30 December 2008

Israel Trip, Winter 2008-2009: Post #2

(Post #1)
On Sunday, we finally had nice weather (it had been chilly up until then (and raining when we arrived)), which coincided nicely with day #1 of our jaunting about Israel.
We took a train out to Tel-Aviv University (my wife's first ever train ride in Israel) to visit the Diaspora Museum, even though both of us had visited it multiple times prior to this visit. We went inside for about an hour and rushed around (since we had been there before). At the outset, the exhibits reminded me of other Jewish museums blending together. Then, in the museum's breaking up of various main diasporean communities, primarily chronologically, it seemed to me to be a refresher of Jewish history of the last two and a half millenia, spanning time and place.
We then departed the museum and hopped back on the train, to head up north to go to Binyamina, where there is a winery and nearby restaurant. We had heard of Binyamina, as their chocolate liqueur is excellent, but hadn't really known about their wine.
We arrived at the visitors' center of the winery, where we graciously were given water upon request, while we waited briefly for their daily 3pm tour in English. While waiting, we looked around at their wines and, more enticingly, at their various yummy-looking liqueurs, of which they had over a dozen. Then our tour began, with another couple besides us along with the tour guide.
We took the tour of the fourth-largest winery in Israel and it was simple and informative. We got to learn about contemporary methods of wine-making (as well as previous kinds). We found out that, although the main building and the grounds had been around since 1925, Binyamina Wines have only been around since 1992. At the end, we had a little wine tasting, with our tour guide showing us how to properly appreciate the wine when tasting it (he said it ought to involve all five senses). Although this was my first ever winery visit, I have, to a minor degree, been interested in wines since having seen Sideways with my family several years back. Even though I had liked wine prior
to seeing that movie, it catalyzed me to appreciate the different types of wine and what about them makes them them.
After the wine tasting, the other couple on the tour had to head off, but we stayed for lunch/dinner and were waited on by our tour guide. For the first course, we were served bread along with over a half dozen different salads. Then came our main entrées: my wife got entrecôte and I got the chicken dish. The meat was definitely quite good and came along with potato slices and some really great-tasting green beans (some of the best I've ever had). Also my meal came with a
complimentary glass of wine, since we had gone on the tour. We thought we were finished, but, apparently, there was still dessert, which was an apple strudel - like thing (they also usually provide coffee, but neither of us are coffee drinkers). Following our dinner, we then purchased some wines and liqueurs and hopped back on the train to Modi'in.

29 December 2008

Behind in Vlogging

I know I'm behind in my weekly vlogging (my last vlog post was a month ago), but I hope to get it back up and going as well as having all of the posts that have been in progress to be uploaded. Anyways, it will be back - just not for another week or two....

Addendum to Thoughts on AJS Conference

Although I had posted already some brief reflections on my attending the Association of Jewish Studies conference, I figured I would share a further few that were on my mind.
One of them is that, being a rabbinical student, people were curious as to what I was doing there (I got a couple of people ask me if I was delivering a paper (although the answer is no, it may be something for me to consider for the future (although someone said I may need to be enrolled in a graduate studies program, so we'll see where I end up - I may enroll in a graduate studies program), although it usually must be either someone with a PhD or ABD)). The answer, for me, is that this was a great opportunity to not only hear the newest papers in the field (okay, for me - I'm mostly interested in Talmud studies, but the other papers were also good to hear), some great ideas being tossed around, and getting to experience a high level of discourse, but also to get to meet the head scholars out there, to ask them questions in a relaxed and open atmosphere, and to get in contact with them to discuss matters further later (or to be made aware of certain significant articles, chapters, or books).
Also, in addition to being surprised at my being at an academic conference, this one was really my second one, having been to one before (although the AJS conference was much larger).
As a continuation from my previous post, the only other blogging done about the conference has been done by Benzion Chinn at his Izgad blog, who followed the first two posts to which I linked in my previous posting about the conference with three further postings: Interreligious Hostility in Medieval and Early Modern Times Part I, Interreligious Hostility in Medieval and Early Modern Times Part II, and Jewish and Christian Learning During the High Middle Ages: Parallels and Points of Contact.

28 December 2008

Israel Trip, Winter 2008-2009: Post #1: Arrival

There was so much to write about my last trip to Israel two years ago and I unfortunately neither wrote/posted about it during the trip, nor much afterwards. However, I will be writing more about this trip (in part, assisted by writing on my iPod (that my wife got me over a year ago and that also assisted me in my keeping track of our honeymoon)).

We took an Austrian Air flight from JFK airport to Vienna, then, after a brief layover, we flew to Israel (by the way, it was my first time flying to Israel on an airline other than El Al). We then got picked up by my wife's brother's wife, who drove us back to the house they are renting for the year, where we got showered up, had pizza for dinner, headed to the mall for a bit, then went back and retired for the evening.

The next day was a Friday, so, since things close on the early side in Israel on Fridays, we decided to just stay in town and walk around, exploring the mall with the older of our two nieces.Then it was shabbas and it was rather restful (I got around 16 hours of sleep, which was good (I think my body was still trying to adjust to the new timezone and to my lack of sleep throughout the flights)).

Following shabbas, my wife and I went with my wife's sister-in-law and her daughter and were around the Talpiyot mall and got pizza at Pizza HaShikmah for 27 shekels (less than $7) - definitely a great deal! Then we went back to the mall, got some pastries, and then headed back with my wife's sister-in-law to Modi'in.

