(no subject)

Continuing on with 6b... I am REALLY losing track of these things.

(From here on, I am going to be REALLY glossing over things, being REALLY approximate, saying a lot of stuff that reasonable people could disagree with... don't be using any of this stuff as a reference to study for your history tests, okay?)

Jews in Germany and Austria in the 20s and 30s were totally part of the culture. Nothing particularly unusual about them. If they were religious at all, it was a practice of their religion which was very influenced outwardly by local Christian practices, and inwardly, based on humanist and universal principles. Reform Judaism was founded and developed in Germany, and one of its goals was to bring Jewish practice in line with the outside culture, to make sure that their practice could fit seamlessly into the larger culture. Because, fundamentally, there was nothing different between them and their neighbors.

By the 20s, it had been generations since there was any noticiable difference between the average German Jew and their non-Jewish neighbors.

And the Holocaust happened anyway.

The Holocaust changed a LOT of things in the United States. And one of them was a desire for ecumenicalism. There was a big movement to try to look for commonalities among religions rather than divisions. There began to be pushback against the Ku Klux Klan's anti-Catholicism. And people started to talk about the "Judeo-Christian tradition."

Now, let me bring up another concept -- the concept of "passing". If you have an axis of diffrence upon which you COULD be discriminated against, but you can PRETEND not to have the difference, you can "pass" for the majority.

In a sense, the term "Judeo-Christian tradition", and "Jesus was a Jew" are ways that Jews can "pass". We can minimize the apparent differences between ourselves and the majority culture, in an attempt to minimize the chances that our Judaism is an axis upon which we can be oppressed.

The BENEFIT, such as it is, of "Jews for Jesus" and "Messianic Jews" would be that they attempt to blur those lines between Judaism and Christianity, and you could argue, that helps the ability of Jews to pass, and blend into the larger society. And THAT is the reason that most Jews don't usually speak publicly as loudly and angrily against them as I did. There's a value in keeping our heads down, letting people make assumptions about us that we're more like them than we actually are, letting this all go by, to stay hidden and to assimilate.

It's a legitimate tactic to try to survive. If we CAN pass in a way that Black people, Korean people, Indian people, and other people whose difference is visually obvious CAN'T, then why wouldn't we take that opportunity to save ourselves and protect ourselves?

Or, even if we're going to be open, proud, and loud about our Judaism, can't we just focus on the similarities, and de-emphasize the differences?

Well, we've been doing that in the United States for going on three generations now.

And now I've gone and, in an angry rage, done the opposite. I've been posting about the ways in which we are DIFFERENT from Christians. I've been sticking my head up and yelling. And you could argue that I'm making myself a target -- which is my right -- but I'm also, by pointing all this stuff out, I'm making it harder for other Jews to keep their heads down if that's what they want to do.

So why would I do that?

Because the Pittsburgh proves that assimilation and hiding has gone as far as it can go. It's not working any more. It kept us safe-ish for nearly three generations, and that's good. But it's not going to work any more. The violent people have decided that they don't care how much we assimilate, how much we keep our heads down, just as in Germany, it worked for a couple generations, and then didn't work any more.

The Tree of Life martyrs show that it's time to change tactics. "Hide our differences" has gone as far as it can go. So it's now time to "reveal our differences, talk about them openly, have discussions, and work for true acceptence based on actual understanding, no matter how much harder it is."

Demystify. Sure, there are differences that you COULD oppress us on, but if I tell you about them openly, maybe there will be less reason for you to be scared of them, and less reason for you to worry about us, less reason to fear, less reason to oppress?

But, to be honest -- the primary tool I'm trying to use? The primary tactic I'm using in all this to try to fight antisemitism and reduce oppression of my people?

Dumb jokes.


Posting terrible Dad jokes every night before I go to bed is a tactic I am using to try to humanize myself and, by extension, all Jews. I'm Jewish, and I have a cat who, the day he came home from the shelter, climbed up on my shoulder for a picture with me. And I know way to many stupid jokes. And I like Queen.

I want you to see me as a PERSON, so that you can see all Jews as people. I want you to like me, or dislike me, based on who I am, so that you can know that we're people who you can like or dislike based on who were are, rather than what we are. I want you to know that we DO have differences, that we DO believe differently than Christians, and that that's okay.

I want you to be able to meet a Jew who is an asshole, and immediately think, "Man, that guy's an asshole," rather than "Jews are assholes." Even if you think *I* am an asshole, I want you to think that my assholery is specific to me, and doesn't reflect on the rest of Am Yisrael.

And so I'll use the tools I have to attempt to do that -- writing essays, being honest and open, posting cat pictures, and telling dumb jokes. Because that's what I've got.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/804444.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.

I think this is the sixth thing I'm writing in this series? Maybe? I'm losing track

I guess I can call this one number 6. Actually, let's make this one 6a -- it feels like there's a break point I can make here.

I mean, I'm just writing things as I think of them; it's not like the numbering makes any difference. But since it was the Jewish stuff that went viral, I'm sort of trying to mark them, so people can figure out if they want to read them or not.

I kind of wanted to talk a little about WHY I'm writing these things. I mean, obviously, I wrote the first one because I was pissed off. But I've kept writing them, and I've been thinking about why.

Now, those of you who know me might assume that I'm writing them because I love to hear myself talk, and I love to have people pay attention to stuff I say.

You are, of course, correct. That absolutely is a big part of it.

My friends may also correctly assume that I'm doing this because I like teaching stuff. That's a big part, too.

But there's another big part as well, and THAT gets a little complicated. And this is ME saying "a little complicated", so, y'know, if you've been reading this, you know that I don't really know how to do "simple"... I guess I'm saying "please fasten your seatbelts and keep hands and arms inside the ride at all times"?

Anyway, let's go.

Oh -- first thing you have to know. I absolutely am an SJW. I know a lot of people are totally annoyed by SJWs, but I can't really apologize for that, because I'm not sorry for it. For people who aren't familiar with the term, "SJW" stands for "Social Justice Warrior", and it is mostly used sarcastically by people who don't like us, who think we're preachy and overbearing.

