has an urge to go and be intimate with his cute toy. The first comment to the second article expressed my thoughts almost exactly (I have additional reasons for hating Apple):
It seems like everyone who owns an iPhone knows that it sucks in so many of the most basic areas of mobile phone operation (especially for a supposed smartphone), and yet they just love that interface and all its “bells and whistles” so much they'll put up with anything! And same thing with the ubiquitous iPod; it’s mediocre in the most basic areas (sound quality, battery life, etc.) Plus the DRM-heavy iTunes all but guarantees that once someone buys on iTunes, they’re stuck with iPods and iTunes for good. Apple deserves kudos for its expertise in user interfaces, but even more than that it deserves the consumer backlash that will inevitably come if it keeps screwing customers like this. That’s why I’m sticking with Windows PCs, “other” MP3 players, and real phones. You keep your “sexy” Apple junk, just know that I pity you.
Someone I know didn’t know much about Apple and iPhones. She is a traditional PC (and normal cell phone) user. Then, her nephew in Israel asked her to buy him an iPhone and bring over when she goes there (iy”H). Last night, she went to an Apple store in a local mall and found out about the whole fascist Apple-AT&T love union. While before she thought my obsessive hatred of Apple was a bit strange, now she thinks that an American buying Apple is like a Jew buying a German car.

By the way, one of the reasons Windows is so glitchy is that Microsoft was forced by its rivals to spend almost a decade in anti-trust law suits. As a result, much of the company’s creative energy (especially that of its leaders who brought us Windows) was not spent on developing and improving the OS but on legal bullshit. The same thing happened with every company victimized by fascist anti-trust attacks. Either it was ruined by them (even when it won) or it suffered major losses affecting the quality of its product. At the same time, it is due to Microsoft that computers and OS are so affordable to everyday people. If it was up to Apple alone, there would be as many people using personal computers as there are people driving Rolls Royces. A personal computer would be a shiny item of luxury.

This is why I am so glad that Apple is finally being sued. Next step: suing the Apple–AT&T axis of evil as monopoly. Let the bastards taste some of their medicine.

Piano in the woods

A police officer examines an oddly placed piano in the woods of Harwich, Massachusetts.

Discovered by a woman who was walking a trail, the Baldwin Acrosonic piano, model number 987, is intact — and, apparently, in tune.

Sgt. Adam Hutton of the Harwich Police Department said information has been broadcast to all the other police departments in the Cape Cod area in hopes of drumming up a clue, however minor it may be.

But so far, the investigation is flat.

Also of note: Near the mystery piano — serial number 733746 — was a bench, positioned as though someone was about to play.

The piano was at the end of a dirt road, near a walking path to a footbridge in the middle of conservation land near the Cape.

It took a handful of police to move the piano into a vehicle to transport it to storage, so it would appear that putting it into the woods took more than one person.

Thanks to NL for the link.

This reminded me of a story (перевод) by Andrszei Sapkowski (no translation in English; the story is called “Golden Afternoon” — it’s a version of “Alice in the Wonderland”).

A number of questions come to mind. Why are police investigating this? Why did they move it? What if someone comes claiming it — should they pay for the police’s costs of moving it? Will they be charged with literring? If you find a piano in the woods, what should you do according to Halacha? Why did the news give away the serial number (a potential major identifying mark for anyone trying to redeem the piano)? Well, the last question is rather rhetorical — would you expect the news to bypass a potential opportunity to do a little harm?

A commentary in NL’s blog suggests the piano may have been left by this guy:
[A] man, also known as “Mr X”, was discovered wandering aimlessly along a beachfront road on April 7. He was smartly dressed in a dark suit and tie, but was soaked to the skin. The police officers who found him and took him to the Medway Maritime Hospital decided that he might even have been in the sea.

He has not spoken a word since. When he was given a piece of paper to communicate with, he drew an intricate picture of a grand piano and a Swedish flag. No Swedish connection has been found, but he was immediately taken to the hospital piano, where he played for four hours non-stop.

Why would you call an unidentified man “Mr X”? American “John Doe” is at least a little more imaginative.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rabbi Gottlieb: “What makes us what we are?”

