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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Contra Mitchell First. Again.

Over on the Seforim blog (http://seforim.blogspot.com/2013/02/identifying-achashverosh-and-esther-in.html), Mitchell First has written another attack on the Jewish historical tradition of the chronology of the Persian Empire and the events of Purim.

It isn't his first.  He is the author of Jewish History in Conflict: A Study of the Major Discrepancy Between Rabbinic and Conventional Chronology (Jason Aronson, 1997), in which he attempts to make a case against the Jewish view of history.

I wanted to address some of his claims here, in the spirit of שתיקה כהודאה, just to make sure his claims don't go uncontested.

I find it interesting that First speaks of "the simplest understanding of Ezra 4:6 without quoting the verse itself, and the surrounding verses.  In this way, the reader is left with the choice of either looking it up himself, or taking First's word for it.  So in order to make this easier for at least readers of Areivim, let's have a look.

ד  וַיְהִי, עַם-הָאָרֶץ--מְרַפִּים, יְדֵי עַם-יְהוּדָה; ומבלהים (וּמְבַהֲלִים) אוֹתָם, לִבְנוֹת. 4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and harried them while they were building,
ה  וְסֹכְרִים עֲלֵיהֶם יוֹעֲצִים, לְהָפֵר עֲצָתָם--כָּל-יְמֵי, כּוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס, וְעַד-מַלְכוּת, דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ-פָּרָס. 5 and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
ו  וּבְמַלְכוּת, אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, בִּתְחִלַּת, מַלְכוּתוֹ--כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה, עַל-יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם.  {ס} 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. {S}
ז  וּבִימֵי אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא, כָּתַב בִּשְׁלָם מִתְרְדָת טָבְאֵל וּשְׁאָר כְּנָו‍ֹתָו, עַל-אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּא, מֶלֶךְ פָּרָס; וּכְתָב, הַנִּשְׁתְּוָן, כָּתוּב אֲרָמִית, וּמְתֻרְגָּם אֲרָמִית.  {פ} 7 And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Aramaic character, and set forth in the Aramaic tongue. {P}

Copied from Machon Mamre (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt35a04.htm).

First appears to be using the same oversimplistic reading methodology used by advocates of the documentary hypothesis when he says that "The simplest understanding of Ezra 4:6 and its surrounding verses is that Achashverosh is the Persian king who reigned after the Daryavesh who rebuilt the Temple, but before Artachshasta."  In fact, the opposite is true.

The enemies of the Jews hired counselors against us from the time of Cyrus through the time of Darius the Persian.  Which means that they stopped hiring those counselors after the time of Darius the Persian.  So if those counselors wrote accusations against us during the reign of Ahasuerus, Ahasuerus must have reigned between Cyrus and Darius.

Of course, it's possible that it was the enemies themselves who wrote those accusations, and not the counselors, but if so, it's an entirely different subject, and the text first tells us about counselors who were hired from the time of Cyrus to the time of Darius, and then talks about accusations which were written.  If that's so, there's no chronological order involved.  It would be like me saying: "Ron Paul served as a Congressman from Bill Clinton's presidency through Barack Obama's presidency.  Paul ran for president in 2008."  That's completely true.  But reading it the way First is reading Ezra would suggest that he ran for president after Obama's presidency.  Which is factually incorrect.

That's far from the only problem with First's analysis.  He attributes his contra-Chazal view of Persian history to a number of Jewish scholars purely on the basis of them agreeing that the name Achashveirosh and the name Xerxes are the same.  But that's a truism that I don't think anyone disagrees with.  It doesn't mean that Achashveirosh/Xerxes reigned after Bayit Sheni was built.  It's been many years since I read R' Avigdor Miller's history series, but I'm willing to assert that he would have been greatly offended by First's suggestion that he agreed with the Greek version of history and disagreed with the Jewish one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Objective Money Amendment

The following is a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  Its purpose is to:

  • Retire the National Debt
  • Ensure a proper supply of money for use in trade and necessary government expenditures
  • Prevent the government from incurring new debt
  • Forgive mortgage and revolving credit loans on a one-time basis so that the United States is no longer a culture of debt
  • Prevent the government from inflating the money supply in a way detrimental to the people of the United States

Objective Money Amendment

Section 1
The power of Congress to issue money shall not be delegated, except to the United States Treasury.

