Monday, February 27, 2006

A bad game of telephone

Note: read the entire post before thinking about it. It was written sequentually.

WHEN I HEARD: So there was a pigua in Jerusalem. It was weird, I had a premonition something like this would happen this morning and I’d have to wake my parents up by calling them at like 4 AM their time. In fact, I called them at 4:30 PM Jerusalem Winter Time, 6:30 AM PST.

AFTERWARDS: However, information through the grapevine is faulty and through a literal game of telephone (text messaging to be exact), a weaponological research center explosion in Haifa becomes a pigua in Jerusalem. I’m OK though (and Haifa is really far away) (I wrote the beginning of this message before I heard that it was in fact Haifa and didn’t want to change it in order to maintain the flow of thought that occurs).

I was in New York on 9/11. It was my first week of school and I was in Hebrew class at the time (B1 to be exact), first of all, one of the planes flew over and there were strange sirens rushing south with a very strong Doppler Effect. I was still unable to process this and when Mike Knopf came back after our 9:15 break to tell us that a private helicopter accidentally flew into the World Trade Center, this is what everyone believed. So too does lack of information and haste lead to people jumping to conclusions so quickly after they happen. These rumors of a helicopter crashing into the World Trade Center were problematic because they led people not to take it so seriously. Sure, there was some rumblings of foul play, but most people assumed it was a beginning flyer who went awry off his flight path. Two 767 passenger jets filled with transcontinental amounts of fuel? No way. So too was the damage done by calling this so soon. I had to call my parents immediately lest they fear for my well-being, as at the time my knowledge was that there was a bombing in Jerusalem.

Involved in my earlier premonitin was the following concern: would it be benificial and halachically okay, for the sake of Shalom Bayit, to carry a calling card or something with me on Shabbat in case, God forbid, something were to happen in Jerusalem so that I could ease my family's concern on a day meant for rest.

Also, as I was calling home to say I was okay (when we assumed it was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem), my phone died. Great.

The quote of the day goes to Ms. Rachel Zisser
Me: Hey Ziss, do you want to help complete an egalitarian minyan?
Rachel: um... no!

Finally, something random in my learning of Russian while working on Philosophy of the 13 Principles with two people of the slavic persuasion:

Здравствулте!, как вы делаете? Вы имеете мустард?

Здравствулте!, как вы делаете? Вы имеете мустард?

Hello! How are you doing? Do you have any mustard?

Chodesh Tov, a happy HAPPY (and safe) new month of Adar,

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fun with Gematria

Time for Jewish mathematics. You will get more when I present Divrei Torah for Shabbat Zachor next week, but I learned a good one today which I then researched and found out even more:

First of all the gematria for Faratzta (as in UFaratzta) is 770. The lubavacher rebbe, who was headquartered at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn commanded his shluchim to spread out west, east, north and south (to fulfill the verse ufaratzta yama vakedma tzafona vanegba -Genesis 28:14) Four directions would be 4 x 770 which equals 3080. 3080 Broadway in Manhattan is the Jewish Theological Seminary. This could be a Dvar Torah in itself.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mazel Tovs and something Great

First, two mazel tovs are in order:
Mazel Tov to my Sabbah on his 82nd birthday, which the family is celebrating in Palm Springs this weekend
Mazel tov to my uncle on his sitcom getting picked up by ABC. I'll update once I have more information. All I know is that he is going to be starring in a sitcom called "In Case of Emergency".

" According to Variety, ABC has given a six-episode series commitment to In Case of Emergency, a half-hour comedy from Emile Levisetti and scribe Howard Morris. Beyond the episodic order, the network has picked up an additional 12 scripts for the series.

The deal for the show comes after an intense bidding war between ABC and NBC.

In Case of Emergency revolves around a group of friends who come together after a crisis and realize their lives didn't turn out as planned. Show's title was inspired by the doctor's office form in which you're asked to provide emergency contact information. Set in West L.A., show centers on four thirtysomething friends, one of whom is reunited with the other three in the pilot."

This having been said, now to the nitty gritty. I went to the Great Synaogue this shabbos. It was great (yes, I beat a number of people I've already talked to with the joke. Not funny). Anyway, the service was beautiful. I haven't been to a service with a choir for quite some time. It was also very different, as I am quite used to an egalitarian four section choir, while this was just basses and tenors. According to the music I own of Naftali Hershtik's, there are definitely higher voices in his High Holiday stuff, which I believe is young boys playing alto and soprano. Speaking of high voices, Chazzan (Cantor) Hershtik did some amazing falsetto. I miss this kind of service. Also in attendence was the conductor of the choir, Chazzan Eli Jaffe, from whom I learned how to lead High Holiday Services. He didn't look like I expected him to look, and just to confirm it was him I just google imaged him. Yep. That's him. I owe a lot to this man whom I have never met as now I know how to lead any and all high holiday services and can spice up most other services as well.
So as I mentioned it was a special shabbat and the shabbat before the new lunar month, as such the Birkat HaChodesh, the prayer for the upcoming month, was chanted in a high holiday melody befitting the special additions to the Amidah. The latter did not happen (which would have made services much longer) but Chazzan Hershtik did it anyway. It's just like how I learned it from the Eli Jaffe CDs. Becauseh of these CDs I have made a different melody for each month should I lead musaf on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh.
Another remark on the Synagogue. Besides it being Great (ha ha, very funny...), it is absolutely beautiful. The stained glass, which I only saw in shades of gray last night was beautiful as the sun rose in the east (we were in the perfect direction, due west from the Old City and therefore the synagogue faces east (well, like it does all over America) and got the sunrise. Actually Mr. Sun didn't come out today, and instead there was overcast humidity and a light rain. On friday we had 70F and sun. 23F in New York, eh? That's gotta hurt. Anyway, the stained glass (which can be seen at this link) was filled with names and letters and symbols that I could only partially make out on Friday night. I don't know if anyone noticed that the bottom two sefirot, the male one was represented as red, the female as green. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, eh?
Also, the Ark was HUGE. It was not to the sky like VBS's, but it had at least 18 Torahs (real ones, unlike the shells on the top at VBS) crammed into it.
My one critique of the great synagogue is that the accoustics were not so good. From the Torah podium they worked well, but from where the cantor stood it was hard to hear.