Check out Rabbi Gottlieb’s book on the reasons we know that Judaism is true. His collection of audio shiurim is also very good. A brilliant example of common sense in modern Judaism. Can’t say I agree with everything, but it is always very enjoyable and in the vast majority of cases very illuminating.

Roderick Long on morality

Sound recording of the lecture.

From “Foundation of Libertarian Ethics” by Frederick Long (the lectures after this one focus more on morality and are worth watching/listening; the preceding lectures would be difficult to follow and are not too relevant).

Now, I don’t agree with much or most of what is said — but I think it’s important to hear an argument well presented in order to understand why one is against it. Not that this is the case regarding all of the lecture, but near the end, an interesting explanation why utilitarian approach to morality (so-called “relative morality”) is wrong from praxiological point of view (from the axiomatic system of human behavior).

Overall, I don’t find morality argument (one cannot create a system of morality that makes sense on the individual level without absolute source of morality — namely, G-d) a very convincing proof of G-d. Even if it is true that no absolute morality exists without G-d, so what? It only means that we live in a world where it cannot make sense on a personal to necessarily treat people nicely (and then, the society dissolves, or we get anarchy which works out for the best, or we get society spontaneously reversing into most of its people living with a religious belief in the existence of absolute morality). This is just like the question about life after death of purpose of life — without G-d, these is none. So? Yes, it sucks, but that alone is not a proof of anything.

Conversely, if we really can construct a system of absolute morality without G-d (which I still have very serious doubts about) — again, so what? Even if morality, laws of universe, complexity, human mind, etc., etc. can exist without G-d — so what? They can be conceived to exist without G-d (if you ignore other facts); it doesn’t mean they do. Jews don’t believe in a “G-d of gaps” anyway — we have a positive reason to know about G-d’s existence, not “otherwise, things don’t make sense”.

So, I am not afraid of people proving that Universe can function without G-d, that species could originate without G-d, that morality can be defined without G-d. After all, G-d creates the world (oilam in Hebrew) in a way of concealment (chelem). I know that our tradition of revelation at Mt. Sinai cannot be explained without G-d — the alternative is too improbable.

Labor unions, auto industry, Rubashkins and WalMart

Interesting reading.

Ken Pool is making good money. On weekdays, he shows up at 7 a.m. at Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, signs in, and then starts working — on a crossword puzzle. Pool hates the monotony, but the pay is good: more than $31 an hour, plus benefits.

“We just go in and play crossword puzzles, watch videos that someone brings in or read the newspaper,” he says. “Otherwise, I've just sat.”

Pool is one of more than 12,000 American autoworkers who, instead of installing windshields or bending sheet metal, spend their days counting the hours in a jobs bank set up by Detroit automakers and Delphi Corp. as part of an extraordinary job security agreement with the United Auto Workers union.

The jobs bank programs were the price the industry paid in the 1980s to win UAW support for controversial efforts to boost productivity through increased automation and more flexible manufacturing.


The jobs bank was established during 1984 labor contract talks between the UAW and the Big Three. The union, still reeling from the loss of 500,000 jobs during the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s, was determined to protect those who were left. Detroit automakers were eager to win union support to boost productivity through increased automation and more production flexibility.

The result was a plan to guarantee pay and benefits for union members whose jobs fell victim to technological progress or plant restructurings. In most cases, workers end up in the jobs bank only after they have exhausted their government unemployment benefits, which are also supplemented by the companies through a related program. In some cases, workers go directly into the program and the benefits can last until they are eligible to retire or return to the factory floor.

By making it so expensive to keep paying idled workers, the UAW thought Detroit automakers would avoid layoffs. By discouraging layoffs, the union thought it could prevent outsourcing.

That strategy has worked but at the expense of the domestic auto industry's long-term viability.

American automakers have produced cars and trucks even when there is little market demand for them, forcing manufacturers to offer big rebates and discounts.

“Sometimes they just push product on us,” said Bill Holden Jr., general manager of Holden Dodge Inc. in Dover, Del., who said this does not go over well with the dealers. “But they've got these contracts with the union.”

In Detroit's battle against Asian and European competitors that are unencumbered by such labor costs, the job banks have become a major competitive disadvantage.

