Friday, October 31, 2008

Oldest Hebrew text ever found?

Archeologists have found what they are decribing as the oldest hebrew text ever, on a 3000 year old pottery shard. The date was established by carbon dating. That would set its origins from around the time of Kind David. It was found in the Valley of Elah, near Beit Shemesh, in the dig of an ancient fortress believed to be one used by David in his fight against the people of Pleshet.

It's written in proto-Canaanite characters, and includes the words "שופט" (judge), "עבד" (slave), and "מלך" (king).

What apparantly makes it Hebrew is that according to Yosef Garfinkel, the lead archeologst studying it, it includes a "three-letter verb from the inscription meaning 'to do,' a word he said existed only in Hebrew."

All the articles say the same thing, but I can't find what that 3 letter word is, despite looking through several Hebrew articles about this find. Maybe I missed it? Here's one of the Hebrew articles.

Side issue: While looking through the articles about this, I came across Reuters' description. Apparantly, they found it important, in an article about an archeological find, to bring up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

"The dig's uncovering of the past near the ancient battlefield in the Valley of Elah, now home to wineries and a satellite station, could have implications for the emotional debate over the future of Jerusalem, some 20 km (12 miles) away."

Apparantly, as far as Reuters is concerned, anything to do with Israel has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Aish HaTorah affiliates sponsoring controversial political videos

The jist is that subsidiary organizations of Aish have been heavily involved in the making of right-wing anti-Islamic videos, not to mention their extreme partisanship in US politics.

Now, I'm no fan of Aish, but this goes even beyond common sense. Isn't "kiruv" their stated purpose for being? I imagine they'll turn off a lot of potential recruits by their partisanship and their extreme social and political commentary. This stuff has nothing to do with their mission statement (

Aish HaTorah, founded in Jerusalem by Rabbi Noah Weinberg in 1974, is dedicated to revitalizing the Jewish people by providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect.

Except that they're driving away liberals or anyone who thinks in terms other than in black & white. But who needs liberal Jews to become religious anyway, right?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are midrash and aggada literal?

Certain midrashim are clearly not literal.

I was just learning in shiur last night Chagiga, daf 12b, where it says that a heaven that is a curtain is pulled over the sky every night and blocks the light from the sun and then is rolled back again every morning.

I don't assume that chazal took this literally. After all, they saw the sun set in the evening and rise on the opposite horizon every dawn. They knew that it wasn't a heavenly curtain that kept the sun's rays from reaching them at night, even if they might have thought the earth was a disc.
So the gemara is meant allegorically, and is meant to teach about Hashem's renewal of creation every morning, perhaps, or some other message.

But when chazal say that insects are spontaneously generated from a pile of dirt, it is hard to say they didn't mean it literally. It's not that they were advancing a false theory, they were just repeating the prevailing wisdom of the time, which we now know was false.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bill Richardson

I heard Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico speak this morning at an Obama campaign event near my city. He's a funny and engaging speaker, but without a lot of fire.

He told a funny story and I filmed most of it. I'll set up the clip: He said that the first time he realized the character of Barack Obama was at one of the early debates, when he was still in the primary. He was next to Obama and since there were so many candidates he didn't get a lot of questions, especially since so many of the questions went to Obama and Clinton. So after he was asked a question, he didn't always pay full attention to the follow up since he figured it wouldn't be his turn again for a few minutes. But in this case, it didn't turn out that way and he didn't know what he was supposed to answer.

In case you couldn't make out what he said Obama whispered to him, it was " They asked you about Katrina!"

I got a chance to meet Richardson afterwards and got a nice pictire with him. Though this blog isn't exactly anonymous, I prefer not to post my face front & center, but if you're friends with me on Facebook, you can see the picture there.

Update May 27 2013: Since this blog is no longer anonymous at all, I can post that picture without reservations:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama and Israel

Is Obama “bad for Israel”? First of all, let me point out that when American Jews refer to a candate being “good for Israel” or “bad for Israel”, they generally mean does he or she support Likud-type policies. Whether that’s good for Israel or not is arguable.

Leaving that aside, however, I want to address the claim that is often heard that Obama doesn’t really support Israel and that he’s just conveniently spouting the formulaic support required in an election year to get Jewish votes.

Over a year and a half ago, Obama said:

“My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction,"

Almost 3 years ago, he said:

"I flew on an IDF helicopter to the border zone. The helicopter took us over the most troubled and dangerous areas and that narrow strip between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea. At that height, I could see the hills and the terrain that generations have walked across. I could truly see how close everything is and why peace through security is the only way for Israel,"


"We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza."

Yup, sure sounds like an opponent of Israel to me.

Also worth reading is this article by Alan Dershowitz, titled: Why I support Israel and Obama

Friday, October 10, 2008

What did you do during the break?

Hope everyone had a comfortable and meaningful fast.

We finished davening at 2:45 and Mincha was at 4:45.

Of course, I had already taken a break during mussaf for 20 minutes. I just can't sit so long. I went to the library which is a 2 minute walk from my shul and started reading what promises to be a fascinating and gripping book "The Last Theorem" by Arthur C Clarke and Frederick Pohl, 2 elderly giants of science fiction. It's Clarke's swan song before his death earlier this year. I hope to get to the library before Shabbat to take it out.

During the break I went home, sat in my easy chair and somehow made the strange choice to read cookbooks. I was reading "Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking", a poor strategy for dealing with fasting, but now I'm all fired up to try making chick pea soup, fava bean falafel, and others tasty sounding recipes.

What did you do during the break on Yom Kippur?
Update 10/20/08: The Clarke/Pohl book wasn't worth it. Some cool ideas to read about, but as a novel it failed completely. Very little in the way of plot and one of the most boring protagonists I've ever seen in a fictional work.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Boss

I went to an Obama rally today at OSU. No, the candidate himself wasn't there, but Bruce Springsteen was! I'm a fan from way back but I've never seen him live before.

This is the first time I'm putting video on my blog. I suspect that the very poor quality doesn't really do it justice - it was taken on my phone. (I'll have to take my camera next time which takes better quality video.) Plus I was sitting way back under a tree. (Maybe I'm getting too old to stand in the sun in a crush of people.)

So yes, the quality of the video & sound is poor, but it was such a rush that I feel like sharing anyhow. I felt like a teenager again.

Yes We Can! Vote Obama.

We're not terrorists - really!

I was recently at a non-kosher middle-eastern restaurant in my town for a presentation by a friend.

While on most of the walls they had pictures or murals of a middle-eastern theme, on one wall they had a mural of a giant American flag, taking up the whole wall.
I have no doubt that here in midwest, the Arabic owners felt it neccesary to put up the flag after 9-11 to show that they aren't terrorists.

I just think it's a shame that in 21st century America, there should be such fear of being stereotyped.