Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


The Scandal of Orthodox Irrelevance

posted by David Klinghoffer

This is the kind of thing that breaks my heart. The Forward, Jerusalem Post, and other media outlets are either chortling over or utterly bemused by a spat between two top contenders to be Israel’s next Sephardic chief rabbi. The subject of the dispute? What blessing to say over a popular brand of Israeli junk food, Bamba, a revolting peanut-butter flavored corn puff thing that comes in a chemical-burn blue wrapper with a picture of an insane roller-skating infant on the front. What have we come to?

I don’t know how accurate the reporting is, but it almost doesn’t matter. We representatives of Orthodox Judaism give little reason to the rest of humanity to think that we’ve got other, more important matters on our agenda.
I struggled briefly with whether even to mention this to you. Part of me wants only to be inspiring or edifying, or at least informative or provocative about serious Torah-related matters. But the only reason I’m here doing this at all, inadequate Jewish scholar and inadequate Jew in general that I am, a mere journalist, is that so much of the rest of Orthodoxy has effectively given up on our once universally agreed upon mission to stand publicly for ultimate truths as transmitted by the tradition of Moses. Instead, we are bickering about a corn puff. 

This is the face we turn to the world. What a farce. What a tragedy. Can you imagine such a thing if there were a Rav Hirsch on the scene? The world, Jewish and Gentile, needs to know Judaism is about so much more than this. Infinitely so.
There are Jewish blogs that try to paper over this scandal of Orthodox irrelevance. They want to be only inspirational, and I can appreciate the need for that. Other blogs do nothing but excoriate Orthodox Jews for being flawed human beings, unlike the rest of mankind. I find that, basically, evil. My own view is that at least one voice has to fight the good and Jewish fight (hence, for example, my preoccupation with Darwinism — which poses the question of whether God is superfluous to understanding life’s history, than which no question can be more fundamental), without piously ignoring reality.


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Kenneth Hall

posted June 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm


Let me say first of all I am a christen. According to a distant relative who is a professor of Genealogy a decedent of the daughter of the last king of Israel who was taken captive and disbursed into Europe along with the remnant of the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians.
I don’t know how true that claim is and have no way to verify it. However I don’t base my faith my ancestor y or determine my standing before the God of Abraham Issac and Jacob by it either. My standing before our creator is determined by the principles, priorities, and values that guide my life and decisions every day!
I am a friend to my creator when I share His dreams, Values, Priorities, and work with Him with all my strength and heart. Not to fulfill my will but His! Not to promote my own influence in the world around me but His! Not to promote my pet doctrines, or to impose my opinions of righteousness on others but to help others understand His! My confidence in my relationship with The Creator of Heaven and earth is based on dedicating myself to studying the words of those who knew Him before me. Testing every opinion I hold, every principle I believe in, every doctrine I hold by those who came before me.
I used to see this as an impossible task but have come to understand men regularly complicate the obvious and trivialize the monumental!
A simple test to understand His will. Why was I created? To be molded into His Image! How He looks or to have His power? NO obviously not!
To share His dreams, Values, Principles, Priorities as these determine which roads we are taking in life! If we don’t share H these with our Creator it will lead us in different directions!
How does this issue effect this principle?
How does it effect the others around me and their journey with Him?
Is it the truth or a theory?
Have I looked at all the evidence before drawing a conclusion?
AS touching Darwinism it was and always has been an unproven theory!!!!
Fraught with a lack of evidence and riddled with conflicting Scientific evidence. That has itself had to continually evolve in order to prevent extinction!
The evidence that has been e massed since it’s acceptance has led Many of the leading scientists in every field of science to come back to the facts. The most simple cell is itself an incredible masterpiece of engineering millions of times more complex than Darwin could have ever imagined.
To believe that these extremely delicate and complicated building blocks that make up the code that all life is built on and put together happen by chance. Is like believing you can blow up some C4 in a junk yard and a brand new 747 Boeing will fly out of the explosion. Actually that is far more likely and less complex than the simplest life form. People who believe Evolution is proven have the kind of faith that can move mountains of evidence out of the way to hold onto that theory!
I don’t believe in The God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob because of fear, or because I have to. I have been convinced be the evidence Scientific, Philosophical, Supernatural.
I don’t believe in His teachings out of fear either. He has convinced me through a logical debate in my mind with Him through His word!
I worship Him because I KNOW HE ALONE has the answers to all Mankind’s ills!
I don’t think He is so shallow as to care about how we bless our corn puffs do you?
Maybe you should start seeking Him for your self if that is the leadership you have been following!!
I don’t mean to be condescending I hope to shake you to be responsible for your own relationship with Your Creator!
Others can help but He wants FACE TO FACE time with you in HIS WORD to make HIS case!
Shalom!



