October 31, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

Post forthcoming (hopefully).

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Jewish prayer: III of V

October 30, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

The prayers usually follow a set order and contain certain things.

The morning prayer contains various blessings and recitations, Pesukei d’Zimra (“Chapters of Glory,” a set of Psalms and other devotional passages), the blessings before the Shema, the Shema, the blessings after the Shema, and the Amida (Standing) (also known as Shemoneh Esreh (Eighteen) and Tefillah (Prayer)). There is also place and time to read the Torah if it’s Monday, Thursday, or the Sabbath.

The afternoon prayer consists of a Psalm, the Amidah, and Tachanun.

The evening prayer contains the blessings before the Shema, the Shema, the blessings after the Shema, and the Amidah.

For the morning prayer, the essential elements are Pesukei d’Zimra, the Shema with its blessings, and the Amidah. The essential elements for the afternoon prayer are the Psalm and the Amidah. The essential parts of the evening prayer are the Shema and its blessings and the Amidah.

More details on these elements forthcoming!

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If Obama wins

October 29, 2008 at 12:07 pm (Personal)

If Obama wins, I’m going to start a podcast (since I don’t know how to do radio).

I’m going to raise the volume on “patriotic dissent” against him and the Democrats.

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Jewish prayer: II of V

October 29, 2008 at 12:30 am (Judaism)

What are the prayerbooks used in Judaism?

In Judaism, there are two types of prayerbooks: the siddur (plural: siddurim) and the machzor (plural: machzorim).

Of the siddur, there are three types: the siddur for the Sabbath (siddur l’shabbos), the siddur for weekdays (siddur l’chol), and a siddur that contains prayers for both (siddur shalem). The prayers recited during the Sabbath is somewhat different from what is recited during the day. In addition, there are additional rituals and prayers recited on the Sabbath (and just before and just after it) that do not apply to regular weekdays. So, in most siddurim the prayers for the Sabbath are written in their entirety. I mention that because during certain festivals or seasons, certain elements of certain prayers change. This is indicated in the text of the weekday prayers. But because the order and, in some cases, content of the prayers are completely different on the Sabbath, doing this with the weekday prayers would cause immense confusion, not to mention cluttering up the prayerbook. So, they simply put the Sabbath prayers, in their entirety, in a separate section (in a siddur shalem) in a separate volume (in a siddur l’Shabbos).

A machzor is used during certain festivals or seasons. There is a machzor for each of the following: Rosh haShanah (the New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkos (Festival of Booths), Pesach (Passover), and Shavuos (Festival of Weeks, commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai). As mentioned before, certain elements in certain prayers change based on the festival or season one is one. In these special prayerbooks, the prayers are presented with the relevant changes in text, thus not making it necessary to pay attention to changes that one may need to make. In addition, these prayerbooks contain prayers and rituals specific to the festival or feast, and some even contain special poetry or texts which one may recite. They may also include a summary of what rules and practices apply during the relevant feast or festival. (There is no machzor for Chanukah as it is not, from the perspective of traditional Jewish law and learning, a major holiday.)

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October 28, 2008 at 3:32 pm (Uncategorized)

I have noticed something.

In the city, it seems that turn indicators cease to work, and turn lanes are suggestions. And “yellow” means “speed up”.


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Jewish prayer: I of V

October 28, 2008 at 12:10 pm (Judaism)

This week, I’m going to talk about the Jewish prayerbooks.

While people focus a lot of attention and detail to the beliefs and practices (namely, the commandments or mitzvos) of Judaism, a large part of Jewish observance has to do with prayer, mainly the three canonical prayers. These three prayers are: the morning prayer (shacharis), the afternoon prayer (mincha, literally “offering”), and the night prayer (ma’ariv or aravis). The morning and afternoon prayer replace the morning and evening offerings made in the temple. It is also at these times that one should or must recite the Shema.

Prayer is known in Hebrew as tefilla, and involves praising God and asking for His blessings. Other recitations are part of what is commanded, and serves as a reminder of what a Jew is supposed to do.