And I see your point. It's just... well, if you're trying to work for justice and goodness, there's a good chance you'll get preachy. And I get that it's annoying, but, *shrug*. It is what it is. I'm trying to save the world, here -- and that's a totally pompous, arrogant, preachy, overbearing thing to say. So just prep yourself for that, I guess. I'm not going to STOP being pompous, arrogant, preachy, or overbearing, but I try to be entertaining and/or interesting enough to be worth it.

Which is to say, I'm about to start talking about "white privilege".

The following discussion is how I see the situation. Other people may see different nuances; I don't expect that everybody else will agree with everything I'm saying, and I try to spend time learning about other people's perspectives on this who have different experiences, and have learned different things.

But according to me, anyway:

The thing we call "privilege" in a social justice context means a bunch of different things, but, on the whole, it maps pretty well to being considered the "default" in your culture. Like, if I say "a person", you're going to have a picture in your head that has a bunch of default features sketched in -- loosely, in pencil, easy to swap out if you find out that a different feature is more appropriate.

How do loose defaults like this work?

Let's try an experiment.

Right now, picture a vegetable. Just the first vegetable that pops into your head. Okay, that vegetable, whatever it is -- take the first letter of that.

Now go to the next letter of the alphabet, and think of a country that starts with that letter. Again, just the first country that starts with that letter that pops in your mind.

Go one further letter, and think of an animal that that starts with THAT letter. First one.

You have all that?

But elephants aren't native to Denmark.

This is one of those dumb tricks that you can do to annoy your friends. When I've done this to people, about half the time, the person went "carrot, Denmark, elephant." About half the time they haven't, but it's hilarious when it works. At least among people my age and in my social group, the most common "think of a vegetable" is a carrot. The most common country that starts with a D that people consider is Denmark, and the most common animal that starts with an E is elephant.

Maybe that wasn't you. For a lot of you, it wouldn't be.

But, in a sense, in my particular subculture, there exists a statistically significant default vegetable.

Now, picture a person.

Just like your default vegetable is more likely to be a carrot than any single other vegetable, if you live in the United States, your default person is more likely than not to be:
1. Male
2. In their 20s or 30s or thereabouts
3. Caucasian
4. Heterosexual
5. At least vaguely Christian
6. Middle-class-ish -- not obviously poor, not obviously rich

Stuff like that.

Those first three things, you could probably see in your mind's eye. The fourth, if I followed up by talking about the person's wife or girlfriend, you probably wouldn't need to shift anything; if I talked about the person's husband, you'd make a shift -- most likely shifting your assumption to the person being female. But a shift.

The last one, if I said, "went to talk to his minister", you'd be unlikely to make much of a shift; if I said "went to talk to his imam", there might be a shift.

These wouldn't necessarily be difficult shifts. But, for the most part, for most of us, most of the time, absent any other input, our first mental picture of a person is what we SJWs call "a white cis-het male".

There's a certain advantage -- or, more accurately, a lack-of-disadvantage -- to being close to the default expectation. As an example of "male privilege", there are all sorts of apps for your phone that let you track tons of data about your health day-to-day. But there were DOZENS of them before anybody thought to include tracking your period as part of those general health trackers. It wasn't hard to find a period tracker, but they were their own separate things; people didn't think to include them in the general catch-all trackers, because female bodies aren't the default. Eventually, people thought of it -- but it took time.

The biggest advantage, or lack-of-disadvantage, however, is that if you match the default assumption in some way, you're unlikely to get shit for that specific characteristic. The more ways you match the default image in your culture, the fewer ways people will attack you.

In different times and different places, different types of difference are counted as different.

Like, when my grandmother was growing up, left-handedness was considered wrong. She was forced to learn to write with her right hand. Me, I never had that experience; nobody ever gave me any trouble for being a lefty. I'm not oppressed for being a lefty. There are inconveniences about it occasionally; there are occasional instances where things are slightly more annoying, but there's nothing really serious about it, the way it was when my grandmother was a girl. Handedness is no longer, in the United States, an axis upon which people are oppressed.

And, even if you are looking at a type of difference upon which people are oppressed, the things which go into the "oppressed" bucket of that type and the "not oppressed" bucket will change over time.

In the United States, one of the types of oppression that is most talked about is racial oppression. Sometimes in our history, it's been written into law; sometimes it's not. Sometimes there's more, sometimes there's less. But there's enough of a history that there's a lot to study. Generally speaking, we can use the term "white" to mean "in the bucket of not being particularly oppressed on the 'racial' category." "Whiteness" does track SOMEWHAT to the albedo of your skin, but not 100%. For instance, the way you sound can be as important as the way you look.

And there are cases where different groups of people started out as not-white and then got re-defined as white. My grandmother's family is from Italy, and at the time her parents came to the United States, Italians from Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Sicily, and Sardinia and half of Lazio were considered not-white, and those from Tuscany, Venice, Piedmont, Lombardy, etc. were considered white.

The most glaring case of "skin color does not grant whiteness" was the Irish, who, although often having an albedo light enough to make them nearly translucent, were not considered white for a long time.

However, on the whole throughout American history, the lighter your skin, the easier it is to be granted whiteness, and the darker your skin, the easier it is to have it revoked. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes were considered more-or-less white for a while, until Andrew Jackson decided they weren't. And the Irish, the Germans, and the rest of the Italians became so. And it's pretty obvious that Black people have had the roughest time of any of us.

What about Jews, though?

We Jews have a very weird history with regard to whiteness in the United States. George Washington wrote an incredibly nice letter to the Touro Synagogue about how Jews were part of America. Jews were considered white in the slave-holding South, and, while some in the North were part of the abolitionist movement, some in the south were slave owners and participated in the Slavers' Revolt of 1861-1865. In fact, embarrassingly, the only currency printed in the United States which features someone Jewish is the Confederate $2 bill, with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin on it. At the time, Charleston, South Carolina, had the biggest Jewish population in the New World.