Section 2
The power of Congress to borrow money on the credit of the United States, as specified in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, is hereby repealed.

Section 3
The practice of fractional reserve banking is hereby outlawed.  The creation of money by lending against deposits shall be deemed counterfeiting unless the amount of the deposits is decreased by the amount being lent.

Section 4
Money shall be issued initially in an amount necessary to fulfull the following:

  • To purchase back all debt instruments previously issued by the United States
  • To retire all mortgage and revolving credit loans taken by non-corporate persons and/or partnerships up until one year prior to the adoption of this amendment
  • To lend banks, at no interest, sufficient money to raise their reserves to 100% after the retirement of mortgage and revolving credit loans, such loans to be repaid upon the bank closing.
  • To replace, dollar for dollar, any Federal Reserve Notes in circulation at the time of adoption of this amendment.
The quantity of money issued shall be increased or decreased each year by a per annum fraction of the growth or shrinkage of the population of the United States between the previous two census results.

Section 5 
Congress shall have the power to legislate a temporary issue of money in order to pay for such projects as it sees fit.  Such temporary issue must be legislated separately from all other temporary issues or other legislation, and must include an expiration date.  Money so issued shall be destroyed by the expiration date.

Section 6
Money issued by the United States shall be legal tender for all debts and payment of taxes.

Section 7
The right of individuals or groups to issue money in units other than the United States dollar shall not be infringed.  Such money shall not be legal tender for payment of taxes.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Atlas Shrugged -- For Adults Only

The other day, I was talking to my partner about Atlas Shrugged at the dinner table, and my 12 year old daughter asked what it was.  I told her it's a book by Ayn Rand, and that she can't read it until she's 21.

My partner stared at me and asked why.  After all, I'm an Objectivist.  I think Rand's philosophy is incredibly important.  So why would I bar my daughter from reading it until she's an adult?

I've felt this way for at least a decade, but given the President's comments about Ayn Rand's books being something you'd pick up as a 17-18 year old feeling misunderstood, and then get rid of once you realized that thinking only about yourself wasn't enough, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain why kids shouldn't read Atlas Shrugged.

The thing is, Obama is right.  In a way.  Let me explain that.

I didn't read Atlas Shrugged until I was 33 years old.  In fact, other than Anthem, which I may have read in passing in high school, I never read anything of Rand's until I was 32, and I started with her essays.  Maybe I'll post about how and why I got into those at a later date.  But as someone who didn't get into Rand's philosophy as a kid, it took me a while to realize that for the vast majority of people, reading it as a teenager is almost inevitably going to create the opposite effect that Rand had in mind.

There's a common misconception that Objectivism is about being selfish and grasping and greedy.  It's an understandable misunderstanding.  After all, Rand wrote a book of essays called The Virtue of Selfishness.  She spoke against altruism and in favor of selfishness.  The thing is, though, that in Rand's writing, those are "terms of art".  A term of art, or jargon, is a word that's used a specific way in a specific field, regardless of how it's used colloquially.  In politics, to "depose" means to remove a leader.  In law, to "depose" means to have someone give a deposition.  In medicine, an "ugly" infection is one that doesn't respond well to antibiotics.

We're all familiar with groups "reclaiming" perogative words.  "Queer" was an insult when I was growing up, and it still is for a lot of people.  Yet to the younger generation of GLBT teens, "queer" is simply how they identify.  Rand used the term "selfish" to mean acting to further ones long term and global well being, given the understanding that we are not alone in the world, and that what I do to others can be done to me as well.  There is no other way to describe that in a single world, so far as I'm aware, than selfishness.  Or if we allow a modifier, "rational selfishness".

But Rand failed.  She failed to communicate this in a way that would be clear enough to get past the negative connotations of selfishness as meaning a blind, grasping devotion to ones short term desires, paying no attention to the world around us.  Even expanding the term to "rational selfishness" didn't work, because people understood "rational" to mean "cold and unemotional" and concluded that "rational selfishness" meant cold, hard, unemotional, uncaring selfishness.  Like a robot that lacks all empathy.