What I've learned this Shabbat: mint soda is weird and tastes like the worst jelly bean flavor ever, tutti-frutti. I do not recommend buying mint soda (or eating a pink jelly belly speckled with red and green) . Avoid at all costs.

Alright, that's it, kiddies. Gotta motor. Shavuah Tov.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Signs of civilization and beginning the Passover season

You know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you realize you're home? Well, I got that feeling when I found a Coffee Bean (sans the Tea Leaf), a favorite haunt of mine from Los Angeles, at the foot of the Ben Yehuda Mall in Jerusalem. This is something that they don't even have in New York, yet they have it in Jerusalem. It didn't seem so different either. In fact, I probably see more yarmulkes at the one I frequent in Westwood Village at UCLA (there's two there, I'm talking about the Kosher one) than at this one. It was similar to the feeling when I discover a new Jamba Juice in Manhattan. There are some slight differences, such as they don't have Black Forest, the cherry drink I like, and they don't have the non-fat hot vanilla powder that I have in lieu of breakfast/lunch when I'm in LA, but I did get to walk past the old city while drinking an Ice-Blended, which was way cool.

I also went to the Shuk at Machanei Yehuda and bought figs (which for some reason are dried; the only fruit you can't find fresh... whatever, I love 'em anyway!), avocados (a different kind than the ones I get in america), red cabbage salad, and kiddush pita for Shabbat. I also bought a couple of kippot (not that I need anymore). Then, instead of taking the bus home, I decided that once I had my Ice-Blended from Coffee Bean, I would walk home and give my bus fare to in tzedekah form, which gives me an even more warm and fuzzy feeling.

Now as I eluded to in my Dvar Torah, this week's portion is not only Mishpatim, which by the way happens to be my youngest brother's Bar Mitzvah portion, but is also Shabbat Shekalim, which begins the long Passover Season. There are two major Jewish seasons, in my opinion, the Passover Season and the High Holiday Season. The High Holiday season begins mid-summer with the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, leads to the 3 weeks of Admonition leading to the destruction of the Temples on the 9th of Av and then the 7 weeks of Comfort leading to Rosh Hashannah, with the month proceeding being the month of mercy and repentance. 10 days of repentence follow to Yom Kippur, following which we have the festival of Sukkot where we pray for good things for all other nations of the world, our fate gets sealed on the 7th day of Pesach, and we get judged for rain the next day and celebrate the Torah.

The Passover festival begins on the Shabbat before the beginning of the month of Adar (in a leap year when there is an additional month, it is the Shabbat before Adar II) when we are commanded to give the annual half-shekel (a very minimal amount of money, I usually give a full shekel to the poor, and Falafel costs at least 8, so you can see how much people can afford a half-shekel) to the poll-tax, following which we enter the month of Adar, about which the Talmud says in Taanit 7a (correction: 29a) (if memory serves me -the Chairman, Iron Chef), "whosoever enters the month of Adar increases in gladness". Special shabbatot abound, one for blotting out the name of Amalek, the progenetor of Haman who seeked to destroy the Jews on Purim. Following the drunken revelry that is Purim, we discuss the purifying Red Heifer and the special instructions for the coming month of Nisan which is the greatest of all months and the first of all months (contrary to popular opinion that Tishrei is both of these, it is in fact neither). Passover comes after massive preparation, and as it is statistically the most observed of all Jewish Holidays, at least by polling of Israeli Jews, I don't need to go into it. On the second day we begin to count 49 days, 7 weeks of 7 days each, a time of semi-mourning for a plague that wiped out Rabbi Akiba's students, peppered with some happy holidays such as Lag Ba'Omer (33rd day of the omer when the plague stopped), Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Reunification Day) all leading to the Revelation at Sinai on the 6th of Sivan when God spoke the Ten Commandments to the people (see last week's Dvar Torah: Yitro as it is the account of the revelation). Moses ascends to Heaven for forty days to get it in writing. The people start counting that day as the first day, Moses counts the next day as the first day. When he doesn't come back on the 16th of Tammuz, fearing he's dead, they build a Golden Calf and he returns on the 17th of Tammuz, his 40th day and shatters the tablets, thus beginning the High Holiday season (which I forgot to mention has moses going up to heaven a total of 3 times and for 40 days each, the third of which spans the 1st of Elul to the 10th of Tishrei, the official season of repentence when on the final day he secures atonement for the sin of the people from God and brings down the second set of Ten Commandments).

Anyway, I had a completely different agenda but didn't end up getting to it. Something about legal fictions and selling the land of Israel.

By the way, the only holiday absent from either of these seasons is Chanukkah, but it gets its own momentum from being the "Holiday Season" for at least four religions, so it works out.
Oh yeah, that and Tu Bishvat. Whoops.