Those South Carolinian Jews were Sephardic. There two most widespread "flavors" of Judaism in the world are Ashkenazic and Sephardic. In the Middle Ages, the Sephardic group was mostly around Spain, Morocco, North Africa, Southern France, and so forth. The Ashkenazic group was in the Germany and Poland and thereabouts. When Jews were allowed back into England under Cromwell, the Jews who returned were Sephardic. So Sephardic Jews who came out of that English chunk were basically considered pretty much white.

But in the later 19th century, there was a lot more immigration, through Ellis Island, into New York and places like that, of Jews who came from that Germany-and-eastward group. And today, the vast majority of Jews in the United States are Ashkenazic.

On the whole, these Ashkenazic Jews were poorer and less stylish than the Sephardic Jews. Lower-class. And so we were subjected to a lot of anti-immigrant prejudice, which, in the United States, usually includes effectively defining the immigrant group as not-white.

It was never SIMPLE, or always exactly one thing or the other -- there were still upper-class Sephardic Jewish families. But that awkward intersection led to conspiracy theories. If these Sephardic Jews were hanging out with high-class people, but Ashkenazic Jews aren't white, then... IT MUST BE A CONSPIRACY THOSE SNEAKY JEWS ARE CONTROLLING THE BRAINS OF HIGH SOCIETY. That's my guess, anyway. It's definitely not the only factor. Books, bookshelves of books, bookcases of books, LIBRARIES of books have been written trying to pick apart exactly what's going on with all that stuff.

Jews bounced around on the fringes of whiteness throughout societies, sometimes in, sometimes out. In Austria and Germany, for instance, they were quite accepted, integrated into society, definitely part of the culture, with occasional bits of weirdness going on, but, on the whole, things were pretty good...

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/804282.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.

Fourth facebook post; it's easier to write here, isn't it? I'll write it here and copy it there

In the comments of a previous post, Ginny Philips raised another really good basic question: so, where DO Jews get our laws from anyway? What IS the scripture we use?

Now, technically, I suppose people could do a Wikipedia search and get most of this information, but I am hoping I might be able to organize it into a little more understandable form.

I also encourage other Members of the Tribe to correct me in comments, because ... and maybe I should have mentioned this some time before y'all started reading ... I'm not particularly GOOD at the technical bits of halacha. I am Jewish, I care deeply about Judaism, but my actual practice of Judaism is far more in the, "Yeah, I really probably SHOULD do that someday" level than in the, y'know, going to services, keeping kosher, studying Torah, keeping Shabbat...

In my defense, please note that most of the actually observant Jews commenting have been saying things like, "Yeah, pretty much," and "That's more or less close enough for a basic overview". So, because I have been an arrogant pedant my entire life (I was going to say "my entire adult life", until I remembered that one of my first words was "AC-tually..."), I'm going to go ahead and continue to pontificate. (Verb choice kind of awkward given the subject matter....)

... even though I'm actually going to be using Wikipedia as a cheat sheet and checklist ... *sigh*

*ahem* Anyway...

We Jews have two basic sources of our laws, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. According to our tradition, the Written Torah was dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai -- including the bits that hadn't happened yet -- and the Oral Torah was spoken, and Moses memorized it.

They are two co-equal sources of law, both given by G-d on Mount Sinai, to Moses, and through Moses, given to all of the Jewish people.

The Written Torah consists of three basic parts, called the Torah, the Ne'vim, and the Ketubim. We refer to them collectively as the acronym T-N-Kh, or "Tanakh."

The Torah is the Five Books of Moses: B'reishit, Sh'mot, Vayikra, Bemidbar, Deuteronomy, or, in English, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Like I said, our tradition says that these were given all in one chunk to Moses on Mount Sinai, which means that he wrote down all the bits about him dying before entering Israel, and so forth. I'm not going to go into whether this is literally or historically true, or about the textual analysis you can do to determine stylistically whether different parts were written at different times, or any of that -- for RELIGIOUS purposes, this is how we look at it.

The most holy object most of us Jews ever handle is the Torah scroll, the physical scroll upon which these five books are written. Physically, a Torah scroll is a bunch of sheets of parchment upon which the Torah is written in Hebrew, and then they are sewn together, and rollers are put at both ends. I'm doing a bad job of explaining this. Google it and look at pictures; that will probably give a better idea.

If you unroll a Torah scroll, the whole thing is close to fifty yards long.

We divide the Torah into weekly readings called parshot. Over the course of a year, reading one parsha a week, we read the entire thing end to end, then, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, finish it up, scroll the whole thing back to the beginning, and start over.

The second section is the Ne'viim, or Prophets. That has three sections -- the first prophets, the later prophets, and the minor prophets. The books of the First Prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; the Later Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets are counted as one book with twelve prophets who I don't feel like listing, so you can look it up yourself. Sorry, dudes -- I know, you ARE important enough to actually be in the Bible, and, honestly, mad props to you, but it's ten o'clock at night and I'm getting tired. Okay, I will mention Jonah as the fan favorite minor prophet; some of you have probably heard me blather about why Jonah is hilarious, but not right now.

We don't read these in order, but alongside our weekly Torah readings, we also have Haftara, which are selections from the Ne'viim which are thematically related to the weekly parsha. I don't actually know what percent of the Ne'viim we cover over the course of a year, come to think of it.

The third section is the Ketubim, or Writings. Again, this is divided into three groups.
The first group is the poetical works -- Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Yes, Job is a poem.
We read a lot of the psalms throughout the year as part of our prayer services, and there are also times when we just sit down and read them cover to cover, for comfort reading.

The second group are the five Megilot. Each Megilah is read at a specific holiday during the year. The Song of Songs is read at Passover, Ruth at Shavuot, Lamentations on Tisha B'av, Ecclesiastes at Sukkot (I wrote a piece once about that; I posted it last month... I should dig for it), and, of course, Esther at Purim.

And the third group is.. well, "Miscellaneous" -- Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

So... that's the WRITTEN half of Jewish scripture. Your average Jew is going to be pretty familiar with the Five Books, because we read it end to end every year, know chunks of Nev'iim, but not necessarily in order, because they're read as the Haftara, know the Megilot, because those are parts of specific holidays, know various psalms, but may be more or less familiar with different ones, and know bits of the other books.

Then we get to the ORAL half.