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October 28, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

All I can say is that praying, fasting, working, and doing home work take up way too much time.


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New series upcoming

October 27, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

A post, inaugurating a new week-long series, should be up later today.

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OSC: Will the real journalists please stand up (my phrasing)

October 24, 2008 at 11:57 am (A+ Reads, The Media)

Go forth and read:
Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?” by Orson Scott Card on Sunday, October 5, 2008 on The Ornery American.

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October 22, 2008 at 4:16 pm (Personal)

Gas is down.
Stock prices are down.
I just signed up on E-trade to begin doing stocks. (Buy low, sell high, they say!)

An economic downturn isn’t always all that bad.

Oh, and I pointedly don’t watch anything except GSN and Cartoon Network. Politics is giving me a headache.

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Military motivational posters

October 19, 2008 at 12:30 am (Amusement)

Sent by a friend. Probably quite old. They’re fun anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

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Talmud: V of V

October 18, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

Why is the Talmud so important?

Rabbinic Judaism believes that God revealed to Moses two Torahs: the Written Torah (Torah shebikhsav, which is contained in the Five Books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah) and the Oral Torah (Torah shebe-al peh). The Written Torah cannot be understood without the Oral Torah. For example: when God commanded that the people put mezuzos on their doorposts, what does it mean? How is it done? The Oral Torah explains all of this.

Until Rabbi Judah the Prince (Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi), most of the Oral Torah was oral. But as the Jews began to be dispersed, and there was the fear that the Oral Torah, or portions thereof, might be lost, the sages decided to write it down. This resulted in the Mishnah and, ultimately, the Talmud.

Because the Written Torah is considered to be unintelligible without the Oral Torah, Rabbinic Judaism places great emphasis on studying the Oral Torah. Indeed, many Orthodox Jews are more familiar with what the Oral Torah says than what the written Torah says.

The Oral Torah is the lifeblood of Judaism. Without it, they wouldn’t know how to practice what the Written Torah commands them, and without the perspectives and insight provided by the Oral Torah, Judaism would not have been able to reform.

Indeed, the Oral Torah is considered to be as authoritative (if not more) than the Hebrew Bible. This is why Jews spend so much time and effort to study the Torah.

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Talmud: IV of V

October 17, 2008 at 12:30 am (Judaism)

Judaism, particularly Orthodox Judaism, believes strongly in “studying Torah” for the sake of it. This becomes quite clear when it comes to studying the Talmud.

Although the Talmud is the basic text from which Jewish law, practice, and even beliefs come from, people who study the Talmud do not establish themselves as experts. Instead, they rely on poskim (plural of posek, which is an authority certified to issue rulings).

This is unique to Judaism. As mentioned before, Jews even study actual books of Jewish law, such as the Shulchan Aruch and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. There are many other commentaries (midrashim) and other books also studied. But those who study them do not become experts on them. Perhaps the debates in the Talmud tell why: despite all being of somewhat equal authority, various Talmud authorities constantly bickered over rulings and rules. This means that not even the greatest of sages could agree on rulings. How, then, can the common man/woman expect to become an expert on his/her own? Poskim are followed because someone has to be consulted, and various poskim even today disagree with eahc other. But a Jew has to stick to a posek. If every Jew thought himself a posek, the contention within Judaism would be fatal.

There are three purposes for studying the Talmud:
1. Become familiar with Judaism. By studying these texts, especially the Talmud, a Jew can learn what Judaism believes and practices (and, often, why). In some cases, the person learns the rules of what to do and what not to do.
2. Continuation of the past. By studying these texts, some of which are many centuries old, historical knowledge is preserved and passed on. It remains living knowledge. In this way, Jews are able to drink deeply from the well of past wisdom and knowledge, using it to refresh themselves today.
3. Derive merit. Studying Judaism, particularly the Talmud and midrashim (but most especially the Talmud), accumulates merit for the person doing the study. This merit helps them win points with God and makes Him more compassionate on the person. This merit can be used to ask for healing and some special blessing. Similarly, this merit can be transferred to someone else, who may need healing or a special blessing. And the merit can be transferred to the dead, to help them advance through the levels of the afterlife to reach Heaven, the Garden of Eden.