SHABBOS PLANS: Tomorrow night and Saturday I think I am going to daven at the Great Synagogue. Services will be very long because they have a choir, led by Eli Jaffe, the man whose CDs inspired my High Holiday melodies I use when I lead services on the Yamim Noraim. I'm very excited about this. However, I am not excited about services starting at 7:50 AM. Thankfully I have not made plans this shabbos because I would never make it to anything because of the sheer length of these services. At least this is better than one suggestion that I go to the SY Agnon Synagogue that starts at 6:20 AM and is out by 8:00 AM, even though they do EVERYTHING, including the Yotzer (enhanced prayers) for the Shabbat Shekalim, the added piyyutim (similar to that which is added to the High Holiday services) that make the amidah five times longer than usual, and this particular special shabbat has enhanced amidot for Shacharit AND Musaf (which most of the others do not). I myself have never been to a service that has Yotzrot because nobody does them, but I want to go to one once. I do get blessed all the time by priests, which is pretty cool. They do the Priestly Blessing at all morning services in Israel, where everywhere else in the world the leader would just be reciting the words.

Alright, I'm stammering so I'm gonna stop.


Dvar Torah: Mishpatim/Shabbat Shekalim

It's a little to busy to write a new D'var Torah this week so I decided to present a Responsa I wrote a few years ago for my Codes class at JTS about Stem Cell Research. It applies a number of concepts from this Torah portion, including the status of a fetus (ie: the penalty for "abortion" is only monetary) and that God commands us to heal. Here goes:

Matt Rutta

Codes for Talmud Majors

Fall 2004


Resolved: The use of human embryonic stem-cells for medical and scientific purposes is permissible under Jewish Law.

I concur with Rabbi Dorff’s responsa in the positive but have differing or additional reasons as to the permissibility to utilize stem cells. Therefore this statement shall be a concurrence to Rabbi Dorff’s responsa

The following things must be assumed permissible, as they were by the CJLS:

-Obligation of humanity to heal


-Organ Donation

God is the ultimate healer, as He says in Exodus 15:26, אני ה' רפאך, “I am the Lord, your Healer”. However, we see that there is still the obligation for humans to act as healers. A few chapters hence, in Exodus 21:19, it states:

אִם־יָקוּם וְהִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּחוּץ עַל־מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ וְנִקָּה הַמַּכֶּה רַק שִׁבְתּוֹ יִתֵּן וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּֽא:

“If he stands and walks outside on his staff, then the one who struck him will be cleared of charges but only has to pay for the man’s healing”. In other words, the man has to pay the other man’s medical bills. With this verse directly from the Torah we see that there were doctors at the time and that the Torah finds them to be a necessity. Therefore we are allowed to ‘play God’, per-se, and be doctors.

The CJLS has concluded through various responsa that Abortion is considered to be legal within the framework of Jewish Law. Mishnah Ohalot, Tosefta Yevamot, and Talmud Bavli Masechet Sanhedrin all agree that the fetus is not considered a person until yatza rubo, until the “majority” of it has emerged from the mother’s womb.

Rabbi Kassel Abelson, in his responsa on Prenatal Testing and Abortion says that “the fetus in the womb may be destroyed in order to save its mother’s life, for it is not a person and the case is not comparable to the case of killing one person to save the life of another. The fetus is considered to be less important until the moment of birth and can therefore be destroyed.

Additionally, the CJLS has deemed organ donation, that is, bequeathing bodily organs post-mortem in order to save or help another life to not only be permissible but praiseworthy.

Therefore with the assumption that humanity has the obligation to heal, and that the fetus is considered to be merely an appendage of the woman, comparable to an arm or a leg or any other body part, and not a living being, and with the knowledge that organ donation is commendable, then we can assume that stem cell research is also permissible within the framework of Jewish law.

With medical and scientific technology at the level it is today, there are definite capabilities for great discoveries and innovation in the field of healing and curing diseases. Recently the idea that stem cells, cells that contain the genetic material that can form any other type of human cell, can be used to recreate body parts, research the roots of diseases for purposes of finding a cure, and for many other matters that would prove revolutionary in the history of medicine and of humanity.

These stem cells are most easily extracted from embryos, where the cells are quite pristine. If we are permitted to abort a fetus, then, קל וחוֹמר, we can abort an embryo as it is even earlier in stage to a fetus.

I concur to the points made regarding Onanism and the status of a 40 day old embryo. As to the charges that it could be considered as Onanism, wasteful spilling of the seed (which is a heavenly capital crime), it is not because it is not wasteful. Also the Talmud refers to the embryo as merely a drop of water.

However, Rabbi Dorff stops at only curing disease. Would it be considered ‘playing God’ to also eradicate diseases and to create vaccines and immunizations for the prevention of diseases in the first place? Why should someone have to suffer with the disease if it can be prevented before it happens? Scientists and researchers are too limited by the definition of Rabbi Dorff’s paper. That which Rabbi Dorff defines as “enhancement” is very open ended. The removal of a disease from one’s genes and therefore also the genes of one’s descendents could be considered an enhancement. There has to be a fine line drawn between something like a mutation that causes six toes or conjoined twins, Down’s Syndrome, or Cerebral Palsy, and that which causes mere undesirables such as an unsightly nose or eye color. We are partners with God, not a replacement for Him. There has to be limits. These limits and distinctions can be discussed in a later responsa and ruling

Stem Cell Research, whether from an aborted embryo or one frozen for the very reason of stem cell research or fertility, should be considered permissible within the framework of Jewish Law subject to the restrictions laid forth within this document.