24 December 2008

Brief Reflections on the Recent AJS Conference

Having attended yesterday's sessions and Monday's sessions at this year's Association for Jewish Studies conference, I thought I would follow up with some further reflections. Firstly, the Grand Hyatt, DC had great facilities and, as you can see from their photos, is quite a nice place.
Not surprisingly, my two favorite sessions were on the Talmud: "The Bavli and Its History" and "Rabbinic Terms and Their History" (the latter of which I think I enjoyed more). Granted, I mainly went for, and certainly enjoyed, the papers/sessions on Talmudic/Rabbinic stuff, but I also got some benefit out of having attended sessions not "in my field", so to speak. Also, whether "in my field" or not, I certainly realized I know hardly anything compared to all of these scholars. It was also great to experience the collegiality going on. Granted, when there was schmoozing time, I generally mingled with peers, rather than professors, but I also got the opportunity to talk with top scholars in a laid-back atmosphere. Furthermore, there were times, such as at the Talmudic sessions where someone would be presenting and sitting in the room were various top scholars and it was fascinating to hear some of the discussions going on.
Also, there really isn't much else out there on the blogosphere as of yet, although Izgad posted some thoughts and some quotes from a session he attended. A comment of his (from his earlier posting) resonates very much with me: "It has been wonderful on many different levels for someone with my interests. I cannot think of many of places where I can accidentally run into people whom I know based on having read and admired their books." So true. I would say it was very good not only being able to put faces to names, but also to talk to people and to network, whether about future research interests or to find out about literature out there already.
Additionally, Inside Higher Ed wrote up an article about one of the panel discussions on Monday. I hope to go beyond my brief descriptions in my two previous posts of some of the papers presented to highlight them, although I need to first see if I can get an electronic copy of them.... (Stay tuned...)

23 December 2008

AJS (Association of Jewish Studies) Conference Yesterday

Yesterday, after waking up (having slept in a bed (at a friend of my sister's house) (yay)), I went over to daven at Kesher Israel, which was only a block away from where I was staying. I then returned to the friend's house, where I retrieved my bags and headed back for day 3 of the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies (although it was my second day, having only attended the previous day's sessions).
I arrived just in time for the beginning of the first session of the day, where I attended "Ethnography of Jewish Ritual". The first presenter was Seth Ward, who spoke on "The Rise of Tu B'Shevat as a 'Jewish Arbor and Ecology Day': Balancing Themes of Land of Israel, Modern Israeli State, Ecology, and Mysticism", which primarily went through the spurious textual basis for this day and the rise of rituals associated with the day. He said that, "despite all the hoopla," it's not that widespread in synagogue, except for programming for kids or for the ecologically-m
inded. He also spoke of "inpraxation" - new practices for verses. The next presenter was Vanessa Ochs, who spoke on "The Traditional Commitment Ceremony", which was about contemporary homosexual commitment ceremonies (also known as civil unions, same-sex weddings, etc.) and how, when performing these rituals, base these new rituals off of customs. The next paper, "Rethinking Ritual Theory in Anthropology and Jewish Studies: Levinas, Geertz, and the Problem of Meaning", was presented by Don Seeman, who, at the outset, said that, at Jewish studies conferences, people are there and are interested primarily in the content. When at anthropology conferences, people are not necessarily interested in the content, but, rather, the methodologies and ideas. So, when he presents, sometimes people are kind of interested in the content, but he is now trying out talking about theory at a Jewish studies conference. (He also mentioned that hearing the phrase "We do this because..." in a church or a synagogue is a post-Reformation phenomenon, which was interesting.) the last speaker, Irit Koren, spoke on "The Discourse about the Wedding Ritual: Hierarchies of Gender, Knowledge, and Authority". This last paper was on how traditional Jewish feminists who've gotten married in the last ten years (having lived as single women in the UWS-like neighborhoods of Jerusalem) think about their weddings, who deploy various interpretive strategies in order to not feel oppressed at their weddings. These women stop with the obvious, normal ways of thinking about the Jewish wedding because they have an ambivalence about it and feel a need and wish to change the ceremony. Furthermore, they take on a role as active subjects in they are engaging in creating alternative discourses.
The next session I attended was a Talmud session: "Rabbinic Terms and Their Terms". The first presenter was Michael Chernick, who gave a paper on "'Af-Al Pi Še'en R'aiah La-Davar: The Hermeneutic, Its Characteristics, and Their Implications", which was absolutely excellent. The term upon which Chernick spoke, אף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר, was something about which I've been curious, but have never really invested the time. But beyond just exploring the term, Chernick showed how noth only was this term not used by anyone after the tannaitic period, but that there are implications for how the early amoraim and then, subsequently later amoraim and stammaim interpret Biblical texts and then Mishnaic texts (there was much more in his presentation and I am doing so little justice to it). Next up was Herbert Basser, someone of whom I've never heard, but I found to be clever and hilarious, who presented on "Legal Implications in the Mec
hanics of 'Kulah Rabbi...'", which he said could alternatively be entitled "Extreme Makeover" (I would add "Talmud Edition"). He spoke, among other things on the Obama-ization of the stammaim, taking a tannaitic text in which it is not permissive of a certain action, but then reworking it (through חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני) to actually being permissive of some things (hence, "Yes we can"). The last paper of the session was "The 'Treyf' Pot: How Utensils Came to Require Kashering", presented by David Brodsky, who showed how the Babylonian Talmud came up with the idea of pots being treyfed up by food (or, in other words, there is no such thing as treyfing up a pot until the Bavli came along).
There was then a break for lunch, which I used for schmoozing with peers.
Then the last session of the day and the conference began, for which I attended "Medieval Rabbinic Leadership and Thought". The first paper presented was by Elisha Russ-Fishbane on "Contrasting Leadership Styles: Moses and Abraham Maimonides" (Russ-Fishbane did mention that although, properly, the name Maimonides refers specifically to Rambam, nevertheless, earlier scholars understood it to refer to a family surname, so, for simplicity's sake, he's using it here to also use it with his son, as well). Russ-Fishbane contrasted Rambam's more laissez-faire style of dealing with problematic local liturgical customs (although Rambam went after more serious issues), whereas his son was more proactive in abolishing problematic local liturgical practices. The next presenter, Tirzah Meacham, presented on "Sex for Clarification: Rabbinic Approaches to Anomalous Legal Situations in Medieval Codes
and Commentaries", wherein she spoke upon issues of yibum. The last paper delivered was by Marzena Bogna Zawanowska on "The Holy Writ and Its Authorship in Medieval Karaite Commentaries on the Pentateuch", describing the following: Moses as earthly recorder of the entire Torah, God as the heavenly author of the entire Torah, Moses as selective co-author: omitting as well as adding, compiler-editor other than Moses, Moses an earthly co-author of the Torah, and a scribe-recorder other than Moses.
Following the session, I had a nice and fruitful conversation with Meacham on a topic on which she has written and upon which I've been wanting to write for over two years (I think I need to just sit down and start writing some of the papers I've been wanting to write).
On my way out, I was then asked and acceded to a request to join a minhah minyan, following which I departed in a car, getting a ride and then stopping into Eli's to pick up some food and then we hit the road, although there was a fair amount of traffic and we didn't return to the city until late.

