My Life and Opinions

UNESCO and Jerusalem

“What are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what ‘the stars foretell,’ avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable ‘verdict of history’–what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?” — Robert Heinlein, “Time Enough for Love”

The reactions to the UNESCO resolution have gone down a slippery slope through inaccuracy, blurring, and distortion to downright bullshit.

“The document only refers to the Haram ash-Sharif by its Arabic name, not the Temple Mount” — this is a fact.

“The document fails to acknowledge the Jewish connection to Jerusalem” — this is already interpretation. It’s kind of true, through there is a half-hearted phrase near the beginning about “affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” Honestly, Jerusalem is a bit more than “important”.

The next step is very small, but it makes a huge difference:

“The document denies the Jewish connection to Jerusalem”. Note that we have gone from passive “failing to acknowledge” to active “denial”. This is again interpretation, and legitimate interpretation in the context of the original, but it doesn’t stay in the context of the original. It becomes the executive summary of the document, and people reading it on its own don’t know that the writer meant “by failing to acknowledge the Jewish connection the document is denying it”. So we get to the next step:

“UNESCO passes resolution saying that Jews have no connection to Temple Mount”. By now we have left the facts completely behind. This is simply bullshit. People hearing this and not Reading The Full Article or the actual resolution believe that UNESCO made an explicit statement to this affect, or even that this was the whole topic of the resolution.

This is a terrible missed opportunity. Why isn’t Israel working on criticising the document for what it says, which is ludicrously one-sided, instead of for what it doesn’t say and what it doesn’t doesn’t say, if you see what I mean? We should be getting the document amended to include some deploring of the waqf’s destructive and unsupervised construction projects on the Temple Mount — and certainly not breaking ties with UNESCO, Mr. Bennett!! That is about the dumbest response possible.

And we should also be taking a good hard look at the rest of the resolution and working on what we can and should be doing with our responsibilities to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif/Har Habayit, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Jewish/Christian/Muslim holy site of worship and as an integral part of a world cultural heritage site. Because yes, we are the occupying power, and yes, we do have responsibilities.

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Great Moment

My youngest daughter has been a vegetarian for some months now, and her brother and sisters have not always been, let’s say, as supportive as they might be.

My son is sure that she will never make it through the annual Independence Day barbecue at my sister-in-law’s without cracking and eating meat, so they made a bet: if she eats any meat she will have to eat some of every kind of meat there (and if that sounds like not such a big deal, you don’t know my sister-in-law); and if she doesn’t eat any meat, he will be vegetarian for a week.

So I said, “That sounds like a good bet.”

Drum roll…

Wait for it…

“Do you want me to hold the steaks?”

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Hhanukka meme

From Talmida (and I’m sorry if it looks as if I cribbed a lot of the entries from her. There are reasons why we’re friends, you know):

8 interests in my life

  • Indonesian music
  • Biblical interpretation
  • Languages and scripts
  • Cryptic crosswords
  • Spirituality
  • Mountains
  • Theatre
  • Food and drink

8 things to do before I die

  • Visit the Far East
  • Get a part in a movie
  • Give up smoking
  • Take a skin-diving course
  • Learn sofrut
  • Read (at least some of) the Mahābhārata in the original
  • See the Canadian Rockies
  • Learn blues piano

8 books I read recently

This one is going to be a bit dull, because I have this habit of taking an author and working through him or her, especially when I’m unwell. Comfort reading.

  • G K Chesterton The Innocence of Father Brown
  • G K Chesterton The Wisdom of Father Brown
  • G K Chesterton The Incredulity of Father Brown
  • G K Chesterton The Secret of Father Brown
  • G K Chesterton The Scandal of Father Brown
  • G K Chesterton The Club of Queer Trades
  • James Kugel How to Read the Bible (working my way gradually through this one)
  • Joan Peters From Time Immemorial

8 films that mean something to me

  • Princess Bride
  • Chariots of Fire
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • The Parent Trap (1998 version)
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Wings of Desire
  • Dead Poets Society

8 songs that mean something to me

  • Mr Fox — The Gypsy
  • Pete Atkin — Beware of the Beautiful Stranger
  • Bob Dylan — Simple Twist of Fate (and many others)
  • Noa (אחינעם ניני) — Wildflower, also Path To Follow and לאט כהולם הלב
  • Tejedor — Texendo Suaños
  • Ehud Banai (אהוד בנאי)‎ — שעה של מיסטורין
  • John Lennon — Woman
  • Leonard Cohen — Stranger Song
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    מה כמה?‏

    להלן הודעה אמיתית שהתקבלה מ-Windows Update, ללא שינויים.