Shabbat Shkalim Shalom,

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Things I took for granted in the States

-Laundry dryers: at least if it didn't finish drying, I could pop another quarter into the machine. Now I don't have one and have to rely on Mr. Sun, which brings me to:
-Glass windows: Greenhouse effect doesn't work too well through plasticized windows, causing my wet socks to smell after a couple of days of "drying in the sun". I am trying a new method of two-at-a-time on my radiator. This should take a week.
-Insulation: Even if it is 50*F outside, it's colder inside. How is this possible? (see previous)
-Ovens: big one. All I have is a microwave oven that doesn't stop when it's supposed to and I get a healthy dose of radiation when I pull my food out and a stovetop that requires me to turn on the gas in the apartment and lighting the pilot before being able do do anything. I need to be able to bake or I'm nothing for Shabbat meals.
-Elevators: nothing like dragging your heavy luggage up 4 flights of stairs. I miss the laziness
-Quesadillas: I know this is kind of small, but I miss American food, such as low-carb tortillas, cheddar cheese, and salsa.
-honest cabdrivers: at least you could see the meter in NYC. Even the cabdrivers try to haggle. 5 shekels a bag is ridiculous
-Instant Hot Water: This is the only country in the world that thinks solar power is a good idea. If there's no sun, however, Matt doesn't get a warm shower. Still, Dude Shemesh is a fun thing to say.
-Pedestrian Sidewalks: see a number of my previous entries for the reason
-Color: Jerusalem stone everywhere makes Jerusalem a very beige holy city
-Clean Air: Smoking indoors? C'mon! I miss the Bloomberg-cleanliness of Manhattan's air
-Shabbat Mincha: For some reason these times never get announced at Saturday Morning services. I don't think this service exists.
-Carlebach "Romemu": Everyone in America was considered a virtuoso if they could pull off the high-notes at the end of "Moshe V'Aharon" at Kabbalat Shabbat. Here there is a tutti lowered version done exclusively here. I still say the high notes out of protest.
-Laxer Kashrut Laws: at least if I accidentially broke kashrut in the US I would be able to repent for it for the one time I had milk two hours after meat in College (which I immediately spit out). Here, if I eat food that Trumah was not given, I'm liable for the death penalty?! Thank God Israel is not a Capital state.
-Ringtones: Israel is such a technologically rich country, particularly notable in it's cellular technology inventions. But where's my "Pulp Fiction" polyphonic ringtone? Also, my Pelephone rate absolutely sucks.
-East: Let's see, I'm on Rivka and Derech Hebron... which direction do I have to face now? The Jerusalem Compass is completely useless in Jerusalem. I want to buy one but I wouldn't be surprised if the dial rapidly went in circles like a novelty wristwatch. Speaking of my watch, the compass I placed on it last summer is useless if I don't even know which direction I'm supposed to be looking for.
-Television: I don't have one. I want one. I can't download simpsons episodes. My life sucks. Oh look, a Spanish Telenovela that has Russian subtitles! That's useful!
-Sunday: Not a weekend. WTF?
-three-hour Time-zone differences: Try to get into contact with people who have a time difference of between seven to ten hours from your own. "Well, If I wake up at 6 AM, I'll be able to wish my brother a happy birthday at 8 PM his time" was an actual thought that ended up becoming reality.
-and last but not least: You! Contact me. Make no mistake, I do love Jerusalem, but I miss you all. If you're coming to Israel, let me know beforehand.

Shavuah Tov,

ADDENDUM (2/21):
-patience: Israelis don't understand the concept of lines, or, if they do, they choose to rudely ignore it
-handrails: look, I know you want to preserve the beauty of an untouched nature, but when I'm scaling steep narrow mountain paths, I don't want to become a part of the permenant exhibition. Further, the highways also need guardrails. If you're riding on a bus piloted by an Israeli driver, you're going to want one too.
-pennies: oh wait, I don't miss those. In fact, you will never get 1 agora in change, sometimes not even the 5 agorot piece. I think these go to taxes. I like never having anything under a ten cent piece.

-bus maps: In New York, they are not so needed, the 86 goes across 86th street, some buses would go better with letters or directions (ie: 104 should be called The Broadway Bus), but at least there is some semblance of sense. With the Israeli bus system, you have 18s and 18As and no printed bus maps that go around this tiny round city.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Dvar Torah: Yitro

I decided that each week (without making a vow) that I will write a Dvar Torah, just because. This week's Parasha is Yitro, famous for its containing the Ten Commandments.

According to midrash, God Himself spoke the first two Commandments (note I originally wrote "plagues" here which was an obvious slip) directly to the hearts of the Children of Israel, a change of policy that never happened before and hasn't happened since. When God said אנכי"" "anochi", an Egyptian lend-word that has the Hebrew equivilent of "אני" "ani", "I am" (as in "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before Me") all Israelites died. Even though God made them comfortable by using a familiar Egyptian word for their slave mentality and reminded them of His connection to them with the mighty hand and outstretched arm through which he delivered them from bondage, even their divinely elevated souls could not take the awesomeness and stand in the presence of God unsheathed, so all the souls departed many miles away and God had to twice revive them with the Dews of Resurrection. This could claim a limit on God that he cannot talk directly to the people (to paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Could God microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn't eat it?). Or perhaps it is the people who were limited in that they could not comprehend.

Do not chastise the people for this. In fact, many of our greatest leaders weren't up for the task either. Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish when God assigned him the mission of going to Ninveh. Isaiah claimed he had unclean lips and should therefore not undertake his divine task. Jeremiah was terrified when God chose him in the womb. Even our greatest leader, the man of God himself, Moses, tried to prevent God from picking him, something which we usually chalk up to Moses' humility. Nobody's perfect.

The people were somehow superior to the prophets and even Moses in a vein. Moses and the prophets were hesitant and derelict at the beginning. The Children of Israel, even with their faults, proclaimed "נעשה ונשמע" "Naase V'Nishma", "we will do it and we shall hear it". Their desire to perform God's will was so strong that they wanted to do it even before it was assigned by God. They elevated themselves for 50 days and attained a level even above the ministering angels.