22 December 2008

AJS (Association of Jewish Studies) Conference Today

After having gotten back from the wedding I attended yesterday, I spent the evening at home, prior to departing after midnight for DC, where I arrived this morning for day 2 of the annual AJS conference. When I arrived, I went down to the area where the conference was occurring, except that I was on the early side. However, I spotted to men putting on tallis and tefillin, so I joined them, but found the room to be crowded, plus they were fairly far along in the service, so I prayed in a nearby room.
Afterwards, I chatted with several people, prior to attending the first session. For the first session, I went to the one entitled "A Fearful Assymetry? Interpreting the Bible in Jewish
Sources". The first paper was supposed to be delivered by Michael Fishbane, but he was unable to attend. The first paper that was delivered was by Diana Lipton on "What's in a Name? The Biblical Background of a Talmudic Martyrdom", in which Lipton connected the martyrdom of Haninah ben Tradyon to what went on in Jeremiah. The second paper presented was by Meira Polliack, entitled "The Medieval Discovery of Biblical Narrative", wherein she spoke of the rise of literacy causing people to go back into the Bible and understand it on its own terms, focusing on the work of Yefet ben 'Eli. The third paper was delivered by Mordechai Z. Cohen on "Resolving a Conundrum: Pinning Down Maimonides' Elusive Construal Of the Maxim 'Scripture does not leave the hands of
its Peshat'", which was an excellent presentation. There is a curiosity of Maimonides' usage of the term פשטיה דקרא - basically, when one has already read Rashi's understanding of this phrase and then read this phrase in the Hebrew translation, one is not fully clear how Mainonides is using it. However, Cohen submitted that one should read Maimonides in the original (Judeo-Arabic) because sometimes he uses a different term, indicating obvious or apparent in contradistinction to when he uses peshat in a technical sense. Additionally, it is important to consider Maimonides' cultural context: what Sa'adia Gaon had written and the Islamic jurisprudence.
After the first session, there was schmoozing time (in which I got to meet and talk with Joseph Davis, author of an excellent article, "The Reception of the Shulhan ‘Arukh and the Formation of Ashkenazic Jewish Identity", AJS Review 26 [2002]: 251-276), and then the second session began.
For the second session, I attended the "Hellenistic Jewish Interpretations and Narratives" one. Having lost track of time in schmoozing, I arrived during the presentation of the first paper, "'Joseph and Aseneth': A Very Early Jewish-Hellenistic Romance", was delivered by René Bloch, in which Bloch argued for the book's dating to be during the Ptolemaic period, sometime between 100 BCE and 100 CE. The next paper, "At the Beginning: The Septuagint as a Jewish Bible Translation",
presented by Leonard J. Greenspoon, who spoke about Jewish Bible translations looking back to the Septuagint, which was the first of them all. Next up was Louis Feldman, who spoke upon "The Death of Moses according to Josephus", wherein he said that Josephus "emphasizes his humanity", so that Moses not become deified. The last paper in the session, "The Election of Israel in the Wisdom of Ben Sira", was delivered by Greg Schmidt Goering, who argued for understanding what scholars have previously considered to be oppositional dyads (cf. Ben Sira 33.7-15) to actually consider there to be, in truth, triadic constructions. He points out there are comprehensive dyads (e.g. male/female or whole/blemished) versus noncomprehensive dyads (such as wise/foolish and good/evil) and versus triadic constructions (e.g. wise/naïve/foolish or elect/non-elect/anti-elect).
After session #2, there was an hour lunch break, wherein I wandered about, checking out the books on sale as well as chatting and also ate a little (from the food that I brought).
Then session #3 began, with me attending "The Bavli and Its History". The first paper delivered was "Meta-Systemic Concerns as Indicators of Late-Stage Stammaitic Compositions: The Case of bEruvin 95-96", presented by Jay Rovner, whose main point was to show multiple layering of stammaitic voices. Professor Elman asked a good question on this presentation: Was this later layer slightly later (perhaps even at the sa
me time, just perhaps elsewhere) or was it much later? Rovner's response was tentative, suggesting that it was probably much later. Rovner was very articulate and I'm really excited for his paper to be published, for it seems new and important. Also, Rovner said that the later layer of the stam constructs a coherence where it was not there previously. The second paper was delivered by Barry Wimpfheimer, on "The Bavli as Classical Literature: The Argument from Rhetorical Forms". In this paper, he spoke on forms being important in the Talmud Bavli - I hope to expand upon this in a later posting, as it was really great. The third paper delivered was by Kris Lindbeck on "The Bavli's Redaction of Tradition about the Destruction of the Temple". The last paper of the session was by Ari Bergmann on "The Proto-Talmud and the Stam: The Dual Voice of the Talmud", who argued for either Abaye and Rava or students of theirs who organized "the Proto-Talmud" and then later scholars, the stammaim provided a "fluid, dynamic, interpretative layer" to the earlier layer. He had provided lots of data and statistics to show that Rava and Abaye were in a lot of the Talmud (although, to be frank, that doesn't necessarily prove that they were the first redactionary layer, but I digress).
After a brief break (in which there was more schmoozing and I davened minhah), I then attended the fourth and last session of the day. I went to another Talmudically-related session, "Rabbis and Their Cultural Context(s)". The first paper was "An Iranian Hell in the Babylonian Talmud", presented by Shai Secunda, in which Secunda argued that images of hell and punishment in both Talmudic and Zoroastrian depictions were adapted from Palestinian images. The next paper, "Reishit ha-Bekhorah: Firstborn Inheritance from Mesopotamia to the Mishnah", was presented by Jonathan Milgram. The following paper, "Torah in Triclinia: The Architecture and Iconography of Banquet Halls in Rabbinic Practice and Imagination", was not presented, as it's presenter, Gil Klein, was not here. The last paper presented was "'For the Lord Your God Moves in the Midst of Your Camp': Concentration and Diffusion of the Divine in Qumran and Rabbinic Ritual", presented by Yehuda Septimus.
Following the session, I then stopped into a little reception and schmoozed a little. And that was it for the day and I look forward to tomorrow's sessions.