These days, the Oral Torah is no longer oral. Just before the destruction of the First Temple, as it became clear that things were getting bad, the rabbis decided to actually write the stuff down, to make it easier to preserve if the people whose job it was to memorize the stuff were killed. It was a controversial move, but, given that we still HAVE the Oral Torah, it was pretty clearly the right call.

The written-down version of the oral Torah is called the Mishna. But the Mishna is only the center core. It's dense, and not terribly understandable on its own. It supposed to be the starting point for discussion, rather than being the whole thing itself.

So, they include some of the discussion. Around the Mishna, you have the Gemara, which are transcripts and summaries of discussions the Sages had about the Mishna, including questions they raised, and rulings they made about the laws, which form a chain of legal precedents. It also includes stories, legends, parables, a little bit of snark and shitposting about each other, some bad medical advice, some okay medical advice, and a couple recipes.

The Mishna and Gemara together form the Talmud. And your average Jew is far less familiar with the Talmud than with the Written Torah. Most of us are willing to let rabbis just deal with that stuff -- it's dense and complicated. If we have questions, most of us will just as a rabbi and let THEM deal with it

Me, I know a couple cool stories from here and there in it, but don't really have any significant understanding of it. I mentioned in comments the story of the "snake oven" in Bava Metzia 59b, which involves an argument about whether a stove is kosher, a hopping carob tree, a voice from heaven, the destruction of a third of the crops in the country, the role of humanity and the role of heaven in administration of the law, and the death of the leader of the country as a result of hurt feelings. But the important part of the story is about how to be polite.

And then there's my FAVORITE bit, from Bava Batra 23b -- they're discussing the rule that, if you've got a dovecote, and a fledgling dove is hopping around on the ground near it, if it's within fifty cubits of the dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote, and if it's outside, it belongs to the person who found it.
"Rabbi Yirmeya raises a dilemma: If one leg of the chick was within fifty cubits of the dovecote, and one leg was beyond fifty cubits, what is the halakha? The Gemara comments: And it was for his question that they removed Rabbi Yirmeya from the study hall."

But, of course -- Jewish law and scripture doesn't stop there with the compilation of the Gemara. As Naomi Lebowitz Sipple pointed out, a major purpose of the Gemara is to show how we're supposed to hold these arguments. That's not the stopping point. We're supposed to keep going. So we have commentaries on the commentaries, and commentaries on THOSE. We have letters which form precedents, and different communities who make different rulings on things. And it keeps going, and going, and will CONTINUE to keep going, forever.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/803956.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.

Third facebook post, copied over

A lot of conversations have been sparked by my last couple posts, and I thought of a couple things that I've been saying elsewhere that maybe I could pull into a central place. So this is my second thematically-related followup, my third in what is turning into a series of essays.

One of the things that makes it hard to explain things about Judaism to non-Jews is that most non-Jews I interact with grew up in a world dominated by Christian ideas of what religion is. And the thing is, Christianity redefined the idea of what "religion" meant. Pre-Christian religions and post-Christian religions generally look pretty different.

Generally speaking, people whose primary exposure to religion is through Christianity or Islam assume that religion is about what you BELIEVE. But in most religions other than those two and their daughter religions, belief is kind of a secondary thing. It's not NOT there, but it's one of many pieces, and not one of the most important ones. This is why there's no fundamental conflict between being an atheist and a Jew -- or, perhaps more accurately, to the extent that there IS a conflict, it is one that is well-established and respected in modern Jewish culture and history.

Lack of belief in Jewish theology isn't a major problem in Judaism.

However, the reason you can't be Christian or Muslim, and Jewish is because THOSE religions ARE belief-based. Lacking belief in Judaism isn't an insurmountable problem to being Jewish. But HOLDING belief in something that ISN'T Judaism IS a big honking insurmountable problem. It's one of the only ways you CAN give up your Judaism.

As one of my friends has said, "I don't believe in God. And the God I don't believe in is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob."

People ask if Judaism is a religion, a race, or both. And most Jews will answer that with "both", but I think the better answer is "it's not that simple."

Judaism dates from a time before religion, family, tradition, culture, language, and land were different things. We're not just a mixture of those things -- we are a thing that encompasses all of those things. As the millenia have gone on, and as those became discrete concepts in human cultures, we've sort of shifted and switched around and modified to try to fit into those new models, but, at our core, we're just plain older than that. One phrase we use, light-heartedly and kind of joking-not-joking, is "MOT" -- "member of the tribe." And thinking of us a a tribe gets a little closer than "race" or "culture" or "religion".

The fact that we're ... whatever the heck we are ... means that our religion doesn't really work on the same expectations as Christian and post-Christian religions. We're just about different things.

Here's a question that is interesting from a Jewish perspective:

So, you've got two bowls of water. Water flows into the top bowl, then spills over and flows into the bottom bowl. And the bowls and the water are both in a state of taharah. Now, if the TOP bowl becomes tamei, obviously the water that flows from the bowl into the other bowl is tamei, and the second bowl becomes tamei.

But what if the BOTTOM bowl becomes tamei? Does the TOP bowl become tamei?

Note that, to even understand the question, you have to understand what "tamei" and "tahor" mean, and that's really not an easy question to explain in the first place. People translate it as "ritually impure" and "ritually pure", but that's just an approximation of the term; they don't REALLY fit as translations, and I have no real idea how to explain them, even if I fully understood them, which I don't.

So, yeah, this one is a question you can really sink your teeth into, and it's the kind of question that MATTERS.

Here's a question that is boring from a Jewish perspective:

What happens to us after we die?

Oh, as individual people, sure, we are interested in that sort of thing, and Jews have come up with answers to that all throughout history. Which is why Judaism believes in Heaven, bodily resurrection, reabsorbtion into God with the loss of self and individual consciousness, reincarnation, and GAME OVER. As well as others. Basically, Jews have a tendency to pick up modifications of the afterlife beliefs of the other cultures we live among. Because Judaism, as Judaism, fundamentally isn't interested in the question.

So one of the difficulties in explaining Jewish topics to people who didn't grow up in a Jewish context is that the questions that people are asking are often category errors. It's like asking "how many grams of protein are in that memory of the smell of a rosebush that summer?" or "how long does it take to drive to purple?"