And so on. Read the article. Of course, instead of getting this yucky thing out of our economy’s system, we just want to go on having it — like protesting against getting out your roundworm out of your GI tract. Who’s responsible? Liberals and unions.

* * *

At the same time, Rubashkins that provided a great service for Jewish and non-Jewish communities throughout the US are being targeted. For what? For providing illegal immigrants a source of work at a higher-than-minimum wage? For providing cheap kosher meat? For benefiting local Jewish and non-Jewish (primarily) community? For doing lots of acts of chessed themselves?

Dina d’malchusa dina? Give me a bloody break. Come on. First of all, it has nothing to do with immigration laws — just strictly monetary issues. Second, it is not applicable to an unjust government. There is a story of the Rogachover refusing pay some of his taxes (covered by dina d’malchusa dina laws, by the way) to the Russian government — because they were not justified by Torah. Is doing chessed to people by providing them with jobs justified by Torah? How about forbidding it because of fascist unions’ influence?

But even if it was violation of dina d’malchusa dina — so what? Are you personally a tzaddik? You never do any violations? Should we be happy for every Jew who violates some area (for instance, breaks Shabbos — a much worse violation than dina d’malchusa dina) of Halacha who goes to jail? What if a Jew was taken driver’s license away for not paying a parking meter? (“Uhh... isn’t it violation of Halacha?..” Maybe, but so what? We shouldn’t protest about it? Let this Jew do teshuva and be answereable in front of Eibeshter — it’s not your stinking business, as long as his actions don’t disrupt the fabric of society and yiddishkeit.)

This is all besides the fact that Rubashkins are being treated unfairly even within the system: all California farms are run by illegals, and Rubaskin is not allowed bail because he is supposedly a risk flight? (Hirshel Tzig may be criticized for a lot of things, but I agree with his opinion on the situation and all the little dogs that thought it their ingrate business to bark). Our cooperation with the government as Jews in this society rests on the assumption that we will be treated fairly and justly and that Torah observience will not be messed with. Here we have a case of a Jew who’s done a lot of chessed being treated poorly, and an ease of following the mitzva of kashrus (think of all those borderline baalei teshuva, for whom cheap kosher meat is important for keeping kashrus) is being endangered. Think about it this Thanksgiving — and influence the government whatever way you can.

* * *

For a long time, I had problems with WalMart. As it turned out, all the problems (doing business with China, importing goods from China, low pay, lack of benefits, forcing local little stores out of business) are all not problems at all. Yes, these things happen. So what? People are free to work wherever they freaking want. If there is no demand for their unskilled labor, this is how much it costs — with these many benefits. Otherwise, competitors would snap those people up. Doing business with China helps Chinese people by introducing capitalism to their country (to the point that even their socialists are more capitalist then our capitalists) and allowing capital to spread amongst masses. Little business should adapt by providing unique or better services or goods or get the hell out back into the workforce. What, every time a way to mass-produce and mass-sell something is introduced we are going to have Luddite uprising?

But the last thing that I never had a problem with is refusal of WalMart to deal with union mobsters. To quote an anti-WalMart web-site:

Wal-Mart Anti-Union Policy

Wal-Mart closes down stores and departments that unionize

  • Wal-Mart closed its store in Jonquierre, Quebec in April 2005 after its employees received union certification. The store became the first unionized Wal-Mart in North America when 51 percent of the employees at the store signed union cards. [Washington Post, 4/14/05]
  • In December 2005, the Quebec Labour Board ordered Wal-Mart to compensate former employees of its store in Jonquiere Quebec. The Board ruled that Wal-Mart had improperly closed the store in April 2005 in reprisal against unionized workers. [Personnel Today, 12/19/05]
  • In 2000, when a small meatcutting department successfully organized a union at a Wal-Mart store in Texas, Wal-Mart responded a week later by announcing the phase-out of its in-store meatcutting company-wide. [Pan Demetrakakes, "Is Wal-Mart Wrapped in Union Phobia? Food & Packaging 76 (August 1, 2003).]