21 December 2008

Today's Wedding

Today, I attended a wedding of friends of ours, where I was a groomsman. It was the first time I was a groomsman since my sister's wedding 17 months and the second time I've worn my tuxedo (the first being my wedding 16 months ago (and it's been hanging up in the closet the entire time)), although we had to go out last night to buy me a tuxedo shirt (fortunately, Macy's was open from yesterday through Wednesday without closing and has sales going on, so we totally lucked out with that), since I did not have a tuxedo shirt (which I found out when I took my tuxedo out of the closet).
Rabbi Weiss officiated at the wedding and did a splendid job, as usual. It was a nice time and lots of people were there who I knew.
Okay, now I have to get ready to be in DC for the next two days to be at the AJS conference.

18 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase II: ואיתימא

Continuing in my "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase" series (introduction & 1st posting), this posting is on the phrase ואיתימא, which literally means "and if you say" or "and some say".1 It is used by the editor to denote alternative amoraim who may have said a given statement. As to its etymological make-up, it is either from ואי תימא - if you say or, alternatively, אית אמר - there is [one who] said.2
Now, the Babylonian Talmud "contains over 750 cases in which alternate attributions (ואיתימא, ואמרי לה and, occasionally, איכא דאמרי, sometimes linked in chains) are given,"3 so what's unique about this particular phrase?
This phrase denotes that
the variant attributions can often be understood as possibilities arising from association, where the memra is attributed to contemporaries who are closely associated, as in the case of R. Yohanan and R. Abbahu (Pes 100a), or when the two names can easily be confused aurally, as in the case of R. Abin and R. Abina (Ber 7a) or R. Ahali and R. Yehiel (‘Erub 12a), or when one element of a name is common to both, as in the case of R. Yose b. Abin and R. Yose b. Zevida (Ber 13a), or R. Levi b. Hamma and R. Hamma b. Hanina (Suk 47a). These alternatives are such as might have occurred in the process of oral transmission, either as an aural error or when one authority had actually quoted the other.4
Fascinatingly, "Rava’s name crops up some 39 times within ואיתימא chains. Of these, 13 involve disciples or associates…. Another 14 involve Palestinian amoraim…."5 Moreover, "Rava is always mentioned first in these chains, and that, aside from disciples and associates, he is never confused with any amora of less than the first rank, one of the two or three greatest authorities of each amoraic generation."6
More generally, these sorts of
variations of attribution are recorded in the same way as halakhic variants – indicating that variants regarding attributions were considered as important as other variants regarding halakhic detail. This is precisely what we might have expected, since the authority of a tradition or statement may often have rested with the amora to whom it was attributed. This would also explain why most variants are recorded in connection with major authorities and their associates, since their authority was greater.7
Again, I hope this posting helps the reader in understanding this term's usage when one comes across it in their studies.

1 - Yitzhak Frank, The Practical Talmud Dictionary (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1991, 1994), 24.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Yaakov Elman, How Should a Talmudic Intellectual History Be Written? A Response to David Kraemer’s Responses, review of Responses to Suffering in Classical Rabbinic Literature, by David Kraemer, Jewish Quarterly Review 89, nos. 3-4 (January-April 1999), 375-376.
4 - Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 385-386.
5 -
Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 376.
6 -
Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 377.
7 -
Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 376

15 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase I: בעא מיניה

From my post of a week ago, here kicks off my series on "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase". This first post is on the phrase "בעא מיניה". This phrase means "he asked him"1 or, more literally, "requested/required of him". Specifically, it "introduces a problem that an amora posed to his teacher or his colleague."2
As to the amoraim involved, this phrase "and similar expressions reflect a situation in which one amora behaves as if subordinate to the other, yielding to the other’s scholarly and halakhic authority."3 As to how this subordination worked, "throughout the Babylonian Talmud, the age of a scholar was the major factor determining the hierarchical relationship between each pair of amoraim. The younger scholar always conducts himself as subordinate to the older, bowing to his halakhic authority, even if the younger scholar holds a higher position such as head of an academy."4
Often, the "point of the question is generally followed by the interrogative מהו how is it? The two sides of the question are usually set forth by ...או דלמא shall we say... or ...מי אמרינן or perhaps...."5 In other words, the inquiring amora asks regarding a halakhic quandary, wondering which of two options ought to be selected in a given situation, seeing as both are legitimate possibilities.
As to how this problem is solved, the
solution of a problem (the verb is פשט) is introduced by the phrase תא שמע come and hear. When rejected, another solution introduced by the same phrase is generally attempted. The final acceptance of a solution is indicated by the closing phrase שמע מיניה hear it therefrom, i.e., this settles the question, this is the correct solution.6
And when a solution is not found, "it is indicated by the term תיקו it stands (
=תיקום), i.e., the question remains unsolved."7

I hope this posting helps you understand this phrase better in your Talmudic studies.
1 - Yitzhak Frank, The Practical Talmud Dictionary (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1991, 1994), 51.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Avinoam Cohen, "Was Age the Decisive Criterion of Subordination Among the Amoraim?", Jewish Quarterly Review 92, nos. 3-4 (January-April 2002), 279.
4 - Cohen, "Was Age the Decisive Criterion," 310.