Yes, we also have practical questions that people can understand, like, "Say you were bulding a wall, and some construction materials fell into the street, and someone tripped on them and injured themselves -- how much do you pay in damages?" "If you have someone guarding your property and you get robbed anyway, under what circumstances is the guard responsible for making up your loss?"

And practical questions that might NOT make sense to outsiders, like "Does the Law say that you start counting the Omer from the morning after the Sabbath OF Passover (i.e., the beginning of the holiday of Passover is a Sabbath), or the morning after the Sabbath IN Passover (Passover is a week long holiday -- a day longer outside Israel to make sure that you cover the whole thing -- so it will always include a Saturday)?" That one nearly led to a civil war... (It makes sense in context. Basically, the entire cycle of sacrifices in the Temple is tied to the Omer count, so pretty much the entire religious chunk of the year would be different depending where you start.)

We have a history, a culture, a religion, a family, a belief system, a law code, a nation, a tribe, a people. We ARE a history, a culture, a religion, a family, a belief system, a law code, a nation, a tribe, a people. And since most people in the modern world don't usually deal with this particular amalgamation of ideas as a single thing, it's hard to get across.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/803810.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.

Second copied over Facebook post, about why Messianic "Judaism" is vile

I'm gonna put this as its own post rather than have it buried in comments.

Seems like it would be a useful thing to unpack exactly WHY Jews for Jesus/Messianic Jews are so horrific. I've been getting a few questions from people, and some pushback, which is a good thing.

In order to explain this, I think I pretty much have to start with Paul of Tarsus.

Christianity is a religion based on the teachings of Paul, who decided that Judaism was over, not a thing, and that he was going to start up a new religion to supplant it. And ever since then, Christians have been trying to destroy Judaism, by forcing us to convert. Some branches of Christianity, such as the one Vice President Pence follows, include the conversion or destruction of Jews as a fundamental tenet of their eschatology. Their Left-Behind-Series influenced religion requires Jews to have control over the land of Israel, then 144,000 of us to convert to Christianity, then the rest of us be killed. Something like that. I don't know, or care, about the specific details; what I know is that their religion requires my death. Or conversion, but, if those are the choices... *shrug* I know what I'm going for. I'm stubborn; the best way to get me to avoid something is to try to force me to do it.

Most modern Christians have pretty much deprecated this part of their religion, and created a new, much nicer religion, and I applaud that. But the horror that Christians have inflicted on us for two thousand years is burned into our Jewish souls, and we can't forget, no matter how much we would want to.

I don't have a problem with most modern Christians, or modern Christianity -- but I nonetheless flinch around them. It's not your fault. It's the fault of your ancestors. I don't blame you, specifically. But I do blame your great-grandparents. And I do blame the strains of Evangelical, Dominionist Christianity that KEEP that part even today.

So we Jews have a particular relationship to Christianity. It's different than any other religion, because it was founded upon attacking us, and hasn't let up since. It's waxed and waned, and, up until the last few years, it's been in a waning phase, but it's started waxing again. And even when it's waning, we still are... twitchy. Christianity is dangerous to us, in a way no other religion is.

No, not even Islam. Muslims and Jews are cousins. Yes, the Israel/Palestinian conflict is bad, and puts us in opposition to one another in many cases. But you have to understand -- it's a land dispute, not a religious dispute. Muslims don't have problems with Jews; Jews don't have problems with Muslims. Some of us have problems with where each other are LIVING, but that's different. Abraham had two sons, and two nations descended from them, and we cousins have fought over the land we both claim. But we are fighting over land, not over who we are.

Christians, however, have problems with Jews. Not all of you -- but if you dig into your history, you'll find that a lot of Christianity has been based around anti-Judaism, from its very first day. And while you have the ability to forget it, because it's not traumatic to you, we don't.

So Christianity is a special case.

I know Jews who are also Buddhists. I know Jews who are Pagans. And while plenty of traditionally religious Jews have serious problems with that, nobody denies that they remain Jews. Bu-Jews and Jewwitches are totally things that exist, and if one shows up at a shul, most people would be okay with counting them in a minyan and stuff like that.

I mean, sure, people might feel that Jewwitches were Jews who were in violation of some of the Ten Commandments -- but even at their worst, they'd be JEWS who were violating the Ten Commandments. They're still US.

But Christianity is different.

Taking on the worship of Jesus cuts you off from the Jewish community in a way that few other things possibly could. Because it's based on being non-Jewish, and on oppressing Jews. Much of Jewish identity over the centuries has been based on resistance to being taken over, and maintaining our religion against forces that tried to forcibly convert us. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Christians. We've been doing this for a long time; our heritage is, in large part, one of people telling us to stop being Jews, and us saying "No -- we are here, and we will outlast you."

But as part of this millenia-long process, some Jews fall away, and don't learn about what we are and what our history is, and about the Jewish soul of resistance to religious conversion.

And into that gap slip the Jews for Jesus, the Messianic Jews, who come to destroy us.

Some identites are compatible with Judaism. You can follow Buddhist teachings from some of the non-deistic schools and not run into anything that conflicts, for instance. But some are just not. Islam insists on one specific way of belief -- you can't be a Jew and a Muslim simultaneously. Christianity insists on one specific way of belief -- you can't be a Christian and a Jew simultaneously.

And there's nothing wrong with Muslims or Christians -- those are fine ways to believe, but you can't be a Jew at the same time. If a Jew chooses to convert, of their own free will and without coersion or confusion, to Islam or to Christianity, well, that saddens me because it diminishes our community, but I don't blame Christians or Muslims for it. It is what it is.

But Jews for Jesus and Messianic "Jews" find Jews who don't understand our history, and, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, lie to them, and try to convince them that they can maintain their Judaism while worshipping Jesus.

But they're actually part of that eschatalogical branch of Christianity which wants to convert some Jews and kill the rest.

Someone in one of these threads somewhere accused me of hating Jesus, and that's not right. The truth is that I don't think about the guy at all. He's completely irrelevant to Judaism -- except inasmuch as people have killed us in his name.