Wal-Mart has issued "A Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union Free,"

  • This toolbox provides managers with lists of warning signs that workers might be organizing, including "frequent meetings at associates' homes" and "associates who are never seen together start talking or associating with each other." The "Toolbox" gives managers a hotline to call so that company specialists can respond rapidly and head off any attempt by employees to organize. [Wal-Mart, A Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union Free at 20-21]

Wal-Mart is committed to an anti-union policy

  • In the last few years, well over 100 unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Wal-Mart throughout the country, with 43 charges filed in 2002 alone.
  • Since 1995, the U.S. government has been forced to issue at least 60 complaints against Wal-Mart at the National Labor Relations Board. [International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in the United States: Report for the WTO General Council Review of the Trade Policies of the United States (Geneva, January 14-16, 2004)]
  • Wal-Mart's labor law violations range from illegally firing workers who attempt to organize a union to unlawful surveillance, threats, and intimidation of employees who dare to speak out. [“Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart,” A Report by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, 2/16/04]
Good job, WalMart. At least it does not want to bend over in front of the fascist mobsters, like the car industry did.

More on the effect of labor unions.

* * *

On a final note: say Tehillim for Rubashkins. Reishis goyim amalek, but they are nothing but a tool in the hands of Hashem — we can influence on high by praying down below and doing acts of goodness and kindness, which are infinitely more important than all this b.s. Rubaskins certainly did enough chessed themselves.

Of course, when it’s the Jews that are in the government or are scheming against other Jews… Woe to us all. Trees in the forest are not fallen unless one of them donates wood for the axe. Every single anti-Jewish event in the Jewish history, starting from the first slavery (resulting from Yosef’s successful transformation of Egypt into a slave society) till our very days had Jewish hand in it. Then we must pray double and do acts of ahavas yisroel triple. It was causeless hatred that sent us to golus; it will be causeless love that will send to towards Mashiach and geulah, when even liberal Jews will come back to emes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

End to business cycle

“We will use leaches to end our patient’s chronic blood loss.”

Unless, of course, he means some of this:
What is the governmental role in the cure of depression? In the first place, government must cease inflating as soon as possible. It is true that this will, inevitably, bring the inflationary boom abruptly to an end, and commence the inevitable recession or depression. But the longer the government waits for this, the worse the necessary readjustments will have to be. The sooner the depression-readjustment is gotten over with, the better.

This means, also, that the government must never try to prop up unsound business situations; it must never bail out or lend money to business firms in trouble. Doing this will simply prolong the agony and convert a sharp and quick depression phase into a lingering and chronic disease. The government must never try to prop up wage rates or prices of producers’ goods; doing so will prolong and delay indefinitely the completion of the depression-adjustment process; it will cause indefinite and prolonged depression and mass unemployment in the vital capital goods industries.

The government must not try to inflate again, in order to get out of the depression. For even if this reinflation succeeds, it will only sow greater trouble later on. The government must do nothing to encourage consumption, and it must not increase its own expenditures, for this will further increase the social consumption/investment ratio. In fact, cutting the government budget will improve the ratio. What the economy needs is not more consumption spending but more saving, in order to validate some of the excessive investments of the boom.
I am not sure why, but somehow I am a little doubtful that this is what out affirmatively-elected President-to-be meant.

Reason.TV on the Bailout

Some interesting videos with economists talking about the crisis, bailout and what to worry about.

The first speaker is “UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian, coauthor of a startling new paper arguing that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression by about seven years, [who] talked with about the past six weeks of apparent economic crisis and the government's bewildering bailout response. Ohanian’s main concern, and one that is never sufficiently appreciated: ‘Periods of crisis often beget bad policies.’”

In addition, on bailouts:

Life of Sara

Interesting class by Rabbi Paltiel on the first Jewish woman, Sara.

The class [analyzes] the first pasuk (line) of the parsha. Rabbi Paltiel draws on Rashi, Ramban, Rashbam, Baal HaTurim, Abarbanel, Alshich, and a ma’amar to address the following three questions:

1. Why is it relevant in the Torah to describe the passing of Sarah?

2. Why does the pasuk follow a pattern of klal—prat—klal (general—specific—general)?

3. Why does the word “shana” (years) appear three times (instead of one) in the description of 127 years?

Parshas Chayei Sarah: Cave Machpelah

Cave Machpelah is the resting place of the first human, Adam HaRishoin, and the first three Jewish families — our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

As one can hear in Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur, “A Cave of Many Layers”, Machpelah is much more than that — a boundary between the worlds.