5 - Moses Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (Cincinnati & Chicago: The American Hebrew Publishing House, 1894), 244.
6 - Ibid.
7 - Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud, 245.

07 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase Introduction

In the study of the Babylonian Talmud, there are various words or phrases that appear that are not so simple. Oftentimes, even if one were to comrehend the word or phrase, there might be a certain way that it is used that one might not necessarily know with recourse to a dictionary.
À la Better Know a District, I figured I would do a series on "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase". It is my intent, within this series (regularity to be determined), to flesh out some of these terms in the Babylonian Talmud.

Interesting Speech: Wimpfheimer on Jury Duty & Shapiro's Article

I just came back from the gym, where I read Barry Wimpfheimer's Rabbi May I? Taking Responsibility for Psak in a Post-Feminist Age that he delivered on 11 February 2007 which was sent my way a few days ago. I wanted to quote a couple of interesting parts of that speech.
The first of which is part of how he starts out his address, speaking on being a juror. I found this interesting, as, although I've never served as a juror before, I did go down for jury duty, but had it postponed until July. So it will be interesting to consider what he wrote regarding jury duty (pp. 2-4):
The practice of American law often operates within what I would call a fallacy of law as truth. What I mean by this is that despite the fact that all the participants in a legal drama are fully aware of the fact that American law is a construct shaped by precedents over a long period of time and subject to the whims of multiple authors and interpreters, lawyers and judges pretend that there is a single entity called “the law.” It is almost as if this law is personified and has agency such that a lawyer can say that “the law” demands that you side with my client or a judge can write that “the law” wants to be fair to all ethnic groups. Even legal academics are not above this fallacy; certain types of scholars will write articles articulating a uniform philosophy of law on the basis of many disparate cases even in different areas of law and different jurisdictions. Sometimes, American legal practitioners are aware of the fallacy under which they operate but employ it because it is productive value and sometimes they are unaware of the fact that it is a fallacy at all.
As a juror in a courtroom, though, one cannot but be affected by the fallacy. Within the courtroom, the jury is socialized to believe that the trial is about the pursuit of a single true and correct ruling demanded by “the law.” Each lawyer turns to the jury and attempts to convince it that the law requires the jury to find for their client or for the state.
In other words, each side presents its case as if “the law” compels the jury unequivocally to find for it. The presence of the presiding judge further socializes the jury into this notion of a single legal truth by occasionally interrupting the proceedings to decide on minor bits of procedure—sustained or overruled.
Thus when it comes time for the jury to reach a verdict, it is possible as a juror to think that the process is like a test in school: there is a correct answer which they are expected to try to figure out. The jury deliberates on the opposing narratives of what “the law” demands before deciding which one is the single truth.
If we reflect on these issues further, though, we can realize that the very process of the trial is evidence that the fallacy of a single legal truth is a fallacy. If each side can frame its case through an interpretation of the law that finds unequivocally for its interests it should be clear to us that the notion of a single legal truth in American law is always just a productive heuristic device.
In fact, if the purpose of the trial would be to determine the correct answer, the American system should eliminate the jury completely. Since the judge is better schooled and usually smarter than the aggregate juror, we would be more likely to get the correct answer if the judge figured it out on her own. If we had a math competition and needed to get the correct answer, would we have the expert teach a novice and have him answer the question or would we have the expert answer the question herself?
What is the purpose of a jury? One purpose is to dissipate some of the power that had historically been located in a judge’s hands. Now if law was just a computation, it wouldn’t so much matter that the law was in one person’s hands; but since determining a legal ruling involves subjectively choosing from among multiple options, there is a significant degree of subjectivity involved in such an act and that subjectivity is dangerously empowering. So the American system relieves the judge of the power to rule and hands that power to a jury of one’s peers. In the course of doing that, the structure of judge and jury makes manifest the distinction between the legal fallacy of a single legal truth and the reality of a subjective determination of a verdict from among multiple options. In other words, while the jury may think that its purpose is to figure out the one true legal answer, the very structure of a jury system testifies to the fact that they have more than one possible choice. Moreover, because the jury system relieves the judge of this subjective choice it places responsibility for that choice squarely on the jurors. This means that whereas the judge through her rulings from the bench contributes to the fallacy of a single truth and to justice as an exercise in figuring out what “the law” requires, the jury symbolizes the fact that a verdict requires someone to take responsibility for multiple options within the law. The trial jury embodies the taking of responsibility for a legal choice.
A juror’s responsibility is no light matter. Jurors must weigh the evidence and bear in mind that a decision to convict could ruin a man or woman’s life, while a decision to acquit could have disastrous consequences for the community. It is sometimes easier for jurors to think of their role as determining “the law” as truth so that they do not have to feel the responsibility of their choice. But when you issue a mixed verdict that puts worldly realities at odds with legal truths, the burden of one’s responsibility is often too much to bear. My fellow jurors turned to the judge because they wanted him to reassure them with the voice of law as truth that they had done good, but also because they wanted to share or dump the responsibility for their choice back on the judge.
Another piece that was interesting, relates to the issue of women's aliyot and Rabbi Mendel Shapiro's piece thereon (pp. 14-15):
When Rabbi Mendel Shapiro wrote his original article on the topic, he wrote it along the lines of a contemporary American Law Review piece which only exacerbated his attempt to construct a single-truth argument permitting the practice. Along the way, Shapiro wanted to argue that every layer of Jewish law—rabbinic, medieval, modern—can provide support for the practice. In my opinion, though the piece is excellent, this type of argument opens itself up for critique—a critique that has recently emerged. Several articles have now come out in response to Shapiro and much of the critique has focused on a specific reading of a certain Rishon or Aharon. In my view, though, such attacks miss the point. Shapiro’s article provides a wide audience with access to the knowledge necessary to take responsibility for its practices. One need not satisfy every halakhic opinion; the existence of rabbinic texts justifying the practice allows a community to take responsibility for its own practices and follow that position. Because the counter-argument cannot eradicate all support for participatory minyanim, they do not pose a challenge to their continued implementation.