People keep saying "But Jesus was a Jew!" Well, okay. So is Bernie Madoff, but we don't worship him.

There's a huge long list of Jews that Jews don't worship. Leopold and Loeb. Harvey Weinstein. I mean, it's just quicker to make a list of Jews that Jews DO worship.

And the answer is "none". We worship none Jews. (Well, maybe Carrie Fisher and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but ...)

I guess that's about what I've got to say for now. It's a little more scattered than I really would like, but it's a start.

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Facebook post about the Pittsburgh synagogue martyrs

Because it is fundamentally impossible to keep a Facebook post indefinitely, I'm going to copy over a couple posts I made there to here; they've gotten lots of discussion, and might be useful in the future, and Dreamwidth is actually USABLE.


It occurred to me that not all my Facebook friends are Jewish, or know a lot of Jews, so I thought I'd take a moment to talk about Vice President Pence's deplorable and hideous action in having a Jews for Jesus "rabbi" speak at a memorial for the Tree of Life martyrs.

See, "Messianic Jews" aren't Jews. In fact, they're not that much better than the person who killed the martyrs. Oh, they're not physically violent the way the murderer was, and if I could snap my fingers and get rid of either racist/homophobic/anti-semitic/etc murderers or Jews for Jesus, I'd certainly go for the murderers, but I'd REALLY try to negotiate for second finger-snap.

There aren't a whole lot of things most Jews agree on. We disagree on the most fundamental issues you could possibly imagine, like the role of Jewish law, and whether G-d exists, what women can and can't do, the roles of gay people and transgender people and all SORTS of things. We have the most fundamental and loud and angry disagreements among ourselves about what is right and wrong.

But one thing we all agree on is that Jews for Jesus are vile.

Look. If you are a Christian, and you want to come to our services, attend a Seder with us, sit with us in the Sukkah, all sorts of things, you are welcome. You are SO welcome. We would LOVE to have you. If you want to see what sorts of things Jews do, because your religion has a historical connection to ours, please, come, enjoy, celebrate with us. If you have Jewish family, through intermarriage or conversion, and you want to be part of our community, we want you here. There are parts of our services that you could participate in, like poetry readings, singing psalms, all sorts of things. Sure, you won't be counted in the minyan, and you can't be called to the Torah, but there are a whole lot of parts, a whole lot of roles, a whole lot of honors that we would be happy to give you.

If you are a Christian, and you want to assume Jewish trappings in your own Christian services -- wearing talitot, holding your own "Seders", things like that, okay, now you're getting into some weird shit. We're definitely into "cultural appropriation" territory. But, y'know, still -- I can understand it. Syncretism is a real thing, and it's not like Judaism hasn't picked up stuff from OUR religious neighbors. Like, I'm creeped out by it a little, but only to the level of eye-rolling, and I'm not going to make a big deal out of it. If it makes you happy, well... I mean, I'd RATHER you didn't, but it's not really my place to say, y'know?

But if you're going to worship Jesus and claim to be a Jew -- now you've crossed a line.

It's hard to express just how wrong this is, just how horrifying Jews for Jesus are. Back when they were just a fringe cult, we could ignore them. But now that they are sharing the stage with the Vice President of the United States, they are attempting to be a genuine existential threat to Judaism, attempting to exterminate us. Oh, they're trying to use methods that are more polite than an AR-15, but not all that much less hateful.

Oh, there's not all that much we can do to stop them, certainly not as much as we would like to. In the Western world, we believe in freedom of expression, freedom of religion, even of hateful ideas. And while we can probably get enough people to understand that swastikas are hate speech, it would take a lot of doing to explain that Jews for Jesus are pretty much the same thing. And so we just let them be.

But by having a Jews for Jesus "rabbi" speak, Mike Pence was fighting on the same side as the murderer. I don't think most people realize that.

But I want you to know. I want you to know that, after eleven of our our people were martyred for the sanctification of Hashem, our government followed by trying to blaspheme in their names.

May his name be blotted out.

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So, how does a Massachusetts resident get a gun, anyway?

I've been having many conflicting thoughts about firearms over the past, well, lifetime tbh, but obviously it's all at the forefront of my mind, now. I'm a gun owner, and a liberal, and I only recently got into shooting, so I'm still learning how things work.

And I thought some of you might want to know. Because I was seeing signs suggesting that people should do things that we in Massachusetts already do. And maybe people in other parts of the country would want to know how it works out when you do them; maybe people in Massachusetts would be relieved to know that these things are already implemented.

My general feeling, as a Massachusetts gun owner, is that we have SOME laws that are probably unnecessary, but a lot of the stuff we do could be reasonably expanded to be nationwide. I figured I'd tell you about what I did earlier this week, and you could see what parts of it you are comfortable with, what parts you think are excessive, what parts you think need to be tightened up. I'm going to try to keep the editorializing to a minimum, but it's me, so I've got opinions and stuff. I'm going to try to keep it to the facts, but the facts include my own emotional reactions to things...

I am a member of a shooting club in Weston, right on the Waltham/Weston border. It's close to Outer Limits comics and Brandeis in Waltham, and to my parents' and grandparents' houses in Wayland, so it's a good place for me to go and do other weekendy-type things, too. It's an indoor range, and you can only shoot pistol rounds there, but, if you have a rifle that shoots pistol ammunition, you can use it there, too.

Two times back when I went shooting, I brought my two handguns, a .22 semiautomatic target pistol, and a .357 Magnum Smith and Wesson revolver. I shot about six hundred rounds with them, which was probably overdoing it, like, a lot. And I gave myself a case of tennis elbow.

The .22 is the lightest and cheapest round commonly used in the United States, so for people who just want to shoot holes in paper, it is the one to use. If you buy it in bulk, it is about six cents a round, and, if you're going to shoot six hundred rounds, that's thirty six bucks right there. And anything else you shoot is going to be even more expensive. As far as practical use goes, you can hunt birds, squirrels, and rabbits with it, but it is generally considered cruel to hunt things larger than that -- you are more likely to painfully injure a larger animal, and, while it may well die, it will suffer, and so it's illegal in most places to try to hunt deer with something that small. A target pistol, on the other hand, is a pistol which is large and chunky and solid, so that, when it fires, it doesn't kick very much.