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Al Eastman

posted June 20, 2009 at 1:00 pm


Kenneth hall, people such as you who have the chutzpah to post such drivel, are prime contributors to tensions between various faiths. Your rambling diatribe was so far off the topic, I must wonder if you have some sort cognitive disorder.
As for the two rabbinical candidates’ debate, they should join the medieval priests who debated the number of angels that could sit on the head of a pin. Both debates have little significance, to Hashem or many of us, irrespective of our faith.



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Your Name

posted June 20, 2009 at 3:10 pm


BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL,FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY.Corn puff is a food,good or not for our health,it is still a nourishment served in times of hunger.Every food is a blessing,not a burden to those who serve them.



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Marian

posted June 20, 2009 at 4:29 pm


I know what blessing I would say AFTER eating this corn-puff thing–Gomel!



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N.Schuster

posted June 21, 2009 at 10:24 am


The Bracha over Bamba might seem trivial. But how do we realy know what is really important, and what is really trivial in the whole scheme of things? What could be more trivial than a rubber band? But a space shuttle exploded because of a rubber band. And another space shuttle burned in the atmosphere because of some fom insulation? What could more more trivial than foam?
And anyone who knows Rabonon knows that they are very concerned with all the important issues as well. Lots of involvment with chesed, tzedoka, etc.
And I kind of like Bamba. And I always make a shehakol, just to be safe.



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Gavriella

posted June 21, 2009 at 2:07 pm


Corn puffs? Evolution? Inadmissibility of other points of view? This insanity is among the reasons I walked away from Orthodoxy, this preoccupation with such trivia. Will Hashem strike me dead if I forget to say 100 blessings a day? I don’t THINK so.
Long ago I grew sick and tired of being shut away behind a curtain, told I could not say certain prayers, or learn beyond a certain point because I am a woman and therefore do not need to know, or because I might taint the holy writings by looking upon them, or other idiocies designed to limit half the Jewish population. And don’t give me that old line about protection or distracting men. I’ve never been sexy. My children would laugh at such a suggestion.
My life has been filled with the same joys and griefs as any other. I am active and respected in my reform)temple, and I can shake the rabbi’s hand after services without worrying that I am untouchable. I read from the Torah and have helped to lead services.
Every time I was told a woman can’t do this or that, my response has been “watch me”. Hmmmmmm. . .Maybe I should say thank you to all the old frummies who said I couldn’t, because I might never have done so much with my life.



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N.Schuster

posted June 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm


Soon we will be commemorating Tisha B’av and will be reading the section of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa. The whole theme of the story is that something that appears trivial can have major consequences. The servent mixed up two similar names, and the result was the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, and exile. The same Gemorah relates how a chicken destroyed Betar, and a stick destroyed Tur Malka. We can never really be sure what is realy trivial, and what is significant.



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Al Eastman

posted June 21, 2009 at 6:30 pm


For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
None of you have convinced me that for want of the proper bracha, our world will be lost.
I wonder if there is a proper bracha for shooting an Uzi at terrorists?



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What's Good for the Goose

posted June 21, 2009 at 7:39 pm


nola: Nasty and condescending is no substitute for intellect and nuance and doesn’t accomplish much but make the speaker feel falsely superior.



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N.Schuster

posted June 21, 2009 at 8:04 pm


In 1862 Robert E. Lee invaded the North. A Confederate officer wrapped his orders around his cigars. He dropped them, and a Union scout found them. The result was Lee’s invasion was stopped at Antietum. Waht could be more trivial than a bunch of cigars? Bu that bunch of cigars had a major impact.
In 1914 Archduke Francis Ferdinand just happened to get caught a traffic jam in front of the bar where Gavro Princip was drinking. Jst a trivial little traffic jam led to WWI.