04 December 2008

New Gym Rates at J's Big Gym in Washington Heights

When I went to the gym on Sunday, I was made aware that since my gym membership was expiring in two weeks, it would be good to renew my membership then, as the rates were going to go up the next day, 1 December.
So, for those interested, the new membership rates at J's Big Gym that went into effect a few days ago, see below (for the old rates, see here):

New member: $398
Renewal: $299
6 Months: $260
3 Months: $150
1 Month: $65
1 Day: $12

30 November 2008

Weekly Vlog Post #18

Here's my eighteenth weekly vlog posting, with Thanksgiving and my parents in town. Also is the first time (at least that I can remember) my wife appears in my vlog posting.

My Favorite Class in my 1st Semester of College: Introduction to Informatics

Drew at computer in fall 2000 at IUIn my first semester of college at Indiana University eight autumns ago (yeah, I'm dating myself), my favorite of my five classes was Introduction to Informatics, taught by Professor Gregory Rawlins. Not only was it my first semester, but it was also the first semester of both this particular course and the Informatics program at IU.
For those unfamiliar with informatics, the IU website describes it as follows - "Informatics develops new uses for information technology, is interested in how people transform technology, and how technology transforms us."
At the time, on my IU student website (which expired sometime after I graduated, thus there is no hyperlink here), I wrote
The School of Informatics is the first of its kind. The class is an experiment and we are kind of roaming around trying to identify where this course is and ought to go. The topics we are covering are very interesting. Professor Rawlins has an extensive experience with computer science so he is kind of used to teaching facts and so forth with computer science, so this approach is new to him.
I think what was particularly neat about this course for me was thinking differently about many things (both computers and otherwise). One instance is the following (from my notes* (that I wrote in class and typed up afterwards (before the ubiquity of laptops (yes, I'm dating myself again))) of 10 October 2000's class):
Reification - To make an abstract thing real.
If it wasn't for reification, it would be impossible for humans to do anything humans think.
In the following class (12 October 2000), he described the difference between software and hardware:
Facetious definition: "Anything that if you drop it on you, it will hurt."
Real definition: "Anything which is tangible."
Computers are about reifying thought
With computers, hardware becomes software.
Firmware - software which has been reexpressed through hardware
To demonstrate the aforementioned, he used the example of how hotels operate:
hotel=office building + beds + showers + cafeteria
What makes them different are their operations, which are not physical.
There is no procedure for checking into an office building, but there is one for checking into a hotel.
The procedures differ.
The structure is not just physical but also procedural.
Throughout our lives, we have been acquiring software to know how to function as a university student.
I really liked that line about what the difference between an office building and a hotel.
Anyways, this class was on my mind recently and was looking through the notes and thought I would share it with the blogosphere.
*Disclaimer: I am not saying that these notes are necessarily verbatim what Professor Rawlins said or everything that he said, so please don't judge him harshly for these notes of mine from eight years ago.
PS I just found this set of slides from an Informatics class that seems good.

25 November 2008

Two Pet Peeves with Some Articles

Often when reading articles, usually of the Jewish topical variety, I get irked by two main issues. The first of these concerns quoting an author by name and the second of these concerns where/how to place a citation note.
As to quoting an author, there’s a famous rabbinic statement that espouses the importance of quoting the sayer of a particular statement (although, ironically, it is not clear who said it, as there are multiple rabbis identified with saying it). I feel this is important in writing as well. People write books. Let me say this again, people write books. I have yet to find books writing books. Therefore, one who writes a book should be quoted/cited in such a way. An instance of this would be that one does not say Adventures of Huckleberry Finn wrote such-and-such - rather, one would write, Mark Twain wrote such-and-such in his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Similarly, one would not write the Magen Avraham wrote such-and-such, but rather Rabbi Avraham Gombiner wrote such-and-such in his Magen Avraham.
The other issue is the proper placement of a notation. I've seen in some articles that will place the notation after the name of a person (or, even a book) rather than after the complete thought that is being noted. Generally, such articles follow the humanities style (such as Chicago style), thus
The superior numerals used for note reference numbers in the text should follow any punctuation marks except the dash, which they precede. The numbers should also be placed outside closing parentheses.
Wherever possible a note number should come at the end of a sentence, or at least at the end of a clause. Numbers set between the subject and verb or between other related words in a sentence are distracting to the reader.
Preferably, the note number follows a quotation, whether the quotation is short and run into the text or long and set off from the text. Occasionally it may be inserted after an author's name or after text introducing the quotation.1
Although I am getting some of these things off of my chest, I also hope these are helpful to writers out there.

1 - John Grossman, ed., The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1993) 494, 495.

Weekly Vlog Post #17

Here's my belated weekly vlog post. This one is about school stuff. Included is a segment on my morning commute to school (at 8x speed) with music ("Streetlights" by Phenotype) at the 3:57 mark.

17 November 2008

Weekly Vlog Post #16

Here is my 16th weekly vlog posting - nothing much special in this one.

09 November 2008

Weekly Vlog Post #15

Nothing special in this posting - just a plain weekly vlog post.