This is not just a shiur about mystical. Mysticism in Chassidus is not merely anatomy; it is also medicine. Explaining the connection of spiritual worlds and events with the physical ones, Chassidus then explains how to serve G-d properly in the physical world, revealing spiritual in the physical. In the end of the day, it’s all about practical application and everyday relevance, not about stories of angels, lights and vessels (although learning those is important in itself).

In addition: “Phases of Avram Avinu’s Avoidas Hashem” with special emphasis on Akeida. (No, my earlier post was not a plagiarism of this shiur.) The shiur also has an interesting discussion of the difference between Abraham’s mitzvos and ours (were Abraham, for instance, to write a mezuza parchment, he could have used it afterwards as a bottle cork. We couldn’t — our mezuza parchments becomes holy once used for a mitzva).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comrade Obama

From Mrakobez.

Untranslatable. “And in the Oval Hall, commissars are sitting, and Lenin is looking from his portait.”

To get some context:

Now, aren’t you glad he was elected? Imagine how boring it would be had McCain won. The best we would get is some low-style jokes from the Garlic about his age.

By the way, you can tell the first audio was recorded in NYC by police sirens in the background (before the music starts). New Yorkers probably don’t even notice it anymore.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

iPhone killer

Alex Exler informs us about a new cell phone model, which should be mass-produced (in his opinion), and advertised as a Conservative response to iPhone (in my opinion):

The phone works and is fully functional (well, it does what a phone is minimally supposed to do; it cannot be used as a calculator, e-mail checker, googler, tetris, notepad, beer-bottle opener or a microwave). In any event, the era of iPhone’s domination of the market of cute but monstrous cellphones is clearly over. Especially if they make this phone available in pink.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Frum Satire presents: pocking fun at hockers and ba’alei teshuvah

A video (really, audio) posted at Frum Satire of a classical hocker “hacking chainik” of some quiet Jewish academic type (obviously, a ba’al teshuvah).

You can read on YouTube that the dialogue was actually staged. Very Chekhovesque (or should I say, Mendelesque).

Obama’s socialist program of community support

According to Obama’s new proposal, school and college students will be “encouraged” or, possibly, “mandated” to perform certain number of hours of community service.
The Obama administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps.

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
But, no, it is not Marxist, as Michele Catalano would have us believe. And after a criticism that this would constitute forced labor (i.e., slavery — hmm… does the word irony come to your mind right now?), Obama took back the “forced” part.
Right-leaning blogs are jumping on the Obama staff for so quickly going back on the wording of the community service statement — and some are still maintaining the “forced service” part. It’s interesting to see that instead of remarking on how the staff reacted quickly to negativity toward the requirement part of the service, people are claiming that he went back on a promise or broke his word. Not really. He heard criticism and responded to it. He would still like to see students entering into community service voluntarily but he rightfully took back the idea of service being mandatory. By arguing the nature of the wording and how/when the wording was changed, the blog pundits are taking the idea of community service and turning it into something to fight about. The blog posts enhanced with pictures of Stalin or a hammer and sickle are a nice touch, though.
He took it back? This looks to me like someone trying to get into water and touching it with his toe. Too warm? Too cold? Still need to wait a little? OK, not yet, we’ll wait a little.

Of course, to anybody who grew up in the former Soviet Union, this is all too familiar. Kindergarden students were “taught” how to sweep streets and pick up leaves (while janitors were drinking tea). School students collected scrap metal, glass bottles, paper for recycling. Each year, university students were “encouraged” to go to collective farms and help harvest crops, fruits, vegetables, etc. Anyone like my mother — who “slacked off” from her duties and went to scientific expeditions to collect data for her thesis — was really frowned upon. Similar arguments were used:
This is the mark of a country that knows it needs to rely on those who can to help those who can’t. It’s the mark of a country that knows it needs to depend on its citizens to make their communities flourish. It’s taking the “ask not what your country can do for you” attitude and transforming it into smaller clusters, where we ask what we can do for those we live with and around, instead of waiting for people to do for us. It’s how communities become stronger, how they grow, and how a strong, giving community makes for a strong, giving nation.
Only in there they did not say “ask not what your country can do for you”. (Why the hell not? Why did we organize this country then? Because we wanted our own soccer team?) They said: “You owe this to your country.” For obvious reasons: because your country owns you. You are its slave, and you should even say thanks for being allowed what you have, much less complain about your responsibilities towards your master.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against volunteering. If people want to volunteer, great. I would even argue that at least at the present some things can only be achieved through volunteering (although others could argue). What I am amazed about is that the future new President starts off by encouraging and mandating volunteering, not businesses, trade and commerce.