But adolescents are a different story.  Adolescence is a time when we are detaching ourselves from our role as dependent children, and learning to stand on our own, personally empowered.  When I was 17, I remember one evening during an argument with my father, exclaiming, "You're a person, and I'm a person.  Why should you have any more right to decide than I do!"  And I was absolutely convinced of my righteousness.  Two years later, when my younger brother was 17, I heard him say virtually the exact same thing.  I looked at my father and said, "I'm so sorry, Dad.  And I wish there was some way I could explain it to him."  But I knew there wasn't.  You can't explain that to an adolescent.  They have to learn to grow up and realize that the world doesn't revolve around them.

Which is one of the reasons why a lot of adolescents love Atlas Shrugged.  They miss the bigger picture, and only pick up on the message that they shouldn't have to sacrifice themselves for others.  Which is a good message, but they conflate it with their irrational selfishness.  Their self-centered, almost solipsistic view of the world.  And when they do grow up, as most of them do, they jettison Objectivism, thinking that it's part and parcel of the adolescent mindset they no longer need.

And that's why Obama said what he did.  It's absolutely true that 17 and 18 year olds who are feeling misunderstood, and whose self is feeling threatened would pick up Atlas Shrugged and see it as a vindication of what they're feeling.  And it's absolutely true that someone like that reading the book would, in the vast majority of cases, throw it away once they grow up and realize that we're all in this together, so to speak.

And that's why I won't let my daughter read the book.  Because it takes a certain amount of maturity to understand that the kind of altruism that says doing for others is always more moral than doing for oneself is evil and anti-human, but that benevolence and empathy are vitally important virtues.  The vice of altruism always leads to bad results in the long run, even if it may seem beneficial in the short term.  Because giving requires a recipient.  And if receiving is a bad thing, there's always going to be someone bad and wretched.  More than that, you're always going to need poor people, because without them, you can never be virtuous.  It's an ugly world that raises altruism up as the highest virtue.

Perhaps we need to find another term to reflect what Rand called "selfishness".  The battle to reclaim that word was lost before it even started.  All it does now is feed into the ignorance of the left.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Morethodoxy or Lessodoxy?

Zev Farber, one of the participants in the "Morethodoxy" blog, a branch of the Open-Orthodox/JOFA/Partnership-Minyan/YCT/Maharat/Post-Orthodox growth on the far left edge of the Orthodox community, has posted an article in which he takes issue, not with those who refuse to allow women to participate in shul, but with those who permit women to participate in shul, only not as the norm.  He feels that the default should be equal participation, limited only, if absolutely necessary, by whatever halakhic restrictions he hasn't found a way around.  Yet.

One of the things, possibly the main thing, which separates Orthodox Judaism from the various heterodox movements is that we never, ever, raise any -ism above the Torah.  That means that if Zionism conflicts with the Torah (which is rarely does, in my opinion), we go with the Torah.  If feminism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah.  If capitalism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah.  If socialism conflicts with the Torah.

More than this.  We don't start from an -ism as our baseline and interpret the Torah through it.  We don't force the Torah into this -ism or that -ism.

Zev Farber asks, "Why is it that the synagogue automatically assumes that the baseline should be no participation and that women need to put themselves out there?"  And the answer is simple.  Because there is a difference in obligation.  And the Torah makes distinctions.  And Orthodox Jews don't blur those, certainly not because of an -ism.

If Zev Farber doesn't daven with a minyan, he's remiss.  If I don't daven with a minyan, I'm not.  It's that simple.

Judaism isn't egalitarian.  Egalitarianism is just another foreign -ism that American culture is so in love with that many ostensibly Orthodox Jews find themselves committed to it ideologically.  And so long as they leave it outside of Judaism, that's fine.  Once they bring it into Judaism, it's not fine at all.

I belong to a Women's Tefillah Group.  Why?  I grew up Conservative.  I have a personal connection to doing things that are outside of the Torah norm.  I make no apologies for it.  I think Women's Tefillah Groups are good for BTs and giyorot.  They rarely continue into the next generation, because girls who grow up frum don't feel the need for them.  Unless their mothers go out of their way to tell them how "oppressed" they are otherwise.

