The Big Bang Contradicts Physics, not Religion

Pope Francis is in the news today, for having “sided with science” and against creationists — by endorsing the Big Bang Theory. According to these articles, his statement was “revolutionary” and “embraces modern science.”

As far as saying that the universe is billions of years old, or that creatures evolved, this could be true — though even there, he said that it could not have happened without Divine Intervention. When it comes to the Big Bang, however, these articles neatly turn the truth on its head.

Put simply, the Big Bang Theory violates the known laws of physics. This “Big Bang,” a point of energy that formed the universe — from where did it come? How was it formed? How did this energy and matter form, to then explode outwards? There are various conjectures and speculations to explain what might have happened, but what we know about astrophysics and thermodynamics doesn’t involve nothingness exploding into energy and matter.

In fact, the term “Big Bang” was placed upon the theory by a prominent astronomer who, like most of his colleagues, believed in a “steady state” universe with no known beginning. The majority belief in steady state … Read More >>

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Elon Musk Can Sleep Easier

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, was quoted yesterday comparing artificial intelligence (AI) to “summoning the demon.” “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I would guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and… he’s sure he can control the demon? Didn’t work out.” This is not a new sentiment for Musk, who called AI “more dangerous than nukes” earlier this summer.

Could AI truly be an “existential threat” – could computers, intended to help us, instead make us extinct? In theory, yes. Musk referred to HAL 9000, the sentient computer that murdered the crew in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as “a puppy dog” compared to what AI could produce. Colossus: The Forbin Project, the 1970 movie about two supercomputers that took over the world (and nuked a city when not obeyed), enslaving mankind for the “good” of mankind, seems more in line with his concerns.

If Musk has erred, it’s not because he has overestimated the power of consciousness. On … Read More >>

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The “Shabbos App” is a Farce

It is true that the “Shabbos App” has attracted a great deal of attention and discussion. Personally, I am waiting for the prankster to come forward and explain that this was all designed to make Orthodox Jews look bad by demonstrating their focus on … what, precisely, I’m not sure. Probably that we care about Shabbos at all, and are distressed by those teens in many communities who are unable to set aside their phones when required by Halacha. But we’ll get to that eventually. The simple fact of the matter is that this whole thing is a farce, and of course we have yet to see anyone pony up $49.95 to get their (non-working) copy and prove me right or wrong. And I’m pretty sure I’m right. Rabbosai, you’ve all been fooled.

Let’s look at the evidence, which falls into four basic categories: the announcement, the website, the video, and the backers.

The Announcement They claim they’ll release it in February. If it takes that long to build this (which it shouldn’t), there’s no need to start marketing it so far in advance. The promised final version will cost $49.95, which is extraordinarily high for an app, much … Read More >>

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Much Ado About Something

I suppose I should have realized something extraordinary was afoot when a friend messaged me on Facebook to ask if I was “okay.” I wondered what he meant, until he said that he’d heard I was being “picked on.”

While it is true that my post reflecting on the entertainment industry, in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, did get a lot of attention — I can’t say I felt I was being “picked on.” The first two responses were from people whose voices I have long respected, and whose comments were very favorable. Admittedly, this did not describe the comments of many others, but, as I’ll explain in a moment, that didn’t change my perception at all. But now that my friend Rabbi Shmuel Simanowitz, whose legal career included representing many musicians, decided to praise my post at a kiddush (money quote: “I can’t tell you how many clients’ funerals I’ve attended”), and my friend and former colleague (and noted Jewish musician) Rabbi Avraham Rosenblum has defended my perspective as well (though no, Avraham, I may indeed be “square,” but not at all as argued) I suppose some follow-up commentary is in order.

I would like … Read More >>

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Death of an Icon

I grew up watching Mork. I’ve seen Aladdin. I even, during college, watched him perform live. But I never knew Robin Williams.

He was the consummate entertainer. He just knew how to make us laugh. His improvisation, his off-the-cuff remarks, were brilliantly funny. But we never understood who he really was.

And that was, perhaps, the problem, that which made him so depressed as to bring him to a tragic end.

With his passing, journalists and commentators are talking about mental illness and depression, recognizing the challenges he faced. [UPDATE: And let me make it clear that I am not commenting about most cases, or even necessarily his case, of mental illness or depression. A person with either must seek professional treatment and it is a Mitzvah to do so.]

But I don’t believe that Williams simply had a mental illness. Few are discussing how common depression seems to be among the leading entertainers — or why this is so. While I could of course be wrong in this one case, it is hard to imagine that so many entertainers, upon finding success, coincidentally develop depression.

Someone challenged me, asking whether it is true that so many entertainers are … Read More >>

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When Waging War is Pursuing Peace

As Pinchas taught us, sometimes an act of violence promotes peace.

At the end of last week’s Torah reading, we are told that one of the leaders of the Tribes of Israel engaged in an immoral act, deliberately violating the Commandments. He did it brazenly, “in your face,” challenging Moshe and all of the Children of Israel. Everyone was crying, but Pinchas knew what he had to do: pick up a spear. And how did G-d respond? Per this week’s reading, He bestowed upon Pinchas His Covenant of Peace.

We have no prophets today, but neither are any necessary to understand that there is no evil in killing barbarians bent upon killing you.