Even so, shooting that many rounds without taking breaks was a bad idea, and the repeated shock on my elbow was a bad idea. I didn't figure that out for another couple days, though, when I started wondering why my elbow was hurting...

Anyway, this gave me my impetus to get my third firearm. I'd been wanting to get a .22 lever-action rifle, and, since firing pistols is something I should probably ease off on for a couple weeks, I decided it was time to actually go buy the one I'd been looking at.

In a semiautomatic firearm like my target pistol, when I fire a round, it automatically takes out the empty cartridge and puts a new one in for my next shot. It DOESN'T mean that I can just hold the trigger down and spray bullets around -- that would be FULLY automatic, and that's something different. In a revolver, like my Smith and Wesson, like police officers used to carry before Darryl Gates decided to make the LAPD into an occupying military force, there is a cylinder which holds (usually) six bullets, and, after one is fired, the cylinder can rotate to bring another fresh round to be ready. Those are the two ways that pistols usually work.

Modern rifles are typically also semiautomatic, taking care of the extracting and reloading parts on their own, but they can also be bolt-action or lever-action. In those cases, after you shoot, you need to do something yourself to get rid of the old cartridge and get the new one yourself. In a bolt action, there is a little handle-thingy sticking out the side that, when you pull it back, it knocks the old casing out of the gun, and when you push it forward again, it scoops the new one out of the magazine and puts it in the chamber. The lever-action is kind of the same, except the lever is on the bottom. The lever kind of loops around the trigger. If you ever saw the TV Western "The Rifleman", that's what the main character used.

The reason I want a lever action is because I'm a lefty. The bolt on a bolt-action rifle sticks out of the right side, usually, so that you stabilize the gun with your left hand, then fire with your right, work the bolt with your right, and then can fire again. A lefty has to either get theirs modified, or reach over the top weirdly.

I knew which one I wanted, the Henry Golden Boy .22 Repeating Rifle. It's a pretty, pretty gun. Polished wood and brass, easy to fire, and only a few hundred bucks new. I'd been holding off to see if a used one was going to come around, but I'd already decided to get it, so, because of my elbow, I decided to just go ahead and get it now.

I decided to go to the store that Ben Silver had been telling me about, about ten minutes from our house, Four Seasons Firearms in Woburn. It's around the back side of a building, in the lower level. In Massachusetts, gun stores are usually in the sorts of places that are lower foot traffic retail -- places like plumbing shops, and things like that, where you're not really counting on window shopping. This one is right near to the police station, which is also not uncommon in Massachusetts.

As I parked and walked in, I walked past a couple Trump bumper stickers. This is the downside to the hobby. Because the NRA is vile, and, well, they've got their slimy little tentacles wrapped around the hobby. And so, while there are liberal gun-owner groups, we're less common. It's uncomfortable seeing pro-Trump bumper stickers, literature advertising speeches by Sheriff David Clarke, and other such things. And, let's be honest, one of the reasons I wish more liberals WOULD like guns would be to dilute that sort of thing. But, anyway.

The gun stores I've been in have generally had similar layouts. Only employees are allowed behind the counters that are on two or three sides of the room. Rifles and shotguns are in racks along those walls, behind the counters, where customers can't get to them directly. Pistols are usually in the display cases under the counters. Like electronics or jewelry.

In the center part of the room, and on pegboards around the walls that aren't behind the counters, you have accessories, cleaning supplies, maybe spinner racks of magazines, and shelves of ammunition.

I walked in, and I had a pretty good idea what I wanted. I went up to one of the clerks, and asked him what he had in .22 lever action rifles. I handed him my firearms license, he looked at it, and verified that I looked more or less like the picture, and he picked up one of the rifles, opened up the breech, looked into it to make sure it was empty, and handed it to me. He then watched me very carefully, and asked me how I liked various things about it, and I tried handling a couple others. He never had more than one firearm out at once, and was always watching me while I had it. This seems pretty standard -- clerks seem to only help one person at a time, and only one firearm at a time.

I pretty quickly determined that, yes, the Henry Golden Boy was, in fact, exactly what I was hoping it would be, and he sent me over to the kiosk at the other end of the store. This was one of the reasons Ben had suggested Four Seasons to me specifically -- they have kiosks set up where you can fill out the forms on their computers and have it print it out, rather than having to handwrite everything. I entered in a couple screens of data -- birth date, height, weight, verifying that I had no felony convictions, and all those other things. When I was done, I went back over to the counter, and they printed out the forms.

The clerk then took the form, and had me enter my PIN. Other than having my license, I ALSO have to have a PIN that is NOT on the license, so that a person who happened to look like me couldn't just take my license and buy a gun on it -- I have to also have that. He then verified that the information I typed in matched the information on the license, and entered that into the system, with the PIN, and waited.

While we waited, we went and picked up some other things that I would need -- cleaning supplies, a case, a chain lock. In Massachusetts, you must keep your firearms under lock and key when they're not in your direct use, so, unless you walk in there with a lock, they are required to sell you a lock with it.

When we came back, the computer had cross-referenced my ID with the state database, and confirmed that the person with that license and PIN had, in fact, passed a background check, had no felony convictions, violent misdemeanors, domestic violence altercations, history of mental illness of sorts that would make me dangerous, had no pending litigation, and, as far as anybody could tell, nothing had happened since that background check had happened to change that.

I signed a few more forms saying that that background check had come through, and they sent that to the federal database, and I did a bit more shopping.

When that came through saying the same thing, that no other state had any information to contradict what Massachusetts had said, they ran my debit card, and let me have my purchases.

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Something I hadn't anticipated with our cats...

So, you know how, generally, if you have two cats, one is good at "smart" and one is good at "cat"? Occasionally, you get one that's good at both, but if so, the other one is good at neither.

Before Nora died, she was the one that was good at "cat", and Nicky was the one that was good at science. We adopted small, and, somehow, we made the assumption that she would be the one that was good at "cat".