The idea of women's participation in shul came about for a very simple reason.  In the heterodox movements, Judaism is all about shul.  Judaism is one thing that exists in the framework of their lives.  In shul.  At life cycle events.  To an Orthodox Jew, life is something that happens in the context of the Torah.  Not the other way around.  It's a matter of what's the ikkar and what's the tafel.  And because Judaism is the tafel in the heterodox movements (as well as in the minds of many left-wing modern Orthodox Jews), shul is the focus of Judaism.  So being less participatory there stings.  Whereas to real Orthodox Jews, who recognize that Judaism isn't just our religion, but rather our life, shul isn't at all the center of Judaism for us.

Zev Farber's entire thesis fails before he even gets started.  Because his complaint isn't even with the details.  I belong to a Young Israel, so my Women's Tefillah Group can't meet there (it's in the YI bylaws).  That's a detail.  But for Zev Farber, that's not something to struggle with -- he wants to revamp Judaism entirely, so that the default is that we all participate equally in shul.

Some Jews grow up Orthodox.  Or become Orthodox.  And some of these Orthodox Jews move away from Judaism, opting for something that suits them more, philosophically.  Conservative.  Reform.  Reconstructionist.  Renewal.  Humanist.  Some of those who move away philosophically also move away in practice.  Alice Shalvi, the noted feminist, resisted this for years.  Philosophically, she had left Orthodox Judaism behind her.  But she felt an emotional tie to it.  She didn't want to acknowledge the move that she'd already made inside.  Eventually, she "came out" as Conservative, but it was sort of like Ellen Degeneris coming out as gay.  It was only a surprise to those who weren't paying attention.

I hope that Zev Farber and other members of this blog will learn from Alice Shalvi.  I hope they will stop trying to drag Judaism off the derekh, and if they feel so strongly opposed to it philosophically, just go.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Programming Odyssey

Most of you can probably skip this post. It isn't about politics or Judaism or Israel or economics or any of the usual things I talk about. This is about a battle I waged last week with a piece of code. A battle which, as yet, has not been won.

Anyone who feels like they'd like to chime in is welcome to. Those of you who feel, like a coworker of mine, that I'm tilting at windmills unnecessarily, well, all I can say is that I don't like to lose.

The goal

Okay, the company I work for has a customer. They want a web app where, among other things, they can generate a report each month to be sent to their customers. And they want these reports, once generated, to be static. Unchangable. Initially, they wanted them to be made into PDFs. Generating the reports in HTML is child's play. Nothing to it at all. But then things started getting wonky...

PDF

I should give you some background. We have a Microsoft-only shop. Our apps live in IIS (the Windows webserver) and I don't have to worry about cross-browser issues, because our customers know they have to use IE. Of course, we do have compatibility issues with different versions of IE, but so far, these are manageable.

Being all Microsoft, we of course use .NET. ASP.NET, in this case. And it turns out there's a free .NET component that you can use to manipulate and create PDF files, called itextsharp.

So I delved into the world of creating documents in itextsharp, and was able to convert my report to PDF. Which was create. The creation happened on the server, so I could save the PDF to a file share, note its location in a SQL Server table, and all's well with the world.
Private Sub MakePDF(ByVal reporttype As String)
Dim path As String = "some file path"
Dim urlpath As String = "the url version of that path"
Dim reportdate As Date = #date#
Dim pdfname As String = reportdate.ToString("yyyy_MM_") + reporttype + ".pdf"
If Not IO.Directory.Exists(path) Then
'if the path doesn't exist, create it
IO.Directory.CreateDirectory(path)
End If
If IO.File.Exists(path + pdfname) Then
'if the file already exists, delete it.
'this should never be called if it's been finalized.
IO.File.Delete(path + pdfname)
End If
Try
Utils.ConvertHTMLToPDF(strHTMLTable, path + pdfname)
Catch ex As Exception
strAlert = "PDF Create Failed: " + ex.Message
Exit Sub
End Try
If Not IO.File.Exists(path + pdfname) Then
'if the file wasn't created for whatever reason
strAlert = "PDF Create Failed"
Else
'update the location and existence of the file in the database
End If
End Sub

That could have been it. Except that the PDF didn't format well. The report table was tabular and all, but it wasn't all that readable. I suggested to our customer that it might be better to do it as a protected Excel spreadsheet. I often export reports for them to Excel, and protecting them is simple. And formatting is fairly straightforward. They okayed this, and that's where the fun really started.