06 November 2008

Jews in Articles

Jews Take A Gamble on Ohio BallotSometimes, there are articles which tout how involved Jews are with a given subject and, in my mind, be read a certain way by anti-semites. One such article is the recent "Jews Take A Gamble on Ohio Ballot".
Starting off with saying "Jews may make up only about 2 percent of the nation’s population, but they are 100 percent of the movers and shakers who are behind the push for Ohio to authorize the construction of a $600 million casino resort complex in Clinton County", already my mind conjures up that those who are non-Jew friendly could certainly see this in a very negative light. Moreover,
The two Cleveland-area entrepreneurs who are leading the campaign to convince voters to OK State Issue 6 on the November ballot are both Jews: Rick Lertzman and Brad Pressman. Meanwhile, two executives of Lakes Entertainment, a Minnesota-based casino operator, which is helping finance the multimillion-dollar campaign and proposed casino construction, are also Jews: CEO Lyle Berman and Vice President Jack Malisow.
And it gets better:
The spokesman for the Vote No committee is Bob Tenenbaum, who “just happens to be” Jewish.” He notes he is a paid public relations professional who’s been hired to promote the casino opponents’ stand. Two recent TV debates featured Tenenbaum clashing with Pressman, but Tenenbaum describes the all-Jewish verbal battle simply as “an odd coincidence.”
So there's all of these Jews involved in this issue! Anyways, as far as the Jewishness involved,
The religious background of the four men has not been discussed at all in the bitter public campaign, but Lertzman tells The New Standard that their proposal shows “Jewish entrepreneurial spirit.”
“Jews take chances on businesses all of our lives,” Lertzman says. “Risk-taking is part of the Jewish heritage.”
Interestingly, though,
When the four meet to map strategy, “it’s easier because you have a common perspective and heritage,” says Pressman. “We have common roots, and we can argue with each other without being offended.”
Anyways, I found it interesting. Also, if you're interested, the article goes on to survey various local rabbis' opinions on gambling. Oh, and the ballot failed.

Sleeping Direction in Judaism, Part 1: The Shulhan Arukh

When I was working on my avelus test two and a half months ago, I noticed the following interesting line written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in his Shulhan Arukh (YD 362.2):
נותנין המת על גביו ופניו למעלה כאדם שהוא ישן
We place the corpse on its back and its face upwards, like a person when they are sleeping.
From Rabbi Karo's having written this line, it would seem that he would say that people sleep on their backs. However, he also wrote in his Shulhan Arukh (EH 23.3) that
אסור לאדם לישן על ערפו ופניו למעלה עד שיטה מעט כדי שלא לבא לידי קישוי
It is forbidden for a person to sleep on one's neck and one's face turned upwards until one tilts a little in order so that one does not come to have an erection.
Although one could say that, with the latter text, Rabbi Karo means to say that it's kind of like one is lying on one's back, but with the modification of tilting, nevertheless, the first text is still rather interesting. I hope to continue further posts on the topic of Jewish sleep positioning, but, for now, I will end off with the following from Professor Jeffrey Woolf's recent article (HT), that
When it comes to sexuality, the Shulhan Arukh presents a markedly conflicted stance. On the one hand, the author dutifully codifies the relevant rulings that express a positive attitude toward sexuality. On the other hand, in a section of the work (Hilkhot Zeni'ut) that was more likely to achieve wider provenance (Orah Hayyim), he presents the student with a much more severe, ascetic view of sexuality.
- Jeffrey R. Woolf, "'La'avodat Bor'o': The Body in the Shulhan Arukh of R. Joseph Caro," in The Jewish Body: Corporeality, Society, and Identity in the Renaissance and the Early Modern Period, eds. Giuseppe Veltri & Maria Diemling (Leiden: EJ Brill, 2008), 177.

Weekly Vlog Posting #14

Includes segments from my going to the JACS retreat and voting.

26 October 2008

Weekly Vlog Post #13

This vlog posting starts off with a segment on picking up change and putting it to good use.

25 October 2008

More Kevod Zibur Stuff

So, I see that there is a new article-response-rebuttal on the topic of aliyot for women by Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Mendel Shapiro in the new Meorot issue, which I will hopefully read soon (I've already read my rebbe's article so far (upon which Menachem Mendel commented)). This, of course, only further serves to remind me that I haven't quite gotten around to posting about Rabbi Berman's presentation about this issue of aliyot for women (mentioned previously), which had been done after Rabbis Sperber and Riskin had spoken at that same shul. While I'm on the topic, I listened to an excellent audio shiur on this topic by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper that took place in June.
Also, speaking of which
, there are a pair of shiurim worthy of a listen by Rabbi Klapper on the topic of kevod zibur: one from February and one from March. Oh, and I stumbled across an audio file (to which I have yet to listen, but hope to) of Rabbi Asher Lopatin speaking on "Beyond Tzibur and Kavod Hatzibur: A Synagogue Becomes Home" at JOFA's 6th International Conference.

Kol 'Ishah & Women's Krias haTorah II: Rav Henkin's Take

While going through stuff for another posting on the topic of aliyot for women, I found that Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin wrote "[o]ne may indeed ask, why should reading the Torah be different with regard to kol b'ishah ervah than reading the Megillah?"
In my first posting on this particular topic, I wrote
the reason that the Sages that were quoted in the beraisa (on Megillah 23a) did not mention the woman's voice issue is because it had not yet come about. The kevod zibbur issue was brought up by tannaim, the woman's voice issue came about at the beginning of the amoraic period, derived by Shmuel....
Nevertheless, Rabbi Henkin's suggestion to the aforementioned question is that he thinks
the Megillah reading is different because of the special affection people have for it, as stated in Megillah 21b regarding two or more people reading the Megillah in unison, something not permitted in other readings....
He adds that since "Purim is a time of feasting and drinking, which lead to impropriety", then "a woman reading the Megillah for men would presumably not do so in the synagogue but at home, where there are fewer restraints...."
I have no particular critics or criticisms, just presenting it here, as I found another person asking the same question, albeit with a different answer.