A small note on “following the rules”. Many books caution that while the person should study its contents, the person must go by the practices of the locality, and if there is any question he/she should consult a certified authority. Judaism places great emphasis on following the traditions of one’s locality and especially of one’s congregation. Departing from these traditions, even if the new practice conforms with established Jewish law, could cause contention.

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Talmud: III of V

October 16, 2008 at 12:30 am (Judaism)

So, what is studying the Talmud?

When an Orthodox Jew says he’s studying the Torah, that’s pretty vague. “Torah” could refer to many things: the Five Books of Moses, the entire Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, or the vast library of commentaries (primarily the midrashim, particularly sifrei Midrash Rabbah). Usually, he means the Talmud.

This is quite unique to Judaism. For, notwithstanding the fact that it contains stories and accounts, it is essential a repository of Jewish law and legal discussions. The Rabbis are constantly going back and forth on what seem to be quite trivial matters. And yet, this is what Jewish men study every day, laymen as well as rabbis and scholars. Everyone studies the Talmud.

In contrast, only Muslim experts and jurists study shari’ah, and only canon lawyers study Catholic canon law. Lay people do not study religious law, except in Judaism.

And it isn’t just the Talmud either. Other texts, such as Shulchan Aruch and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which are compilations of laws relating to Jewish practice, are studied daily.

It’s quite different and facinating.

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Talmud: II of V

October 15, 2008 at 12:30 am (Judaism)

So, what exactly is the Talmud?

The Talmud is a multi-volume set of books. It is a combination of three important elements: Mishnah, Gemara, and commentary on either or both.

The Mishnah is a compilation of statements, rulings, laws, and so forth. It is usually in Hebrew. The Mishnah is published and used separately. The Talmud, however, revolves around the Mishnah.

The Mishnah is divided into six sidrei (plural of seder, meaning “order” or “arrangement”), which are: Zera’im, Mo’ed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, and Tohoros. Each seder deals with a certain area (agriculture, marriage, the Temple); each seder is comprised of masechtos (plural of masechah, meaning “tractate”), and each masechah usually deals with a specific issue (marriage, slaves, property). However, a seder could contain information or rulings completely unrelated to the original seder, and same within a masechah.

The masechtos of each seder are:
Of Seder Zera’im: Berakhos, Pe’ah, Dema’i, Kilayim, Shevi’is, Terumos, Ma’aseros, Ma’aser Sheni, Challah, Orlah, Bikkurim

Of Seder Mo’ed: Shabbos, Eruvin, Pesachim, Shekalim, Yoma, Sukkah, Beitzah, Rosh HaShanah, Ta’anis, Megillah, Mo’ed Qatan, Chagigah

Of Seder Nashim: Yevamos, Ketubos, Nedarim, Nazir, Sotah, Hittin, Kiddushin

Of Seder Nezikin: Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, Bava Batra, Sanhedrin, Makkos, Shevu’os, Eduyos, Avodah Zarah, Avos, Horayos

Of Seder Kodashim: Zevachim, Menahos, Chullin, Bekhoros, Arakhin, Temurah, Keritos, Me’ilah, Tamid, Middos, Kinnim

Of Seder Tohoros: Keilim, Oholos, Nega’im, Parah, Tohoros, Mikva’os, Niddah, Makhshirin, Zuvim, Tevul Yom, Yadayim, Utzkim

The Gemara is the Rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah. Certain Rabbinic figures, usually referred to as “sages” (although not all sages were such Rabbinic figures), issued commentary, rulings, and clarification on what the Mishnah said. Many of these sages held extensive debates on how one came with a ruling, what rules applied in what cases. In many cases, there’s quite a bit of disagreement. One Rabbi says one thing, another counters with another. In many cases, there is not resilution, so the Talmud ends the discussion with “teiku”, which means that it’s unresolved.