Excel

For those of you who have ever wanted to export a table from HTML to Excel, it's really simple. You just select the table, copy, and paste it into the spreadsheet. I've seen people around the interwebs trying to create tables in Excel cell-by-cell, and they can't understand why it's so slow. You just send the innerHTML of the table to the clipboard (simple in Javascript), and paste it using Excel's object model.

(I was going to post the code here, but it's a little long. If anyone is interested, I'll be able to supply it.)

The problem here is that all of this is done on the client. Once I got this working, I needed to find a way to get the report back to the server. And that, it turns out, is a nightmare.

File Browser control

I figured the simplest thing to do would be to put a hidden file browser button on the page, and use that to post the file back to the server. I use these all the time:



But for security reasons, you can't set the file in this control programmatically. Which I suppose is a good thing, usually. You don't want a web page to be able to pillage your files, right? Except that in this case, I made the file, so the security didn't make a lot of sense. Still, I get why there aren't exceptions for situations like mine.

FileCopy

Well, since all of this is on an intranet, where everything is connected on a single network, why not just copy the file from the client to the server? Answer: because the average user doesn't have access to the file server. Thank God. But maybe there's a way for me to do a filecopy, sending credentials through? And indeed, there is. In theory. Here's the code I used:
function NetCopy(savefolder, localfilepath, filename)
UserName = "domain\user"
Password = "password"

Set oNet = CreateObject("WScript.Network")
Set fso = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")

'Find out next available drive letter
strDrive = ""
For i = 67 to 90
strDrive = Chr(i)& ":"
If fso.DriveExists(strDrive) Then
Else
Exit For
End If
Next

if strDrive = "" then
alert("Could not Access network drive")
exit function
end if

oNet.MapNetworkDrive strDrive, savefolder, False, UserName, Password

fso.CopyFile localfile, strDrive + "\\" + filename, true

Set fso = Nothing

oNet.RemoveNetworkDrive strDrive, True, False

Set oNet = Nothing
end function
Nice, right? The WScript.Network thing lets me map a drive using enhanced credentials. Which means I should be able to copy the file and then get rid of the mapped drive. Oh, and this is in VBScript, btw. All the examples I saw of WScript were, and mixing scripts in IE is no biggie, so I did it that way. And stuck it in a .vbs file so that users wouldn't be able to grab the credentials just by viewing the page source.

The problem turned out to be that yes, I can map the drive with those credentials. But the filecopy failed anyway. For no apparent reason. And I was unable to unmap the drive afterwards, too. In the code, I mean. I could do it manually through Windows Explorer.

So, so, so close. At this point, my only option seems to be to save the data that makes up the report into a database table and regenerate the report each time anyone needs to see it. The biggest downside to that is that no one can see the report without me coding something. If they were files on a file share, there'd be no coding necessary. But... time constraints being what they are, I don't seem to have much of a choice. My coworker (slash-boss) wrote this to me:

I hope you aren't like the US in Afghanistan-- that you've put too much into the effort to back out now. Becuase I don't see why data can't be put in a table and never touched... I say we should stick with what works-- even if you get around MS security with this file copy, it could very well quit working at some point with an OS update or security policy change.
This feels an awful lot like surrender, which is not something I like to do. So I may keep working on it in my own time.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

An Open Letter to Lauren - part 2

In my previous post, I responded to Lauren's blog post. She replied in a comment there, and I replied to her comment. And Blogger rejected my comment for being too long. So with apologies to Lauren, I'm going to answer in a separate post.

Hi Lauren,

Thanks for writing back. It's true that not everything is black and white. But not everything is grey, either. Somethings are black and white.

