Saturday, April 27, 2013

To the Sandcave!

Today is Lag BaOmer, a minor holiday that, despite having an excellent theme song courtesy of Ren and Stimpy, has never gotten much respect. It is most closely associated with Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai (Rashbi), the 2nd-century Israeli sage who spent 13 years in a cave hiding from the imperial forces of Rome for an injudicious tweet.

R. Judah commenced by observing, "How fine are the works of this people! They have made markets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths." R. Jose was silent. R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said, "All they made, they made for themselves: markets, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them." (Talmud, Shabbat 33b)

Rashbi started a trend of spelean hideouts for honing superpowers and training sidekicks.

Much is made of Rashbi's decade-long stay in the cave with his son, delving into the secrets of the Torah, while buried to their necks in sand and trying desperately to come up with new recipes for carob (this being the tree which miraculously sprang forth to sustain them). However, many ignore what happens once Rashbi finally comes to terms with his new carob- and silicon-free life. 
"Since a miracle has occurred," said he, "let me go and institute something..." Rab said: He instituted coinage for them. Samuel said: He instituted markets for them; R. Johanan said: He instituted baths for them. 

Rashbi, who decried those selfish and greedy Romans for their economic, social and health-care policies, suddenly finds himself putting them into practice. It seems that after all this time (and after enjoying the rejuvenating powers of a bathhouse for himself), he came to terms with modern life. Yes, those hedonistic hegemonists, the Romans, may have developed these institutions for their own benefit, but that should not invalidate them.

This, of course, is still a pressing issue. Some fundamentalists only want to look at the provenance of various innovations, and if a given item doesn't pass the purity test, it's unacceptable. Rashbi teaches us that at the end of the day, it does not matter where technology comes from, but what we do with it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Musical Healing

Two weeks ago, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J solved racial tensions forever with the smash hit "Accidental Racist.”

One week ago, Stephen Colbert and Alan Cumming ended the war between the sexual orientations with "Oopsie-Daisy Homophobe."

Today, to confront the oldest scourge of all, I present "Casual Anti-Semite,” which I envision as a duet between Chris O'Donnell and Matisyahu, or possibly between Taylor Swift and Ice-T (known collectively as Taylice), or maybe Adam Levine and 50 Cent, since they share a hatred of shirts. In any case, there's room to feature numerous other artists. Remember, if you feel outraged, that means we're undergoing some serious ethno-religious healing.

Also remember, there are no gays in Iran.

Your swastika and jackboots
Have me shvitzing in my black suit.
Don't rag on Hasidic style
And I'll forget your Sieg Heil

 If you don’t judge my summer camps
 I’ll forget the concentration camps.
[Pitbull: Torquemada, Intifadah/ Masada--¡de nada!]

Let's share some Manischewitz
Conversate Auschwitz.
[Bieber: Imma be frank/ bout A Frank. Shawty dies of typhus/ But her tale's timeless.]

If you don’t judge my challah braids
I’ll forget the Crusades.
No mergers and acquisition
I’ll ignore the Inquisition.

If you don't judge my peyos 
I'll forget the ghettoes. 
My bad for poisoning your wells
With my gefilte-fishin' smells. 

Sorry for killing your Lord
And all the gold that we hoard.
I don't blame Henry Ford
Or that Klansman with his sword.

All you Yidden and you shiksas.
We gotta find some fixes.
Now what do you say?
[Aguilera: So don’t you Jew me down today… oy vey!]

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Meh-ness II Society

This isn't the way I thought I'd come out of my paternity leave from this blog. I know RCA Rabbinical Court Judge Rabbi Michael Broyde by reputation only, but somehow his case has broken through to the mainstream media, specifically CNN, "the most busted name in news," as commentator Yonatan Leibowitz put it. Oh, hold on a minute: he goes by Jon Stewart now, and he actually legally changed it in 2001, in his third year at his third eponymous show.

The real John Stewart

This is relevant because Broyde's mistake was creating (along with a friend) his own stage name, as it were: Goldwasser.  He used this online identity for years, and it gave him a lot of access.

Now, let's be clear. Broyde did 3 things that were very clearly wrong:
  1. He submitted an academic article for publication under this pseudonym without notification.
  2. He joined another rabbinical organization (IRF) under this pseudonym.
  3. He denied this initially when he was caught.
Is any of this criminal? No. Is any of it academically sanctionable? Probably not. Is any of it ethically questionable? Most definitely. But from the associated furor, you'd think that Goldwasser had been molesting, raping or embezzling.

Not Goldwasser, but his Grandpa was!
But what kind of presidential name is "Barry"?

I bring these crimes up, because they're, y'know, actual crimes, some of which are being committed or have been committed serially by those calling themselves rabbis. Last week I spent an hour being questioned about a former neighbor, pastor and principal of mine who is being investigated for actual crimes. He's the latest in an unfortunately long line. Three out of five Jewish educational institutions I've worked for over the past 15 years have had sex scandals involving high-ranking rabbis (which I am assuredly not) right before I got there or soon after I left. Those are some scary numbers.

So did Broyde do something wrong? Yup. But ultimately it seems to be an extension of something we've all done: maintaining different e-mail accounts and usernames, choosing different identities for use among coworkers, family, friends or fellow fans of Rabbi Yochanan/ Reish Lakish slashfic. It crossed into some ethically gray areas, but as long as there are real predatory Jewish clergy out there--or as I call them, Rabbis of Unusual Sinfulness (R.O.U.S.'s)--how about we concentrate our fury on them?