So don't fault our ancestors who were brought out of the land of Egypt. Even though they did slip up a number of times, according to our sages, there was no generation as great as theirs and we are more lawless than they were. Chaza"l say that the generations decline more and more since the generation of the Exodus. The torah highlights their faults and their heightened punishment because they are so few compared to the great things they did. Their punishment is great because they were so great. They immediately accepted upon themselves the Yolk of Heaven and the Yolk of Mitzvot before it was even required. This, Tom Brokaw, is truly the greatest generation.

Ooh, I like writing these and will try to write them more often. Please comment on this so I can get tips on writing more in the future. And now I must go as the travelling muezzin is chanting the call to Shabbos Mincha (I realize he's Muslim...). "eeeeee-yup!" (when I googled "eee yup" I got the songs of humpback whales. Hmm.)

May we all be elevated above the angels and bask in the glory of God (just please don't form a doomsday cult)

Shabbat Shalom,

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I like Eilat A Lot (say it aloud)

I just returned from a 3-day Tiyul to the southernmost tip of Israel, the resort-city of Eilat on the Red Sea. I loved the trip. It was filled with hiking, some of which was quite intense as it included long durations, narrow ledges, steep inclines, cables and ropes, unbeaten trails, rocks galore, and no handrails or safety. That and the pair of hiking boot I bought for $6 fell apart. That's what I get, I guess. There was some beautiful scenery which I will soon upload to my facebook photos. I also bonded with people I hardly even knew before. I found a good number of people who either spoke Yiddish, or spoke German and could therefore understand what I was saying. I had a number of long conversations in Yiddish on this trip.

We also went out to the self-proclaimed "World's Only Underwater Restaurant" (probably not true) to celebrate my friend Evan's 1st anniversary of his conversion to Judaism. I mentioned in my toast (after my original toast idea for comparing his conversion to Yitro's in this week's Torah portion was preempted) that most Jewish anniversaries include some sort of recreation of the original event, such as living in booths on Sukkot, and eating matzah and holding a seder on Pesach. I told him that he should be thankful that there is no such reliving in terms of anniversaries of conversions.
I shared a hotel room with a Russian and a German. We practically had a Yalta Conference and Non-Aggression Pact rolled into one. The Russian and I were about to build a wall within the German's space. Not really. In fact, most of what I just said is probably historically inaccurate.

Also at the hotel, the Adi Hotel, stayed Nativ. I talked to a number of the students and also ran into people I knew.

Today I swam in the Red Sea. I reinacted the spliting of Yam Suf where my ancestor, Nachshon Ben Aminadav (as seen in my family tree) is the first to walk into the sea and it does not split until the water reaches his nose. Yes, I know that the Red Sea is NOT the Reed Sea (well, maybe) and that Yam Suf is an unfortunate and misleading name, but a boy can dream, can't he?

On the busride home we watched "Remember the Titans". I really enjoyed it. It is very similar to "Glory Road", both of which are based on true stories but with different sports.

I will try to mention more later. I am quite tired from everything.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tu Bishvat... part Tu

Blogspot is having issues now so I can’t edit existing journals. I wanted to mention what I have had so far in terms of my fruit requirement

1. Wine & Grape Juice (x 4 sanctioned cups) * (grape)

2. Dates *

3. Clementines

4. Avocados

5. Almonds

6. Pistachios

7. Pecans

8. Walnuts

9. Pomegranates*

10. Olives AND Olive oil (justifying two different renderings of the translation of the verse)*

11. Persimmons

12. Carobs

13. Wheat* (in the form of a handful of Bamba cereal, three flakes of Shokoman (the most racist cereal ever), and a mini-malawah)

14. 15.  cherry and cranberry in the form of juice

16. Hummous

17. Zaatar (which includes hyssop, sumac, and sesame)

18. Garlic (found within

*indicates one of the seven species enumerated in Deuteronomy 8:8

 אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶֽרֶץ־זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָֽשׁ:

“A land of wheat and barley and [grape]vine, and fig and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and [date-]honey”


I’m still yet to have figs, barley, grapes in grape form. I guess I should also track down some date-honey


Tu Bishvizzle Samizzle,




Matthew Rutta

Jerusalem, ISRAEL



Tu Bishvat Sameach (Happy New Year Beit Hillel*)

*I don’t mean Hillel in the Kraft Center sense, in fact they cancelled the holiday for snow. Sorry, that was low.


Tonight we had a Tu Bishvat Seder. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a holiday that celebrates the new year of rendering ages for trees. This is important because you cannot eat from a fruit tree in its first three years, in the fourth year (and in Israel after separating and sanctifying the various tithes) you may finally eat of them. We celebrate Tu Bishvat with a seder, similar to the Passover seder, in that there are four cups of wine, but that is where the similarity ends. It is much more in tune with nature than the supernatural occurrences discussed at Passover. The best feature: NO FREEZE-DRIED FRUIT!!! Yes, there were dates and pomegranates and avocados and clementines that were so very fresh.


A remark about one particular clementine; a poor, poor clementine. A blemished clementine was passed around for about 15 minutes as everyone in the room spoke about how this clementine came to be here. It was hilarious how everyone tried to outdo each other. The prize for funniest comment I think has to go to the Rosh Yeshiva himself, Rabbi Daniel Landes who said something like “I came upon this clementine when on an Russian gold expedition to the California coast”. Instead of going sequentially, which I believe was the initial task, most comments began with “but before that”. Mine began “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth and all kind of fruit-bearing tree and saw that it was good… except He had it out for this particular fruit and deemed to make this poor blemished clementine miserable”. Yeah, there were about 100 such comments.