I understand your identity crisis. On an intellectual level, at least. I just disagree with it. Or rather, I disagree with your response to it.

What I meant by going against us is that you're railing against our completely natural, normal, and correct resistence to conversion. No, of course conversion isn't prohibited. A good friend of mine finished the lengthy process of conversion about a month ago. But I can't agree that someone who chooses Orthodoxy is automatically 100% committed. You seem very hostile towards the ambivalent attitude we have about conversion. In other of your posts, you have a lot of objections to the gender roles in halakha. Now... see, this is awkward, but I think there's a difference between a born Jew expressing those views and a convert expressing them. And a still greater difference between either of those and a prospective convert expressing them.

There are Orthodox feminists who are constantly pushing the boundaries of Judaism, sometimes to the breaking point. Sometimes past it. Why would we want to add to their number?

If I were to find out that I wasn't Jewish, I'd start a Noachide organization that wouldn't be predominantly ex-Christian. God knows there are plenty of people it would be good for. And I'm not convinced that such groups don't exist.

But let me ask you something. You say that if you aren't able to convert, you'd probably join a Reform congregation and marry a Jew. My question is: why? The very fact that you're saying that seems to indicate that your emotional connection to "Jewishness" is the main issue for you, and not any commitment to the Torah way being right. Think about it. If your attitude is, "The Torah is true, and I want to be part of it, part of God's plan, and serve God that way," then (a) you're the ideal candidate for conversion, and (b) you'd never join a Reform congregation, because you wouldn't be able to deal with the Reform distortions of the Torah. If, on the other hand, your attitude is, "I feel Jewish and want to belong to a Jewish community, and Orthodox... well, I guess it seems like the most authentic way to do that, but if I can't get in there, I'm okay with Reform," then can you see why there might be some questions about your motivations and commitment?

Okay, you can't just ignore your feelings, but do you see that what you're describing seems to paint you as more committed to a sense of communal Jewishness, rather than to the Torah?

Back when I was 23, I used to daven sometimes at a local Hillel House. There was a couple there who were very much in love. She was in the process of converting. Orthodox. He was a kohen. And ostensibly also Orthodox. I don't know what he was thinking, but I know that shortly before she went to the mikveh for the final dip, she broke up with him. And he did not go willingly. Think about that. Think about her emotions. She was in love. She didn't break up with him because she stopped being in love with him. She did so because her commitment to Torah and mitzvot came first. I can't even imagine how hard that decision had to have been for her. And she was your age.

So yes, emotions are a real issue, but if they are the primary focus here, there's something of a problem.

Now, about your thought experiment. Truth is, I've done a lot of work on my genealogy, and I was hoping that I'd find a non-Jew in my matrilineal line. Being Jewish isn't easy. And I'm gay, so it's about 100% times harder for me. But I've gone back to my maternal grandmother's maternal grandmother, and I can't find any sign that Sarah Zimberoff was a non-Jew. But that said, there's nothing at all wrong with a non-Jew saying Tehillim. They're about the wonder of Hashem and the world He created. What could be bad about anyone reading them? Relating to God? Do you really think God doesn't care about non-Jews? That non-Jews can't have a relationship with God? I don't believe that.

Lastly... I'm not sure exactly what problems you've had converting. I mean, have you been told "no" by your local Orthodox rabbinic establishment? Or are they simply not moving as fast as you'd like?

Monday, April 30, 2012

An Open Letter to Lauren

So this morning, I got a note from Twitter saying that a woman named Lauren is now following me. I do next to nothing with Twitter, but I took a look and found a link to her blog, where I read an article entitled "Intermarriage: An open letter to Orthodox and Conservative rabbis".

I started writing a comment there, but it got really, really long, so I decided to replace it with a blog post here. Just as a caveat, particularly for Lauren, let me say that I'm not trying to hurt her feelings or be mean. But I know that some of the things I'm going to say are likely to rub her the wrong way. I wish there were some way to say this without that happening.

Lauren is 21. She seems like a cool person. She hates J4J, and that's a pretty solid plus in my book. But she's been beaten back and forth with people and their agendas, and I don't know if anyone has really taken the time to explain why things are the way they are.