    גודל הורדה (סה"כ): 137.2 MB הערכת זמן במהירות החיבור שלך: 7

    אולי זה היה אמור להיות מחווה לישראל פוליאקוב ז״ל?

    Hebrew language and literature
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    My new bumper sticker

    I was walking home the other day when a car passed me with a bumper sticker like this: אני דובר ארמית — I Speak Aramaic. He pulled in and parked ahead of me so I waited for him to get out and said politely צַפְרָא טָבָא, and told him that I liked the sticker, and where could I get one? He immediately pulled two more out of the car and presented them to me.

    We spoke for a few minutes, and it turns out that he is a native Aramaic speaker, and that the stickers are put out by an organization that has just opened an office in the centre of Jerusalem (in Ben Yehuda Street, appropriately enough), and they are planning to start holding classes in spoken Aramaic.

    My only question is, why doesn’t it say אנא מליל ארמיא?

    Aramaic
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    Hey, man

    Things I thought about during the Megilla reading this year, in no particular order. I’m not saying I thought of all this actually during the reading, some of it is expansions of the original ideas that are coming to me as I write it down

    I’m not sure if this counts as a meme. RenReb did a post with this subject last year, and Dov Bear picked it up and repeated his post this year. ADDeRabbi had a good one too which I just saw because bloglines resyndicated it.

    • Ancient Persians had really silly names. Sha`ashgaz. Karshena. Hharvona. Apart from Mordechai and Esther, which are Babylonian, the only sensible name in the whole book is Haman. Actually, Sha`ashgaz would be a rather cool name for a cat. Especially a Persian cat.
    • How did Haman come to fall on Esther’s couch? Was he prostrating himself to her (which would be a nice dramatic irony considering that the driving motive behind most of the plot is that Mordechai refused to prostrate himself to Haman) or is it a slapstick thing, that he got up to beg for mercy after one too many cups of wine and just fell over?
      Either way, the word “fall” is certainly dramatic irony (look at verse 6:13).
    • OK, so the chiastic structure of the whole book is really obvious. But what about the little chiasmi (if that is the right word)? For example, in 5:10 Haman summons his friends and his wife, and in 5:14 his wife and his friends answer him. In 6:13 he tells his wife and his friends what happened, and his wise men and his wife answer him.
    • I love the way Algerians pronounce a gimmel without dagesh, e.g. in אֲגָגִי.
    • What were the סְפָרִים in which they sent out the proclamations? Clay tablets?
    • I wonder if the Persian words in the Megilla are attested in old Persian texts. If they are, I could blog about it and put them in in Unicode Persian cuneiform and nobody without the right geeky fonts could read them. Like this: 𐎧𐏁𐎹𐎠𐎼𐏁𐎠 (that’s Ahasuerus’ name, assuming that Ahasuerus is Xerxes).

    Judaism and religion
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    Got some of the t-shirts

    Ah, memes. The staple of the blogger with nothing to say, or not enough time to say it. This is from Something Something via Slightly Mad.

    Things I’ve done are bold. Comments in italics.