One minor thing that didn’t make such a huge difference was that they reversed the colors of the wines. In the traditional Tu Bishvat seder (an oxymoron, perhaps?), you go white wine, pink wine (white with a drop of red), rose wine (half and half), and red wine for the order of the four cups of wine, representing the blooming from the white and barren winter to the reds of spring when flowers and trees bloom.


As for my friends currently in New York City in the Blizzard, I feel for you, I really do. I shall pour one down for my homies in Manhattan when I am tanning on a beach by the Red Sea in Eilat sipping a margarita. No, I don’t think that will happen, but I am leaving a potential snow in Jerusalem to travel on a three day tiyul to Eilat.


The only song I really know regarding this holiday, and the horrible rhyming “translation”


השקדיה פורחת
ושמש פז זורחת
צפורים מראש כל גג
מבשרות את בוא החג

2 X
ט"ו בשבט הגיע
חג לאילנות

הארץ משועת
הגיעה עת לטעת
כל אחד יקח לו עץ
באתים נצא חוצץ

2 X
ט"ו בשבט הגיע
חג לאילנות

Tu Bi'Shevat is Here

The almond tree is growing,
golden sun is glowing;
The birds sing out in joyous glee
From every roof and every tree.


Tu Bi'Shevat is here,
Jewish Arbor Day.
Hail the trees**: New Year,

Let's make the land a garden,
water from the
And our land will flow once more
With milk and honey, as of yore

**(a little Asheira worship, eh?)


Tu Bishvat Sameach, and enjoy the snow, New York.




Matthew Rutta

Jerusalem, ISRAEL


Shabbat in Jerusalem

I thought it is time I should remark upon the holiest of days in the holiest of cities. Shabbat in Jerusalem is quite interesting. Some of you may think that Jew York City is insane with the Jewish population on Friday night. Well, I'm in Jew-rusalem. The streets are practically devoid of cars, which means that one can walk on the sidewalk with relatively no fear of being run-over... on the sidewalk (see my Signs you Live in Jerusalem post), even in the middle of the street is a popular place to walk on the Sabbath. Friday night at around 6 PM when services let out or after midnight when we left the tisch, there is a very interesting air about Jerusalem. It has a similar feeling to (lhavdil) Halloween in a gated community in America. There are people walking in groups, some big groups, some small groups, and some people alone. Instead of being dressed in costume, everyone is dressed in their finest. Finest for Israel anyway. There are no suits, not even a tie. The men are dressed in what is known as the "Ben-Gurion", short-sleeved shirts with some sort of long pants which could include slacks or even jeans. Sometimes they will even wear sandals or orange shoe-like things (I want to find a pair). Believe me, for Israel this is Shabbos-wear. Grooms wear less to their weddings, so I hear. Anyway, Emek Refaim is a veratible ghost-town (or "ghost valley" as the literal translation of Emek Refaim), with nothing stirring except for a solitary coffee shop (stirring... coffee shop... this gold is wasted on you). There is just something so beautiful about a day without cars, without honking, without yelling. It is quiet and is peaceful, Yom SheKulo Shabbat, a day that is completely restful, a day that is completely Shabbat which is the promise of the World to Come. It is on earth now.

About the______ Song at ______ The Sea
______ I should ______ mention
That the ______ Song has ______ an interesting
______ scribal feature ____in that it is in this
pattern found __ nowhere else __ in the Torah
______ of waves ______ like one would
find in ______ the ocean. ______ This is one of
______ the easiest ______ passages to
locate in ______ the Torah_____because of its unusual
______ formatting. ______ It is also read
with great ___fanfare and people__rise from their
______ seats during ______ its recitation,
and in an unusual __occurrence this _is call-and-
______ -response.

Enough, if you want to see it formatted, look at Exodus 15:1 cf. Hopefully it is formatted correctly in this brick-like wave-like pattern. If not, get a new Bible.

Tonight I went to a concert by David Zeller who has a very interesting story. I'm not going to repeat it because I'm tired, but you would do well to check out Rabbi Zeller's website at

Afterwards I, like Forest Gump, just decided to walk to nowheres in particular. I just started walking west on Yochanan Ben Zakkai for a couple of miles in my Shabbos finest (the Ben Gurion plus a sweater). I walked down a steep hill southward before deciding to go back.
A cab driver stopped me on the street during my walk back to ask me for directions. Only in Israel...

That is all for now as I feel really scattered and really tired.

Shavuah Tov,


Friday, February 10, 2006

Write to me

Much like crazy Jerusalem truck drivers going southwest on Tel Hai on I don't want this to be a one-way street. I want to hear from you too. Write comments for me to read and send me IMs at Valley2City on AIM. I miss you all.

Living under a rock (actually two countries to the west of it)

Think about that title for a minute. I didn't even realize that the Olympics start tonight. I have been away from television for so long that I don't know anything that's going on. It's just as well as I don't care much about winter sports (though bobsledding and the luge entertain me) . Vosever... I had an away message up on my IM yesterday that read the following:
"Ben Yehuda, the Shuq (Machane Yehuda), bookseller, Mea Shearim, Old City? Call the Israeli cell. I feel safer on a blow-uppable bus than as roadkill on the dangerous sidewalk". I wrote the away message before I saw this article:". Apparently a bus ran over two people here in Jerusalem. More people die in accidents in this country than in terrorist attacks. I feel MUCH safer on a blow-uppable bus than as roadkill on the dangerous sidewalk.