What we didn't realize was that she is one of those cats that is good at both. We pulled out one of those brain teaser puzzles where you put treats inside, and your pet -- they're made for dogs, and the big ones are too big for a cat to manipulate, but the small ones are fine for cats, too -- figures out how to get the treats out. And small worked it out just as fast as Nick did.

We have two smart cats.

We are doomed. Both cats are demanding of affection and treats; both cats can figure out how to get into stuff.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/802715.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.

A few just sort of random-ish thoughts about my relationship to firearms

I didn't grow up around guns all that much. My father and both grandfathers were drafted and served in the Army -- Vietnam, WWII, and Korea -- and all hated guns because of it.

I did fire a rifle a couple times when we were visiting a family friend's boyfriend in Vermont for the Fourth of July one year -- they were plinking at some cans and balloons and stuff, and let me try. It was pretty fun.

At one point, when I was being bullied at school, a friend gave me a revolver that would only fire blanks -- it was a .22 starter's pistol with a half-blocked chamber. So I carried a gun to school a couple times. Never showed it to anybody, but the idea was that, if someone started something, I probably could scare them off. Never came to that, though. I had it hid in my sock drawer, and my mother found it when doing laundry.

I'm not THAT stupid -- I usually did my own laundry, so I don't remember why she was looking through it. She wasn't snooping though, I don't think -- as far as I know, Mom didn't snoop a whole lot.

My wife and I got our licenses to carry some time ago, largely out of curiosity. We realized that we were generally anti-gun, but from a position of ignorance, so decided to take a firearms class, see what the process was to get a license in Massachusetts. We did so, discovered that handguns are fun, and that the Massachusetts process didn't strike us as either too onerous nor too easy. It's not perfect, though.

I never owned a firearm, and let my license expire, but recently re-upped it after Trump was elected, and bought a couple pistols. For fun -- I don't carry, and just keep them locked up except when going to the range.

I mentioned to my upstairs neighbor Ben that we live in the city in Eastern Massachusetts in which it is easiest to get a license. In this state, the decision to issue or not issue a license to carry is up to the local police chief, so it is incredibly variable how hard it is to get one. But in Melrose, their policy is that they will issue one unless they have a specific reason not to.

Leaving the decision to issue or not issue a license to the discretion of the local police chief has pluses and minuses. On the one hand, it lets the decision be made by people who really can take things like, "I dunno -- the boy just seems off, y'know?" into account. On the other hand, it lets the decision be made by people who can take their own prejudiced takes on "I dunno, that kind of person is usually pretty off, you know?" into it. It's highly flexible, highly adaptable to weeding out people who shouldn't have guns, and the most abuse-able system there is. Imagine that you've got a police chief who thinks that marching in support of the Confederate flag is a good thing, and marching in support of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street is a bad thing.

That... probably didn't take all that much imagining, did it?

It does seem to do an okay job of keeping guns under control. Note that when we had a terrorist attack, it was done with firecrackers, pressure cookers, and ball bearings. Note also that it killed only three people. Injured and crippled tons more, of course. Many seriously. But that shows that guns are deadlier than other options.

Ben has decided to start collecting firearms. He used to collect hand-to-hand weapons, but these are way more moddable. Basically, he mentioned yesterday that this is scratching both his "collect shiny weapons" itch AND his "kit-bash and mod tech" itch. We've been trying to set up going to the range together once a week, and bringing as many other friends as possible as often as possible, just to get out of the house and be social. So, open invite to any of you guys who want to get together to shoot.

AR-15s are specifically illegal to buy and sell in Massachusetts. The law calls them out by name, as well as by characteristics. If they weren't, I would be looking to buy one, because they are super-popular not (primarily) because they are super-deadly, but because they're the Toyota Camry/Ford F-150 of rifles. Super-common, easy to find parts for, easy to repair, easy to modify, affordable, reliable, does everything you want without being fancy. The reason they're used in all the mass shootings is because they're used in EVERYTHING. They're just plain the most common rifle there is in the United States. If you don't have a reason to get something else, you get an AR-15.

Because AR-15s are specifically illegal in Massachusetts and some other states, gun manufacturers have made works-the-same-as-but-is-cosmetically-different versions for those states, and I have looked at some. It's annoying, because the cosmetically different ones are ten times the price for no increase in quality.

I don't know. Look -- we have actual Nazis marching in our streets. And I'd like those Nazis not to have AR-15s. On the other hand, I WOULD like people who AREN'T Nazis to have AR-15s, because the United States has such a weird law enforcement lack-of-system that it's pretty easy for Nazi sympathizers to become law enforcement in some places, get law-enforcement-restricted weapons, and hand 'em out to Nazis.

And, of course, while assault rifles are scary, we also have the much more significant issue of out-of-control handgun violence.

Things I AM sure of -- the NRA isn't helping. Blocking research into gun violence isn't helping.

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Superb Owl

Given that it's Superb Owl Sunday, I thought I'd tell a little bit about the first superb owl I saw.

When you say "owl", no matter how many barn owls, screech owls, or pygmy owls I've ever seen, the owl I see is Spooky, the Great Horned Owl who lived at the Boston Museum of Science from 1951 to 1989. In the wild, ten years is a good lifespan for a Great Horned Owl, but even in captivity, thirty-eight years is amazing. Although I believe that there have been a handful of owls who have lived longer since then, as advances in veterinary bird medicine have continued, thirty years is still a good run for a zoo owl; thirty-eight would be amazing even now, and was unprecedented then.

Spooky actually liked people. Oh, it's not like the audience got to touch him or anything, but you would go see an animal presentation, and the presenter would be teaching you things about animals and birds, and Spooky would be sitting on the presenter's shoulder the whole time, just watching the audience, and seeming to enjoy the whole thing. When I was a kid, seeing Spooky was one of the things that we ALWAYS made sure to do when we went to the Museum of Science.

The other thing about it was that Spooky lived long enough that seeing Spooky the Owl as a kid was an experience that my parents shared with my sister and me. They'd seen the owl, and loved him, and then, when they grew up and had kids and took us, we could see the same owl, and love him just as much.

And that's why, when I think of Superb Owl Sunday, I think of Spooky.

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