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LazerA

posted June 22, 2009 at 11:48 am


Rather disappointed by this article. While the question would be understandable coming from someone completely unfamiliar with Torah thought, it is rather surprising that someone who sees himself as equipped to write about the wisdom of traditional Judaism and the Hebrew Bible (and apparently an Orthodox Jew) would not have already worked out this issue in his own mind.
Briefly, any serious ethical or religious system makes specific demands on its adherents which just seem pointless to outsiders. In this case, for example, Jewish law requires every Jew to make an appropriate blessing before consuming any food item. The specific blessing varies on the origin of the food item and the form in which it is eaten. While the broad rules are very simple, there are a number of areas where the rules can be complicated and require serious study.
Although the obvious intent of these laws is to express thanks to God for our food, the complexity of these laws adds a significant element.
A: It means that one must spend time and energy studying the laws of blessings on food. This process can completely change the way you relate to food.
B: It means one must think about each food item and where it came from for at least a moment before consuming it.
C: it converts an ordinary meal into a religious activity. With blessings (and additional rituals) before, after, and, in many cases, during the meal. The ordinary becomes holy.
David, if you think that Rav Hirsch was not concerned about these matters, then you clearly have no real familiarity whatsoever with his teachings. The premise that the “big” ideas are what really matter and the details of the law are insignificant and even a distraction has no place in Torah Judaism. In its essence, this was precisely the position of the Reformers that Rav Hirsch fought against.
(The fact that the Israeli media has chosen to sensationalize a minor debate by tying it, rather unconvincingly, to the politics of the Israeli rabbinate, means nothing. It is standard fare for the Israeli media to sensationalize such debates.)
An interesting discussion of this topic by Rabbi Mordechai Becher, titled “Why Is Judaism So Nitpicking”, can be found at this website:
http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-mordechai-becher/
Honestly, David, I am disappointed that you apparently did not discuss this issue with whomever you have as a Jewish mentor. The sentiments you have expressed here are those of a complete and unsympathetic outsider, not those of a committed Orthodox Jew.



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Al Eastman

posted June 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm


What horrendous event will befall humanity if “Borai p’ri ha-ah-do-mah” is said in preference to “Borai mi-nai m’zo-note”, or if some other way of thanking Hashem for this nutritionally empty snack is offered? That point, I think is overlooked!



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g

posted June 22, 2009 at 3:57 pm


As an ‘outsider’ please forgive my ignorance on this subject. I can’t find the entire article to fully read up on what this is about. I will proceed from my ‘understanding’ based on the gleanings from the article and comments.
From my viewpoint as a ‘goyim’(Spelling? term?) I gather that a chief Rabbi would be put upon to encompass the meta-world and the nearly-invisible world. That is, their responsibility over all things Lawful and traditional needs to be nearly super-human..or ‘Divine’ In nature. as if they are expected to be Moses or even G*d in wisdom and understanding.
From the outside, this looks to me to be an absolutely crushing responsibility for a human and I must feel a sense of respect and reverence for any who would endeavor to carry such a weight of responsibility.
I am not anyone’s judge, but from my viewpoint, I must trust that these men have shown themselves to be deeply involved in the very weighty matter of the Law and in the broader constructs of religious life. The fact that they would take even the most minute subject and address it shows the deep commitment to not leave anyone out in helping them to understand and have a path to realize their religious life. If they were to be ignoring deeper life issues in order to focus on minutiae, perhaps something needs adjusting.
For me, as a classical musician, I try to make the minutiae perfect as well as the broad scope of the performance. True, most people wouldn’t notice a couple of wrong noets or wrong rhythms, but I attempt to perfect based on my commitment to myself, the art, and my listener. Anyone who does this with their life and calling…I must admire rather than criticize.
So, for me, from what I have read, I am truly moved by the rabbi’s commitment to the smallest details..it shows to me a deep respect and honor for their calling and tradition.



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Your Name

posted June 22, 2009 at 6:33 pm


There is nothing wrong in showing attention to the details of G-d’s commandments as long as one also shows attention to the bigger picture of the Torah. Both the big picture and the details are neccessary. One without the other doesn’t work.
In addition, the title of this article is both shameful and irrelevant.



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Sam ben Seymour

posted June 22, 2009 at 6:40 pm


Just want to add my appreciation for the intelligent and beautiful posting send by g above. Thank you g!



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leora

posted June 22, 2009 at 8:23 pm


I don’t think the point of this article was that brachot are not important–of course they are, and of course the author thinks they are. I think Rav Hirsch probably *would* have bemoaned a Jewish culture that was capable of creating the sort of especially hideous, MSG-laden junk foods that seem to fill the kosher aisles. Why should the kosher section of the supermarket be so utterly vile and disgusting? But wait, maybe I’m just projecting… ;)



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LazerA

posted June 22, 2009 at 8:51 pm


To “g”, your comments are truly insightful. It is gratifying to see that there are non-Jews who appreciate the careful attention to religious law demanded by Judaism. Indeed, as Rav Hirsch himself makes clear (at length in many places, especially his “Nineteen Letters”, it is precisely through their devoted commitment to the Torah and its laws that the Jewish people are intended to convey to the world the God’s message. He never mentions engaging in public debate with non-Jews about ideology or politics. I am not saying that such actions are necessarily improper, just that they are not integral to the Jewish mission (and are certainly not “Hirschian”). Precise adherence to Torah law, as well as its impassioned discussion and debate, is the essence of the Jewish mission.
Incidentally, the word “goyim” is plural. it literally means “nations”, as opposed to the singular, “goy” – “nation”. Of course, to refer to a single person as a “goy” doesn’t really make sense, but over time the usage of the term “goyim” to refer to the non-Jewish nations gradually developed into the colloquial use of “goy” for a single member of those nations. This is similar to the etymology of the English word “Gentile”.
To “leora”, while your distaste for Bamba (and similar such items) is understandable (I’ve tasted Bamba once, and that was enough!), I’m afraid it is obvious from the language of the post that David’s concern was not the poor quality of Israeli snack foods. Referring to the halachic debate – “bickering about a corn puff” – as a “farce” and a “tragedy” is evidence enough of his failure to understand this basic aspect of Torah life.