On a different, but somewhat sad note, there is a huge problem with homeless in Jerusalem. I really want to help and usually give a shekel or five for people who ask. The Rambam says not to investigate and have your hand open and your heart open. However, I find it interesting that on Ben Yehuda street, there are people who actually asked me for $20, adding more to her sad story (which changed constantly). I have even gotten people asking me for money in supermarkets. It annoys me however when people try to get money from me when I'm davening at the Wall. I am at the base of the holiest site it the world pouring my heart to God and it is quite inconsiderate to disturb someone at that point. I am quite open with my wallet for the many many beggars in the Western Wall plaza, but if I'm davening, stand back, please.

I am starting to figure out the bus system here. Please don't be scared about this. Bus 18 is the bus that goes from Yochanan Ben Zakkai (the main street near me) to the Machaneh Yehuda Shuq and the foot of Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.
I went to the Shuq yesterday and bought fruit (Persimmons!), challah for shabbat, and some salatim (red cabbage and red tiramasalata).

My lungs are probably really bad from the recent dust storm and the constant barrage of indoor second hand smoke that I was so removed from under Bloomberg's Law in NYC. Everyone here also has two cell phones. I don't think that Israel is a first-world country. It's not a third-world country either. It's a second world co--- you know what, Israel IS a first-world country that just prefers to use solar power than having unlimited heating. That's Israel! They created Instant Messenger, cell phone technology, are one of the most technologically-literate, militarily strong, and weaponologically advanced. It got nukes quite quickly. Don't mess with Israel. I don't know why I introduced that randomness. The ultimate sign of Israel's coolness: I found a Coffee Bean (minus the Tea Leaf) at the foot of Ben Yehuda. They don't even have those in Manhattan!

Shabbat Shira Shalom. I have been terrorizing Shira Wallach with various puns using her name and this holiday, such as I wished her a Shabbat You Shalom and that I'm going to hear the You at the Sea and daven at Your Screenname tonight or perhaps Your Screennname made into the masculine (because there are two synagogues on Emek Refaim with similar names, Shira Chadasha and Shir Chadash. I think the former was the inspiration for Lalekhet (n
é Halacha And Modernity). I am also going to a tisch tonight in honor of the special sabbath where we arrive at the Song at the Sea in the weekly Torah reading. Sunday night there is a special Seder for Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, the birthday of the trees which means a lot more in Israel than anywhere else because it is consistently the day that the almond tree begins to bloom and the trees begin to spread their sap thus beginning the growth taken away by the death of fall and fallowtude of winter. We celebrate this holiday with the fruit and wine of Israel. This holiday has special significance to Israel because according to Torah Law, the trees of Israel can only be picked from orbenefitedd from after three years after planting and the Trumah and Tithes have beenseparatedd in the fourth year. If the planting takes place today, the 12th of Shevat, then on Sunday night it is officially considered to be 1 year old as this is the birthday of the trees. Therefore it is beneficial to plant now.

Therefore, Shabbat Wallach Shalom (oops) and Tu Bishvat Sameach,


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Wind of God

I read a book over the summer (and completed it during the fall) called "David the King" by Gladys Scmitt, sort of a "fan-fiction biography" about King David which took him down a few pegs by making him more human. It eliminated his slaying of the Philistine giant Goliath, attributing it to another veteran soldier but among the camp of the tribe of Judah he gets the glory as word spreads across the land that it was he that did it. Anyway, the book also refers to a phenomenon called "the Wind of God" which caresses the land around Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem. Well, I'm on the third floor (actually the fourth floor; Israeli lobbys are not called the first floor but the zeroth (is that a word?). There is a howling and whistling and screaming wind coming from all directions that is very powerful. It is quite loud, strong, and the air smells dusty. Hopefully the coming rain will get rid of the dust. Crazy. There are also rumors that there's snow a-coming. That would be very exciting. I want to go to the Kotel in the snow. This is especially good since I just bought hiking boots at Super Sol Deal for 27.40(about $5.81) for my Eilat Tiyul (trip) next week. It sucks that while we are going to the resort town of Eilat, we weren't even told to bring bathing suits. It looks like we are just going to be hiking. I compare it to God showing Moses the Promised Land though he had to die on Mt. Nebo on the east bank of the Jordan River. We get shown the seaside paradise yet will be hiking the entire time.

More later. I must learn now.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Two New Mitzvot

First of all, happy 16th birthday to my brother, Zach.

I can do some mitzvot that you folks in America can't do!

Today I bought carobs at the shuq that is next to my school every Monday. They were very good, I gave many away, and have a lot left. However, when I offered some to my Hasidut professor I realized that there may not have been a Teudah, a certificate of kashrut. Now in America this would not be an issue. A carob is fruit, completely unprocessed and right from the tree. However, in the Land of Israel, according to the Torah, all produce must have gone through Trumah, the priestly tithe. Today we don't give it to a Cohen because we must unfortunately assume that all Cohanim have tumat hamet, defilement from a dead body. Therefore we somehow dispose of the holy Trumah in a dignified manner, though it is prohibited for human benefit. Since I didn't know whether or not Trumah was set aside (and it very well may have been, I just don't remember seeing (or looking) for a sign. Therefore the status is demai, questionable, and I have to give Trumah without a blessing, which my professor showed me how to do. The plot thickens when I notice a millipede which is not moving by the piece of carob we set aside for trumah. As such, from what I learned in Talmud Tractate Yevamot, it becomes tamei, impure, and you must give what is known as Tashlumin, which in modern hebrew is what appears on your receipt as the total payment, but in Amoraic hebrew means replacement trumah. The impure trumah I took off remained consecrated, and the Tashlumin I set aside also attained holiness and so all the carobs are doubtlessly fine for the eating. I buried the Trumah and Tashlumin in the dirt. I followed that with shehechiyanu as I was performing these mitzvot for the very first time in my life. Burial's dignified (as suggested by my professor Levi).