No, volunteering is not “how communities become stronger, how they grow, and how a strong, giving community makes for a strong, giving nation” — does she think that US became what it is because of volunteering? It was because of competing businesses providing communites desired products and services in exchange for capital that can be then investment into growth, progress and development.

Voluntering is good, but not when it’s the main focus. If I had to choose between a girl selling lemonade and a girl carrying lemonade around for free, I would choose the former. Young people need to learn the value of earning money for their work. When they grow up and have money from their business, they can donate it to a right cause if they want. Or better yet, use it to expand their business and create jobs for people that need money.

Furthermore, students in schools and universities need to study, not do community service. You have some extra time? Study more. Get into athletics program, a chess (or better yet, Go) club, learn a new language, learn how to swim, read a damn book. Community service must be a service — done by people as a job and payed, if necessary, by people who donated their money for the cause. Young people are our future, our greatest capital investment. Of course, it is beyond Obama and other socialists to understand the value of the last two words.

They say that Obama has no new ideas. Not true. He has a lot of ideas how to “volunter” other people, their time, their money, their services. No wonder this is his first proposal, right from the start — not to encourage people to have successful business, but to volunteer. Of course, when I say “volunteer”, I mean:
On the college level, Obama’s plan would ensure a $4,000 tuition credit to students who complete 100 hours of community service a year. With the cost of college education soaring, that $4,000 is like a windfall to a college student. The student would be rewarded monetarily, but the reward of completing service toward the community is something that will stay with them, as well as the community, forever. Service to others is a lasting gift. […]

This is not socialism. This is not Marxism.
Indeed not — I stand corrected. Under true Marxism, they would not be “encouraged”, they would be forced. We are not there yet. The water is still too cool. Need to wait a bit. After all, these capitalist selfish pigs still have their guns.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How our government helps poor people

Saw this cartoon at Stefan Karlsson’s economics blog:

The sad news is that the guy with briefcase can be either a Democrat or a Republican, since their economic philosophies are so close nowadays.

By the way, did you recognize yourself in this cartoon? That’s right, you’re the guy in a hat.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Article on the real causes of boom-and-bust cycles

In my earlier post on Murray Rothbard’s article on the Austrial model of the causes of boom-and-bust cycles, I provided a link to the audio-lesson, but not to the article itself. Here is the article if you prefer reading to listening. The article is very good and very easy to understand. As I mentioned before, it outlines the explanations of traditional Keynesian model and their problems:
1. They contradict standard economic theory (from which they are kept artificially separate) that states that supply and demand are always naturally regulated by the free market.

2. They do not explain why entrepreneurs who were so good (if they were to stay in business) at making proper predictions about business and how to match consumers’ demand (which contributed to the boom phase, after all) suddenly stopped being good at their jobs — and sometimes very-very sharpy so.

3. They do not explain why precisely capital businesses (those producing tractors, construction supplies, railroads, and hammers) fail first and much more than consumer businesses (those producing iPhones, clothes and cars), if, as Keynesian economists say, decreased consumer spending is to blame for recession.
The article provides the Austrian model of boom-and-bust cycle which provides explanation for all of the above and for the cycle itself. In essence, through government-sponsored (and controlled) credit expansion, the market is injected with unjustified credit. This misrepresents true situation of the market and capital/consumer investment ratio. Entrepreneurs’ expectations about demands of the public are skewed by credit availability, letting them think that it makes sense to invest into capital businesses, while consumers spend money on goods instead of saving. This results in undeserved investment into businesses that do not hold expected value — these businesses then need to “shed” this investment in a form of recession and redistribute the capital as required by the market.