    1. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
    2. Swam with wild dolphins
    3. Climbed a mountain
    4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
    5. Been inside the Great Pyramid
    6. Held a tarantula
    7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
    8. Said “I love you” and meant it
    9. Hugged a tree
    10. Bungee jumped
    11. Visited Paris
    12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
    13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
    14. Seen the Northern Lights
    15. Gone to a huge sports game
    16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
    17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
    18. Touched an iceberg
    19. Slept under the stars
    20. Changed a baby’s diaper
    21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
    22. Watched a meteor shower
    23. Gotten drunk on champagne
    24. Given more than you can afford to charity
    25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
    26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
    27. Had a food fight
    28. Bet on a winning horse
    29. Asked out a stranger
    30. Had a snowball fight
    31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
    32. Held a lamb
    33. Seen a total eclipse of the moon.
    34. Ridden a roller coaster
    35. Hit a home run
    36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
    37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
    38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
    39. Had two hard drives for your computer
    40. Visited all 50 states
    41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
    42. Had amazing friends
    43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
    44. Watched wild whales
    45. Stolen a sign
    46. Backpacked in Europe
    47. Taken a road-trip
    48. Gone rock climbing
    49. Midnight walk on the beach
    50. Gone sky diving
    51. Visited Ireland
    52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
    53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
    54. Visited Japan
    55. Milked a cow
    56. Alphabetized your CDs
    57. Pretended to be a superhero
    58. Sung karaoke
    59. Lounged around in bed all day
    60. Played touch football
    61. Gone scuba diving
    62. Kissed in the rain
    63. Played in the mud
    64. Played in the rain
    65. Gone to a drive-in theater
    66. Visited the Great Wall of China
    67. Started a business
    68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
    69. Toured ancient sites
    70. Taken a martial arts class
    71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
    72. Gotten married
    73. Been in a movie
    74. Crashed a party
    75. Gotten divorced
    76. Gone without food for 5 days
    77. Made cookies from scratch
    78. Won first prize in a costume contest
    79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
    80. Gotten a tattoo
    81. Rafted the Snake River
    82. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
    83. Got flowers for no reason
    84. Performed on stage
    85. Been to Las Vegas if driving through it
      and not stopping counts
    86. Recorded music
    87. Eaten shark
    88. Kissed on the first date
    89. Gone to Thailand
    90. Bought a house
    91. Been in a combat zone
    92. Buried one/both of your parents
    93. Been on a cruise ship
    94. Spoken more than one language fluently
    95. Performed in Rocky Horror
    96. Raised children
    97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
    98. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
    99. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
    100. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
    101. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
    102. Had plastic surgery
    103. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
    104. Wrote articles for a large publication
    105. Lost over 100 pounds
    106. Held someone while they were having a flashback
    107. Piloted an airplane
    108. Touched a stingray
    109. Broken someone’s heart
    110. Helped an animal give birth
    111. Won money on a T.V. game show
    112. Broken a bone
    113. Gone on an African photo safari
    114. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
    115. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
    116. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
    117. Ridden a horse
    118. Had major surgery
    119. Had a snake as a pet
    120. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
    121. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
    122. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
    123. Visited all 7 continents
    124. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
    125. Eaten kangaroo meat
    126. Eaten sushi
    127. Had your picture in the newspaper
    128. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
    129. Gone back to school
    130. Parasailed
    131. Touched a cockroach
    132. Eaten fried green tomatoes
    133. Read The Iliad – and the Odyssey
    134. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
    135. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
    136. Skipped all your school reunions
    137. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
    138. Been elected to public office
    139. Written your own computer language
    140. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
    141. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
    142. Built your own PC from parts
    143. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
    144. Had a booth at a street fair
    145. Dyed your hair
    146. Been a DJ
    147. Shaved your head
    148. Caused a car accident
    149. Saved someone’s life

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    Experimenting in the kitchen

    On a sudden whim last Shabbat I decided to make kugel, which I have never done before. I don’t know if it’s from local patriotism or just that I like the taste of pepper, but for me the only kugel worthy of the name is Kugel Yerushalmi, so after a little googling1 I tried this recipe.

    It came out quite well for a first attempt. Next time I will try using thinner noodles. I don’t have an oven at the moment, or a Bundt pan (what’s called a סיר פלא in Hebrew) but it cooked reasonably evenly overnight on our electric platter in the heavy-based saucepan that I usually use for jahhnun, and the flavour was the right blend of sweet and peppery. I assume from the description that the sugar was supposed to melt in the oil and form some kind of consistent caramelly goop, but it totally refused to do this. Should I have used more heat? Less heat? Gone on stirring for longer?

    Talking of kugel, I can’t resist the opportunity to put in one of the corniest jokes I know:

    Why do Jews eat kugel on Shabbat?

    Because of the gematria:

    ‎קוגל‎ = ‎ק‎ + ‎ו + ‎ג + ‎ל‎ = 100 + 6 + 3 + 30 = 139
    ‎שבת‎ = ‎ש‎ + ‎ב‎ + ‎ת‎ = 300 + 2 + 400 = 702

    You see?

    Wait, you’re not convinced? Maybe you want to tell me that the gematria of “Shabbat” came out to more than the gematria of “kugel”?

    So eat more kugel!

    1 Google rhymes with kugel. Coincidence? I don’t think so

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    Othar Never Blowed No Shofar

    …but tomorrow אי״ה I will.

    Two shofarot are sitting on a table. One says "אני תקוע" ("I have been blown", or "I am stuck". The other asks "אתה רוצה לדבר על זה?‏" ("Do you want to talk about it?")

    A Happy New Year to you all.

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    You have 2109 new messages, all marked urgent

    Back home and online after three weeks+ abroad. A lot has been happening, and there’s lots to do now we’re back. I’ll try to update gradually. If you emailed me and are waiting for a reply, your patience will soon be rewarded.

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    I am a feminist

    There are advantages to living in a small country. If I was in America or even England and saw that someone whose work I admire and whose blog I read regularly was speaking somewhere, chances are it would be 1,000s of miles away and I wouldn’t be able to get to it.

    In Israel, on the other hand, when Danya mentions that she will be talking about her book, it’s happening 10 minutes drive away from my house, and I could go along and even did the full groupie thing and got her to sign my copy afterwards.