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Sam ben Seymour

posted June 22, 2009 at 11:46 pm


I certainly agree with LazarA’s conclusion! At the same time, Leora also raises a very good point about the quality of foods. As a graduate student in public health back in the early 1980s, I started becoming more aware of such nutrition issues among Orthodox Jews as well as other groups. And taking better responsibility of our bodies is also part of our faith. Understandably however, although also unfortunately, people in our society are generally so busy just trying to survive that often the health priority falls because of other obligations. Currently, I try to emphasize that good character comes first (including faith, family, friends, community, integrity, kindness, courage etc.), then health, then all else. Or as stated on the internet, in a quote which can be easily found: “If you lose your wealth, you have lost nothing, If you lose your health, you have lost something, But if you lose your character, you have lost everything.” Some might say, I’m getting off the topic. Not so, again it’s an important responsibility within our faith and for all good people in the world. And if someone think’s twice about what they are putting in their body because of what Leora said, then I’m more than happy!



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Al Eastman

posted June 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm


Perhaps the time has come for a new blessing. One that thanks Hashem for giving us the free will to stuff ourselves with junk food. The Israelis aren’t the only Jews who cram nutritionally deficient snacks into themselves.



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Sam ben Seymour

posted June 24, 2009 at 1:55 pm


Hi Al:
It’s not just nurtritionally deficient snacks, there are major health problems in the frum community (and in other groups) from bad eating choices etc. So very often people aren’t aware until they hit middle age and then the major suffering begins.



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Your Name

posted June 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm


Al Eastman says: “The Israelis aren’t the only Jews who cram nutritionally deficient snacks into thmselves.”
And of course, lets add that Jews are certainly not the only human beings who cram nutritionally deficient snacks into thmselves. But that wasn’t the point of the article. Anyway, if there is some question over which is the approprate blessing, be safe and say both blessings! Not such a tough thing. You’re allowed to say them quickly. For example, if I have a Diet Coke with lemon in it, I always say both “borei p’rei ha’etz” and “shehakol niheyeh bidvoro”. Problem solved without all this debate.



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Bluejay

posted June 25, 2009 at 4:34 pm


Al Eastman says: “The Israelis aren’t the only Jews who cram nutritionally deficient snacks into thmselves.”
And of course, lets add that Jews are certainly not the only human beings who cram nutritionally deficient snacks into thmselves. But that wasn’t the point of the article. Anyway, if there is some question over which is the approprate blessing, be safe and say both blessings! Not such a tough thing. You’re allowed to say them quickly. For example, if I have a Diet Coke with lemon in it, I always say both “borei p’rei ha’etz” and “shehakol niheyeh bidvoro”. Problem solved without all this debate.



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LazerA

posted June 26, 2009 at 2:54 pm


Bluejay wrote:

Anyway, if there is some question over which is the approprate blessing, be safe and say both blessings! Not such a tough thing. You’re allowed to say them quickly. For example, if I have a Diet Coke with lemon in it, I always say both “borei p’rei ha’etz” and “shehakol niheyeh bidvoro”. Problem solved without all this debate.
Actually, Jewish law would definitely not approve of this practice. Reciting a blessing requires saying the name of God, which may not be done in vain, i.e. unnecessarily. In fact, this prohibition is so severe that the rule with blessings is to omit the blessing when there is an unresolvable question whether a blessing is required. To simply recite extra blessings in order to “cover your bases” would be forbidden.
In general, we are obligated to spend the time necessary to study the relevant laws and determine what our obligations are. There are a number of books on the specific topic of the blessings recited over food available in English. You can also consult with your local Orthodox rabbi for guidance. Of course, there may still be cases where you will be unsure what to do. In general, the proper practice in such a situation is to abstain from the food item until you have resolved the question (either by studying the laws yourself or consulting with someone who has).
In the specific case you mention, Diet Coke with Lemon, the only blessing that should be recited is “shehakol”. One should definitely not recite “borei pri ha’eitz” on such a drink. There are several reasons for this, but the most basic is that, with the exception of wine and grape juice, beverages are almost always “shehakol”.



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