Lauren, you say that you feel terrible when someone says "You are Jewish if your mother is Jewish." I'll be honest. I don't understand that at all. What they're saying is, "Your mother isn't Jewish, so neither are you." Of course no one is going to say that you should convert because it's your responsibility as part of the Jewish people. Because you aren't part of the Jewish people.

You say "To be told by someone that you’re Jewish one day and to be told you’re not the next, well it’s pretty disconcerting, if you can imagine." And I feel bad about that, but those who told you you are lied. Believe me, if I could stop them from lying to people like you, I'd do it.

You say "In the halachic world of categories and laws, I have no category." But that isn't true. Your category is non-Jew. Hopefully, it's God worshipping moral non-Jew, but that's on you.

You don't have to wonder if the words of the Torah were meant for you or not. They weren't. But why is that such a bad thing? A lot of the words of the Torah weren't meant for me, either, because I'm not male. Or because I'm not a Kohen. Judaism is all about such distinctions. It's the most basic concept we have. Havdalah. We distinguish between holy and profane. Between light and dark. Between Jews and non-Jews. Between weekdays and Shabbat. Between kosher and non-kosher. Between Kohen, Levi, Yisrael, etc. Between male and female. We don't blur distinctions, and I don't think anyone with any sort of connection to Judaism has ever given you mixed messages about whether you're Jewish or not.

Why is telling you that you're 100% gentile and that we don't care if you convert or not "hurtful"? I really don't get it. Maybe try looking at it from our perspective. It is, after all, the perspective you've been trying to join since you were 19. Do you really think that we should go against everything we are because what we are hurts your feelings? Because that's what you're essentially asking of us.

You ask "What do you suggest I do? What would be ideal?" That's easy. The same thing every non-Jew should do. Keep the Noachide laws, live a good and productive life, accept that the Torah was given to the Jews by God and that it contains the rules for how both Jews and non-Jews are to live. There are a lot of Noachide organizations around. Yes, a lot of them are ex-Christians, but not all of them.

You say "I love Judaism, I’ve never had another religion, I don’t want it to die in my family." But Lauren, it already has. You converting won't change that. A convert is not halakhically related to their birth family. If you convert, you are starting a new family line. It won't redeem your father's intermarriage. That ended that branch of the Jewish people. Am I happy about that? Am I telling you that "gleefully"? No. It makes me want to cry. But it is what it is.

And that's the thing, Lauren. If you aren't willing to accept Judaism *as it is*, why do you think you *should* be able to convert? The Jewish position about converts is complicated. Some of our best and brightest have been converts, or the descendents of converts. Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Meir. But... well, you know what would be good? Go take a look at Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva chapter 3. Any time a Jew violates a mitzvah, they harm themselves spiritually. They harm the entire Jewish people. And they harm the very fabric of existence. It's a huge responsibility. And to allow someone to convert who isn't 100% committed to avoiding that sort of harm would be self-destructive in the extreme. See, I mess up sometimes. And when I do it, that's a bad thing. If I wasn't Jewish, that same act would be utterly harmless. You... if you eat bacon now (just as an example), no harm, no foul (except to the pig and maybe your arteries). But do the same exact thing the day after converting, and you damage the fabric of existence. That's the responsibility that lies on *our* shoulders when it comes to conversion.

There is a view that converts should only be accepted when things are bad for the Jews. Because only then can we really know that the person is sincere. Because why would someone ask for that sort of trouble. Someone wanting to convert in 1938 Germany was either really, really, really committed, or really, really, really insane. Someone wanting to convert in 2012 America may be wanting to convert for reasons that aren't so great. Like family pride. A desire to be included. Can you see why that's problematic for us?

Now... despite that view, we do accept converts. But why have you been having such a hard time converting? I haven't read through your entire blog, so I don't know the answer to that question, but the fact that you're coming to us with complaints isn't a huge recommendation, if you know what I mean. Telling us we need to open our eyes. Using the word "revolution" (even metaphorically). That said, you're 21. And everyone who has ever been 21 should remember what that's like. So maybe your impatience is a little understandable. But honestly... try and look at this from our point of view. See whether you really think the responses you've gotten are that inexplicable.

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