Therefore, entrepreneurs are not to blame — they are doing what makes sense to do according to rules of the free market (following which these guys got rich to begin with). It’s the government who is to blame, because by controlling cash supply (through Central Bank) it misrepresented consumers’ desires, letting entrepreneurs think that consumers wanted to save money more than spend it (as evidenced by low interest rates normally corresponding to people’s desire to save), while consumers wanted to do the opposite — spend their new income (obtained from artificially expanded credit) on consumer goods. Money that should have been invested in consumer businesses got invested in capital businesses instead. What happens next?
The problem comes as soon as the workers and landlords — largely the former, since most gross business income is paid out in wages — begin to spend the new bank money that they have received in the form of higher wages. For the time-preferences of the public have not really gotten lower; the public doesn't want to save more than it has. So the workers set about to consume most of their new income, in short to reestablish the old consumer/saving proportions. This means that they redirect the spending back to the consumer goods industries, and they don’t save and invest enough to buy the newly-produced machines, capital equipment, industrial raw materials, etc.

This all reveals itself as a sudden sharp and continuing depression in the producers’ goods industries. Once the consumers reestablished their desired consumption/investment proportions, it is thus revealed that business had invested too much in capital goods and had under-invested in consumer goods. Business had been seduced by the governmental tampering and artificial lowering of the rate of interest, and acted as if more savings were available to invest than were really there. As soon as the new bank money filtered through the system and the consumers reestablished their old proportions, it became clear that there were not enough savings to buy all the producers’ goods, and that business had misinvested the limited savings available. Business had overinvested in capital goods and under-invested in consumer products. 
The inflationary boom thus leads to distortions of the pricing and production system. Prices of labor and raw materials in the capital goods industries had been bid up during the boom too high to be profitable once the consumers reassert their old consumption/investment preferences. 
The “depression” is then seen as the necessary and healthy phase by which the market economy sloughs off and liquidates the unsound, uneconomic investments of the boom, and reestablishes those proportions between consumption and investment that are truly desired by the consumers. The depression is the painful but necessary process by which the free market sloughs off the excesses and errors of the boom and reestablishes the market economy in its function of efficient service to the mass of consumers. Since prices of factors of production have been bid too high in the boom, this means that prices of labor and goods in these capital goods industries must be allowed to fall until proper market relations are resumed.
The article also provides advise on what the government should do to prevent depressions and the general boom-and-bust cycle. The advise is surprising for someone used to Keynesian thinking about government’s role of “cooling down” or “boosting up” the economy, but once you read through the whole article, it will all start to make sense.

Akeidas Yitzchok — rational approach

Some people have a problem with akeidas Yitzchok. “What do you mean, Avraham wanted to kill his son? Isn’t it barbaric — to want to sacrifice your own child? How is this used as a virtue? Isn’t it just like Muslim terrorists? Why would G-d ask such a thing? So, if G-d asked you to sacrifice your son, you would also do it? So, when a crazy person kills someone — it’s OK?”

In response, a few points:

1. To begin with, the argument that it is barbaric is not fair. We find it barbaric to sacrifice our children precisely because Judaism — a religion founded by Avraham — says so. During Avraham’s times and much-much-much later, it was OK to sacrifice one’s children to gods according to general rules of morality existing amongst most people. We find accounts of the Nations’ child-sacrifice practices in Torah and Judaism in general (and some of our mitzvos include prohibitions to emulate these nations). Throughout history, we also find stories of mass massacres of children. For instance, inhabitans of the famous Carthage sacrificed their children en masse (and you thought Romans were bad, huh?). When Carthage was besieged by Rome, they sacrificed a lot of children even when they knew they were going to lose — just in case it’d work.

One can hardly apply to Avraham standards of morality which appeared much after his time and were created by his own religion! It would as if I, as a surgeon, invented a certain procedure at the age of 50 and then would be blamed for not using it at the age of 30. Only until after it became clear that G-d does not want Yitzchok sacrificed has it become possible to even suggest that perhaps G-d does not want children sacrificed. Furthermore, as a moral message for masses it only appeared as a part of Torah given to Moses many generations later.