    Seriously, though, something she said gave me a big hhizzuk which I will always be thankful for. I literally drank in feminism with my mother’s milk though I should note that my mother ע״ה would never have let me get away with using “literally” like that. I used to claim that I didn’t mean “literally” literally, but she wasn’t convinced., but when I was growing up in the 1970s, there was a very strong vibe in publications like Spare Rib that “only a women can be a feminist” which has ever since made me describe myself with half-hearted terms like “a supporter of feminism”.

    So it made a big impression on me when Danya firmly contradicted that and said something to the effect of “feminism is for everybody”. From now on, I am out of the closet and identifying myself as a feminist, with no more weasling.

    Judaism and religion
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    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

    Aviad, describing himself on an school application form:

    “If the religious were red and the secular were yellow, I would be orange.”

    Judaism and religion
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    eek

    Fatherhood is all about learning to handling new experiences, and here’s one I haven’t had before. What should a father do when he sees his daughter spread over a Jewlicious post singing the praises of “hot frum girls“?

    My own first answer was “load his shotgun.”

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    Two years

    Today is my mother’s second Yahrtzeit, the anniversary of her death by the Hebrew calendar.

    We invited several friends of ours and hers over for an azkara or memorial service, with prayers (I think this was the first time in my life that I have led a weekday evening service), light refreshments and Torah study. The texts that we learned are available in the original here. I’m feeing totally totally drained right now, but I hope tomorrow or soon I will post a translation and some of what I said for the occasion.

    I’m very glad we did it. Everybody who knew her remembers her so fondly, and it was very warming to share reminiscences of her with people.

    Judaism and religion
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    Police lineup

    I’m very fond of David Bogner and Treppenwitz, and this post is inspired partly by his weekly “Photo Friday” feature (before I knew that he had a culinary theme this week too), and partly by the comments on this post a few months back about the ingredients of my hamin.

    twelve eggs, a sweet potato, a head of garlic, some kind of green turnip, a regular turnip, four potatoes, a cut of meat, a kishke, a chilli pepper, and a jar of wheat grains

    Here is everything which went into the hamin yesterday (not including water and spices. Oh, and only six of those eggs ended up going in). Fourth from the left in the row of vegetables is the lefet which I usually use, which I decided earlier was a turnip, and third from the left is something that I have never seen before which appeared in the supermarket, calling itself a tzenon yarok (צנון ירוק). Is this a rutabaga?

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    Almost done

    I finished the first draft of the book proposal I’m translating today. I’m glad it’s being translated, because it’s something I’d love to read, and I would never fight my way all through it in Hebrew.

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    Dateline Las Cruces, NM

    On the sixth day of our road trip, we at last have the luxury of an RV park with wireless internet access, and I managed to catch up with some percentage of the hundreds of emails that have been accumulating.

    So far we have camped in Hollister Hills, Ciasta Lake, Joshua Tree National Park, Phoenix, AZ (where the site we booked by phone, and who interrogated us in detail about the size and age of our RV, but forgot to ask until we got there whether we had children in the party, and when they discovered that we did, forced us to look elsewhere, so we ended up missing the Friday night service we wanted to attend at Ruach Hamidbar), Willcox, AZ, and tonight at Las Cruces, NM.

    Plans for next week: El Paso, Carlsbad Caverns, Santa Fe, the Four Corners area, and some of the National Parks in Utah.

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    More From My Commonplace Book

    It’s a sad coincidence that I should have come to this entry in my commonplace book on the same day that I read Joan Aiken’s obituary.

    You can have a grievance or you can have fun, but you can’t have both.

    Joan Aiken, Foul Matter

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    From My Commonplace Book

    Every now and then I think to myself how much I would like to have an old-fashioned commonplace book in which I could copy down passages from books that make a particular impression on me. Occasionally I even start copying a few on scraps of paper, or into files on the computer.

    Just now while tidying up some old papers I found one of these abortive attempts, which as far as I remember dates from around 1987. Here is the first entry:

    He could finish this horse if he wanted to, and nobody but he would ever know that he had not kept his bargain to the full. Nobody but he would ever know that he had betrayed the dream, the vision that comes to all the makers of the world before they make a new thing, whether it be a song or a sword or a chalk-cut horse half a hill-side high.

    Rosemary Sutcliff, Sun Horse, Moon Horse.

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    Counting my blessings

    I could never adequately express my gratitude for true friendship. I can hardly believe how lucky I am. What a gift it is to have somebody in my life who cares so much about me, who is interested in so many of the same things that I am and loves doing them with me or talking about them with me, who knows much more than I about some things and is ready to teach, who knows less than I about some things and is eager to learn.

    In some ways that last is the greatest gift of all. By asking questions about things that I learned long ago and have taken for granted for many years, my friend makes me think about them again and discover things that I was unaware I knew. No exaggeration: this friendship has changed my life.

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