So what the Talmud has is a quote from the Mishnah (usually in Hebrew) followed by the Gemara, which is commentary or discussion (usually in Aramaic). These comprise the core text of the Talmud.

Around (literally) this core text are other commentaries (significantly, by Rashi and his disciples), cross-references to other parts of the Talmud, cross-references to the Hebrew Bible, and other notation.

The core text of the Talmud is written in a very terse style. It’s not written in whole sentences, and what makes it more complicated is that there is very little punctuation. Certain oft-used phrases are abbreviated. A lot of the commentaries are simply expositions on what the core text is talking about, filling in the words, phrases, and references the text leaves out.

The Talmud edition I have, Artscroll’s Schottenstein Talmud is a translation of the core text of the Talmud into English. It does not contain a translation of the text surrounding the core text for two reasons:
1. Space. It already takes many volumes (73) to translate just the core text; it would have to be hundreds of volumes if all of the commentaries were also translated.
2. Most of the commentaries are included in the translation. Because a literal translation would make no sense, the translation includes the explanations and clarifications provided by the commentaries. Thus, most of the commentaries are already included in the translation without having to translate the commentaries separately.

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Talmud: I of V

October 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm (Judaism)

Over five days (including today, albeit late), I will be talking about something quite random: the Talmud.

In my undergraduate studies, my focus was on Judaism (specifically, Second Temple Judaism and a few centuries thereafter). I also studied contemporary Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism (particularly the more chassidic forms thereof). I knew that in order to understand Judaism the best, I would need to study the Talmud. It seemed so daunting, I never did it. And I was afraid that if I liked it, it would be an expensive habit. But I finally bit the bullet, as it were, and bought a volume of the Talmud. Studying it is fun as well as instructive! So, I found a well-priced set and bought it.

The Talmud is the core sacred text of Rabbinic Judaism. Jewish writers refer to it and quote it constantly. Most of halakhah (religious law) is based on the Talmud, as well as a lot of aggadah (traditions, stories). In order to become a rabbi, or be considered an expert in Judaism, one has to be very familiar with the Talmud. (More details about the composition of the Talmud will come tomorrow.) In fact, in certain ultra-Orthodox circles, rabbinic ordination or credentials are not used: the standard of leadership is Talmud knowledge.

The Talmud is fascinating and quite different. I look forward to boring you all about it.

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Ode to Joy

October 12, 2008 at 12:30 am (Amusement, Sunday inspiration)

Enjoy some classical music, with a bang.

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Religulous Review: VI of V

October 11, 2008 at 12:30 am (New Atheism, Religion)

Of Good and Bad Atheists

I was a little surprised to make a discovery. I asked a few atheists I admire some questions. Turns out that many of Maher’s opinions about religions and religionists are shared by other atheists. This surprised me because these atheists did not so openly express their disdain for religion and religionists. I think this is a key point: bad atheists broadcast their disdain and arrogance to all who would listen, particularly religionists, while good atheists treat even religionists with respect and deference.

Good atheists, like my friends, also realize that reality isn’t black and white. Religion has its good parts and its bad parts; likewise, rationalism has its good parts and its bad parts. Religionists and rationalists pose threats to various people and interests, and one cannot demonize either side.

I admire these atheists. There are a number of atheists I admire, some of whom are S. Weasel, Uncle Badger, Steamboat McGoo, Ace, and WickedPinto. (I don’t know if Jeff Goldstein is an atheist or agnostic, but I admire him too.) These people are very tolerant of religionists. Every now and then, they will make sharp criticisms of religions and religionists, but they do this for everyone. They are fair and balanced. Such as good atheists. We religionists can get along well with them, despite deep differences.

An excellent example is the Prophetess of the West, Oriana Fallaci. She was a staunch atheist. But one man she admired greatly was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. She was a ceaseless critic of the Catholic Church but praised where it did things well. Good atheists realize the nuances of reality, while bad atheists (who tend to be overwhelmingly liberal, ironically) see things monochromatically.