In today's Scribal Arts class we learned four more letters, doubling our total known up to eight. I'm on my way...

Finally, I missed the Super Bowl, but am about to watch some of the ads on IFILM. I can't miss these.

Post-finally (I realize I could rearrange this but am too lazy and am instead making it longer with this present explanation), I found this place which makes a cross between a parfait and what Humphreys Yogurt in LA does: they take plain yogurt and frozen fruits of your choosing and blend it together in a machine. Really tasty and probably healthy. That's the same reason I've been snacking on carobs. Watch when I find out that carobs have 1000 calories apiece...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Are you ready for some football... followed immediately by 13 hours of class?

The Super Bowl indeed is broadcasted on Israeli Cable. However, it is 7 hours later than NYC and 10 hours later than LA. Should I watch the Super Bowl, I will have the opportunity for a Vatikin Shacharit at Half-Time and if the game goes into overtime, I may have to miss some of my first class (or the other way around as I think my priorities need to go toward school). Besides, I wasn’t able to fall asleep last night. Two days without sleep is not a good idea, especially since this Monday I go from 8:30 AM to 9 PM. Also, I don’t really care about the teams as the ones I had any interest in, namely the Patriots, Bengals, and Redskins were all eliminated. In honor of Jeff and Abby, however, I will back the Steelers. Yet another support against watching: no American commercials. I figure that if you spend $2.6 million on an ad, it should show worldwide, even if the product advertised is not applicable to those outside the contiguous United States. That or at least an “Ad Special” that they would broadcast following the Super Bowl. I love those ads.

I have made the descision to go back to Dalet Talmud so that I can keep taking Chumash. The provision I have set is that the professor of Talmud Hey will continue to give me the sheets of Rishonim to satisfy my later commentators fix. I find this similar to the time in 12th Grade in which my schedule was forcibly changed around due to the WISE project and I was forced to leave Honors Jewish Law and take the regular class, but I was held to a higher standard so that I could keep the class as honors as the class moved at a way too slow pace. Daled also moves at a crawl, but what can I do? I don’t want to drop the most advanced Chumash class so I can’t take a Talmud class that meets one more day a week and therefore conflicts with one of the Chumash classes.

In similar news, my Talmud chevruta today was none other than Mike Knopf who is checking out Pardes today for a way to spend his semester. He too thinks this class moves too slowly. When you major in Talmud, everything moves slowly.

What I am probably going to do is sleep as soon as I get home (so around 7 PM) and wake up for a Super Bowl party at a friend’s house.

Perhaps not, as kickoff* is only 2 hours away and I am currently awake. I think this will be the first year I have missed the super bowl since as long as I can remember. I remember at least 15 of them. Wow. This is big. However, I don't feel I'd be missing much more than I would if I went to this party. We don't even get the insane commercials (which I can probably download tomorrow anyway). I'm just going to go to bed. I am currently getting mixed advice from my friends via IM. You can weigh in on this by posting to my comments area. Even after the superbowl actually happens. Enjoy the Dougies those of you watching at Hillel. If I were in NYC, I would already be there.

*Actual kickoff and coin-toss will occur 2 hours after said starting time.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Seventh Plague

כבר הגעתי הביתה וירד הברד והיוּ קוֹלוֹת וברקים בשמים

I figured some Hebrew was in order, even if it is possibly erroneous. So I got back from the Ramah Poconos reunion at the Goldstein Center (where Seminar takes place) (more on this later), and was talking on my cell phone below a relatively clear sky, although I see what I think is lightning (though I hear no thunder, so discount to be some messed up street lamp. I go inside and upstairs and I begin to hear loud clanging. I open the window, and sure enough there is a massively heavy hail falling with thunder and lightning in the background. As our Torah reading cycle has just passed the first seven plagues of egypt, the seventh being hail, I got to thinking as I stuck my hand out the window and was painfully pummelled by grape-sized hailstones. I was thinking, "that hurts...".

Anyway, the Ramah thing. So I didn't actually know about any Ramah things until last week when I found out after the deadline about the Ramah Shabbaton. There is a waiting list so what can I do... I didn't find out about the Poconos reunion until this very afternoon. There is also a California one on Tuesday. Nobody knew I was in Israel. Actually, I technically never left Canada as I never got an exit visa stamp in my passport. So I know of people that didn't make even the waiting list that are going to crash but I don't want to deal with it, I want to עוֹשה רוֹשם טוֹב, make a good impression on the Ramah Israel people and crashing a Shabbaton might not be the best way to meet them. So my Shabbat is going to be a שבּת שבּתוֹן, a Sabbath of complete rest. Hopefully I get 12 hours of sleep like I did last week. Tgat was awesome... and sorely needed.

It was really nice to see so many people from camp, including many of the Israelis who I missed talking politics with (Israeli politics is one of my passions, you see, and we discussed it often this past summer). I actually ran into most of the Americans at the שוּק, Shuq (sorry, that's how you translate it; I guess you can say "open-air market") two weeks ago. However there were also a lot of people who I didn't know were in Israel and it was great to see them.

In other news, I am subletting an apartment for a month beginning tomorrow on Yochanan Ben Zakkai. Finally I can unpack my bags and sleep on a relatively normal bed!

I watched Law & Order: SVU and F*R*I*E*N*D*S last night. And you thought Israel wasn't civilized...

Shabbat Shalom, שבת שלוֹם,
Matt משה