24 October 2008

Apparently, I'm Not the only One not Blogging as Much - Aargh, Twitter

Esther recently linked, via a tweet, a blog posting of hers to an article posted earlier this week that says blogging's no longer what it once was. Well, yes. For me, getting married definitely has diminished my blogging, although I've tried to still do it. However, Paul Boutin, who wrote the aforementioned article, mentions that Twitter has had an adverse affect on blogging. Before I had read the article, I have also noticed that my blogging has not been as much since I started using Twitter. Somehow, this came up in the course of conversation over the holiday with Susanne, who mentioned that her blogging has also been lessened on account of her using Twitter. We agreed that you can easily tweet various ideas you have instead of blogging about them and lo and behold, they're on the Internet. Moreover, one need not sit down at a computer and type out one's thoughts in an organized and lengthy fashion when one can, while waiting for the train or just walking, type out a tweet.
Of course, I've been hearing at various yom tov and shabbat meals curious people inquiring about Twitter and I generally say that it's micro-blogging or SMS blogging. Either way, it's similar but kind of different from blogging. While most people still don't particularly get it, that's probably fine - it's probably not for everybody (part of this is that, according to recent findings that "people who regularly upload material to the internet are just attention seekers" - so some people are and some people aren't (and the others read that material)). My wife, for one, is not particularly into it. Also, a week ago, Shira checked my Twittering out and was not a fan:
I honestly don't care if you just went to the gym/dropped your kids off at school/are headed for Starbucks/whatever. Do we really need to know what our friends and relatives are doing every minute of every day?
She then adds that Twitter
strikes me as the functional equivalent of submitting to a personal GPS tracking system, and is way too reminiscent of "Big Brother Is Watching You" for my taste. Why on earth would anyone do this voluntarily?
I just don't get it.
Back last month in the New York Times, Clive Thompson wrote in a lengthy article ("Brave New World of Digital Intimacy") that
For many people — particularly anyone over the age of 30 — the idea of describing your blow-by-blow activities in such detail is absurd. Why would you subject your friends to your daily minutiae? And conversely, how much of their trivia can you absorb? The growth of ambient intimacy can seem like modern narcissism taken to a new, supermetabolic extreme — the ultimate expression of a generation of celebrity-addled youths who believe their every utterance is fascinating and ought to be shared with the world. Twitter, in particular, has been the subject of nearly relentless scorn since it went online. “Who really cares what I am doing, every hour of the day?” wondered Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist, in an essay about Twitter last month. “Even I don’t care.”
He then writes that "Indeed, many of the people I interviewed, who are among the most avid users of these 'awareness' tools, admit that at first they couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to do this." He goes on to write that
This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.
I certainly found Thompson's writing very interesting and hopefully helpful to those who want to understand the whole Twitter thing.
Anyways, back to the original article ("Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004") written by Mr. Boutin. In it, he writes that
Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. ... It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.
Granted, a lot of this is true - I've certainly had my share of hecklers on the comments threads here, but that's mostly gone down. He's also right about the Twitter part (as mentioned previously in this posting) and Facebook (I'm not quite sure how Flickr figures into it, aside from sharing pictures). However, I've found blogging to have its uses and I don't mind that it's not "the bright idea" it used to be. Similarly, he writes that "text-based Web sites aren't where the buzz is anymore", although I don't need to be that cool to be a part of the buzz. Boutin goes on to point an interesting point out:
The reason blogs took off is that they made publishing easy for non-techies. Part of that simplicity was a lack of support for pictures, audio, and videoclips. At the time, multimedia content was too hard to upload, too unlikely to play back, and too hungry for bandwidth.
Social multimedia sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook have since made publishing pics and video as easy as typing text.
To this point, this may work well in the larger context, although not necessarily for me. (By the way, for those interested, the State of the Blogosphere 2008 report came out last month.)
However, on this topic, a year or so ago, one person who followed/follows the Jblogosphere said that it had "jumped the shark" at some point. What point that was is unclear, although it was definitely a year or two ago. Oh well, there are still Jbloggers out there, albeit not with the same interest there once was.
So, those are some of my thoughts on blogging nowadays and Twitter.

23 October 2008

Weekly Vlog Posts #11 & #12

Below are my eleventh and twelfth weekly vlog postings. I have had difficulty in uploading them, as our Internet connection has not been good as well as my computer has been in the shop, but it is now back. Vlog posting #11, which is not well-lit can be found at the bottom of this posting, while vlog posting #12 is directly below and features a segment about eating and living in the city during Sukkos (beginning at the 1:44 mark) and also includes a bit about our recent trip up to Montréal for the first days of the Sukkos holiday (beginning at the 10:05 mark), odds & ends (beginning at the 11:58 mark), and concludes with outtakes (beginning at the 12:38 mark). In all, it is the longest of my vlog postings thus far.
Vlog #12

Vlog #11

Computer Now Back

I now have my computer back!! Originally, around a month ago, the screen got damaged at school. I had thought to bring it in and although I found out that we had purchased a coverage plan, it would take almost two weeks to get back. So, a little over a week and a half ago, I dropped off my computer and have, in the interim, been without it and with limited access to the Internet. So, anyways, I'm back.

29 September 2008

24 September 2008

Drew hears Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz speak at school

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz answering DrewToday, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz came to YCT and spoke about selihos (video). Having never heard him before, I wasn't sure what to expect (yes, he is a prolific author, some of which I've read, but I didn't know about him as a speaker). However, I thought he was great, especially really liking his humbleness and gentleness. Anyways, that is my two cents on that.
Oh, and, by the way, it's my birthday today.

14 September 2008

Weekly Blog Posting #7

Today's Jblogger Midtown Meet-Up

Having seen Shira's blog posting (and prior posting and following posting) of a Jblogger get-together, I decided it would be a nice opportunity to get together with some other Jbloggers.
Although I left late to get to the meet-up, I then went to the wrong place, but eventually got there. I was disappointed that there weren't more people, as it was just - aside from me - Steg, Shira and her husband (the latter two of whom I met for the first time). I would've thought that there would've been more to make it, but I guess it might've just been to dorkified for them (look, I acknowledge and embrace my dorkhood).
Anyways, there were a couple of firsts for me: first Jblogger meet-up and first time at Kosher Deluxe. Aside from that, we mostly discussed some Jblogosphere stuff along with some Jewish topics.