Bad atheists are of a complete different breed. They are the ones who are corrupting the image of atheists. I had a friend in college who was a devoted (devout?) atheist, and most of us religionists initially avoided her. When we realized that her atheism doesn’t affect how she deals with us, we hung out with her. She was an awesome person, and while she would express how she disagreed with what we believed and did, she tolerated our beliefs and practices. She never tried to change us, and she never preached to us.

And this is the irony. Bad atheists, like Maher, are not much different from the people they are attacking. I classify them as evangelical, fundamentalist atheists, for such is what they are. They are evangelical in that they have this zeal to preach the Gospel of I-Don’t-Know (explicitly admitted to by Maher) to all and sundry. They want to convert all the world to their Gospel. How is this different from Christian Evangelical missionaries?

They have The Truth, which they adhere to. Maher showed an evident lack of open mindedness, which is ironic considering he was accusing the Christians of being idiotically close minded. He couldn’t even entertain a conflicting viewpoint: if it did not conform with The Truth, it was falsehood, a heresy, and he attacks it. How are these different from fundamentalists?

Like the religionists he attacks, he holds to completely false stories and beliefs, such as that more people have died in the name of God than any other cause, or that Christian fundamentalism is informing US government policy. Like the fundamentalists, no matter what evidence is brought to refute him, he will not budge. Bad atheists become no different from those they attack.

Good atheists are out there. And many of them have quite valid points. Let us religionists not assume all of them are bad atheists, like Maher. We can live in peace: the extremists on both sides don’t want us to, but then we shouldn’t be listening to them.

To my atheist friends: Thank you for being such wonderful people. I am blessed to call you “friend”, even if it’s virtually. You have enriched my life and my understanding of humanity.
To my religionist friends: Keep the faith. Idiots like Maher cannot bring us down. If we are built on a foundation like a rock, then floods and storms will not be able to shake us.
To both: Let us cooperate and deal well with each other, and not let the malevolent amongst us to sour our relations. Life is too short to waste it on useless and counterproductive battles or generating or wallowing in ill will.

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Religulous Review: V of V

October 10, 2008 at 12:30 am (New Atheism, Religion)

Do religionists have an undue influence in politics?

Maher complained that Christians, Jews, and Muslims get their way from Congress because they make enough noise. He pointed out that 16% of Americans identify as unaffiliated with any religion. (Sidenote: someone should tell Maher that “unaffiliated” does not mean “atheist” or “anti-religion”.) 16% is more than the Jews and Muslims in America, and so if the rationalists raised their voices, they’d get their way too and have their rights protected.

Problem is that rationalists are getting their way to the detriment of religionists. It is because of rationalists’ campaigns against any and all public manifestation of religion that the battle between religionists and rationalists has become so sharp. They want all crosses, stars of David, and crescents hidden; but they want to flaunt their fishes of Darwin and anti-religious platitudes and pithy statements with impunity. They want to punish religionists’ statements they find offensive, all the while being free to offend religionists with impunity. They want to stop religionists from enacting laws consistent with religionists’ values, while they want to enact legislation consistent with their anti-religious values.

See the irony? Read the rest of this entry »

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Religulous Review: IV of V

October 9, 2008 at 12:30 am (New Atheism, Religion)

Of Talking Snakes and Virgin Births and Men in Whales

In his large, almost-the-entire-movie segment on Christianity, Maher focuses on certain Biblical events which he claims to be representative of Christian gullibility. Three such events are: the belief in a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and Jonah living in a whale. He also rails on creationism.

Maher completely misunderstands the value and purpose of these stories. Even if they are true, they are not used to create doctrine or effect people’s lives. They may be illustrative, allegorical, or explanatory – but they do not occupy a central place in the lives of believers. If the entire religion were based on and around such fanciful tales, then Maher would have a point. But as it is, in a regular sermon, one talks about sin, repentance, redemption, belief, trust, obedience, love, charity, hope, faith, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Maybe it’s because of the church I am in, but I have never heard an entire sermon or talk that revolves around any of these fanciful tales. They exist to teach a lesson, and what’s important is what we learn from them, not whether they are true. Read the rest of this entry »

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