2. The more important thing that we are overlooking here is that this was asked by G-d. Yes, the same G-d that created the Heaven and Earth, the same G-d the gave Yitzchok to Avraham (in a miraculos way), the same G-d whose Essence penetrates all existence, aside of whom there is no reality. All laws of logic, morality, all emotions stand aside from the word of G-d. I am not sure how to say it any clearer that whatever G-d says is an absolute law, because there is nothing besides Him. Therefore, when Avraham was able to see past his own emotions and logic and recognize the Uniqueness and Oneness of G-d, he is indeed to be praised — especially regarding how hard our reason must calm our emotions in order to comperehend this.

3. I hardly think this can be compared to Muslim terrorists. First, because you do not compare light to darkness, life to death, and something clean to something filthy. In other words, lehavdil. Second, because what they are doing is not sacrifice. They blow themselves up because they have convinced themselves that they will be immediately rewarded for this act by life infinitely better than the one they are leading right now. What separates them from those not yet ready to commit a suicide is that they convinced themselves much better, while others still have some doubt or did not overcome the regular animalistic fear. When you trade X for Y, and Y is much better than X, you are not sacrificing X, you are making a reasonable exchange.

What about atheists who blow themselves up for an ideology? Aren’t they trully giving up their life for some higher (in their opinion) cause? No. They are giving their biological existence for something that in their mind replaced their life. Their life is their ideology, not what we call life. Therefore, they are not sacrificing something. A sacrifice can be only of something you really value, losing which is a real tragedy for you. Then it is a sacrifice.

What Avraham was sacrificing was infinitely valuable for him. Yitzchok was not only his son, given to him by G-d miraculously, but also his future, his cause, his whole life, his only promise that his life would not be a mere existence, but a life, with a reason and a purpose, having its effect in infinity. That was taken away from him for no reason, with no promise of receiving something back, by G-d whom Avraham knew as merciful (as we find out at the beginning of the parshah, Avraham argued that merciful G-d cannot kill inhabitants of Sodom if there was only one righteous person amongst them). Furthermore, it was absolutely against Avraham’s character, because his nature was that of love and kindness.

And he was ready to do it, because he recognized who G-d is: that G-d is beyond any definition, and our realization of G-d’s boundless and limitless Essence must be above any definition we have of G-d, of this world, and of our lives.

4. Should somebody today follow in Avraham’s footsteps? No, because G-d Himself promised He would not violate His Law, the Torah, and in Torah it is forbidden to sacrifice children. Just like G-d is unlikely to call pig kosher or square a triangle, He will never call child sacrifice permitted. What a lot of people overlook, furthermore, is that G-d never permitted child sacrifice in human history. He simply asked Avraham to be ready to sacrifice his child (and act Avraham would have not indication to be immoral), and then did not permit it happening!

So, if you believe G-d is speaking to you and telling you to sacrifice your child, see a good psychiatrist. And get yourself commited before it’s too late. How did Avraham know he was not having a delusion? Just like you know that the world around yourself is real — to Avraham (and Moses), G-d’s revelation was at least as real as the world around himself, and probably more, and G-d made sure that there absolutely no doubt (if something miraculous happens in front of me right now, I will first question my own sanity; Avraham knew that was his revelation was real). At the same time, he, as all prophets, had proof of absolute clarity of his mind, full logical capacity and so on.

Finally, we must all draw a lesson from Avraham’s conduct: ability to realize with absolute clarity who G-d is. When you’re thinking of breaking Torah (either a Biblical commandment, a Rabbinic commandment, doing something not in spirit of Torah, or even just taking a more lenient path because it is easier), G-d forbid, for some physical or mental pleasure, think about the realization of who G-d is that allowed Avraham to be ready to sacrifice his own son. G-d does not and will not ask us to sacrifice our children for Him. He does ask as to sacrifice ourselves — our love of this physical world and its pleasures — by keeping Torah and realizing that there is nothing besides Him. Literally. Mamosh.

(Oh yeah, the last thing: Yitzchok was not a child. He was in his 30’s and went willingly, knowing what’s going on.)