To those offended by my use of the term barbarians, I offer no apology. These are not civilized human beings with the same values as you and me. People who target women and children, hospitals and kindergartens, are barbarians. People who loudly proclaim that they “celebrate death,” are barbarians. People who bring their own children into buildings after a phone call from the IDF warning them that the building is about to be destroyed, are barbarians.

It is clear that Israel is making a … Read More >>

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Hamas Terrorism in 140 Chars

Aiming missiles at my daughter is a symptom of nothing but the desire to murder Jews. #Israel #Hamas #Gaza

— Rabbi Yaakov Menken (@ymenken) July 8, 2014

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“No Haredim Enlisting Anymore”

Yair Lapid can provide actions in support of unity, not just words, by working with the Haredi community instead of against it. … Read More >>

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Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in 140 Chars

Sometimes it really can be expressed in a single comment to Twitter — in this case, by Rabbi Steven Burg, Eastern Director of the Wiesenthal Center:

The world does not understand that this is not political for Jews. This was deeply personal. We all loved #EyalGiladNaftali

— Rabbi Steven Burg (@stevenburg) June 30, 2014

Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a is said to have remarked that the three boys got a tremendous zechus, merit, because of all the hisorerus and chizuk that happened — throughout all of Klal Yisrael. May the achdus, the unity, stay with us.

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The PCUSA and the Banality of Evil

Most who voted for the PCUSA divestment are not anti-Semitic, but the action itself clearly was. … Read More >>

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Andrew Dice Clay on Josh Orlian

If there’s ever someone you wouldn’t expect to be praised on Cross-Currents, it would have to be Andrew Dice Clay. He was banned for life by MTV and from many radio and television programs for his use of foul language and “politically incorrect humor” — one of the cast members of Saturday Night Live refused to appear during the episode in which he made a guest appearance. In terms of “defining deviancy down” when it comes to language and references in the media, he exceeded even Howard Stern.

But he provides an interesting footnote to the appearance of Josh Orlian on America’s Got Talent, as previously discussed by both Rabbi Adlerstein and myself. In contrast to Howard Stern, who I have since been told has a non-Jewish mother, Andrew Clay Silverstein grew up in a Jewish family in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn.

On Shabbos I mentioned Josh Orlian’s AGT appearance, and my reaction to it, while speaking at a Kiddush. I was seated across from a corporate entertainer and comedy magician named Avi Frier, who is also the former publisher of the Florida Jewish News. Honestly, I didn’t know the “corporate” part or what … Read More >>

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Defining Deviancy Down

With Dad’s advice and encouragement, and young man introduced himself as a stand-up comic — and then proceeded to deliver a series of truly filthy jokes… while wearing a kipah. How should we respond to this? … Read More >>

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Guess Who Came to Dinner?

Did a Frothing Press Help Serve the Truth?

According to those in the know, Mayor Bill de Blasio was to have delivered his greetings and departed with his press entourage before the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, rose to address the assembled at Agudath Israel’s 92nd annual dinner. Instead, the mayor was running late, Rav Perlow’s speech was moved up, and both hizzoner and his press ended up with front row seats. And in a departure from his norm at the annual dinner, the Novominsker chose to address an urgent Inyana D’Yuma instead of delivering more general remarks.

To judge from the coverage that resulted, one could be forgiven for thinking that Rav Perlow had ascended the podium and called for open warfare.

The press reached into its bag of stereotypes and pulled out a familiar caricature of “angry” charedim, though the antipodal video is available for all to see. The Forward said that Rav Perlow’s “fiery” speech “stunned” the dinner, and quoted an anonymous “Jewish leader” as claiming the comments of the Rosh Agudath Israel were “divisive,” along with other adjectives which would besmirch the Rebbe’s kavod to even repeat. [What sort of “leader” … Read More >>

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An Evil Report

My D’var Torah this week made a rare crossover into current events, in a way that I thought appropriate for Cross-Currents.

In this week’s reading we learn about the spies sent to look at the Land of Cana’an. As is clear from the consequences, their evil report, and the Children of Israel’s reaction, became their greatest sin in all their time in the Sinai desert — and it was initiated by “leaders of the Children of Israel” [Num. 13:3]. Even among the Generation of the Desert, those who heard the Voice of G-d at Mt. Sinai, those who set this in motion were on an exalted spiritual level. How could this have happened?

After they went through the land of Cana’an, these great men came home very discouraged. They knew that the Children of Israel had sinned previously, especially with the Golden Calf. They saw that the inhabitants were giants, and it would take open miracles for Israel to be victorious. So they concluded, erroneously, that Israel was no longer worthy of that level of protection — that G-d’s promise was not unconditional, that they would lose.

So what did they do when they returned? Did they go to … Read More >>

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Please Pray and Learn

If you don’t know, three Israeli students in a Yeshiva High School were apparently kidnapped on Thursday night. Their names are Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim, and Eyal ben Iris Teshurah.

Please learn and pray for their speedy return.

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Why Kids’ Clothing Harms Women

Why? Well, I can’t claim it makes sense. My impression is that if you’re The Forward, everything oppresses (Orthodox) women.

As acknowledged by Footsteps, an organization helping people leave the “ultra-” Orthodox community, women are much less likely to leave Torah observance than men (in a TV interview, the head of Footsteps said only one-third of its clients are women). But as demonstrated by Deborah Feldman, Leah Vincent and Frimet Goldberger, they are much more likely to provide fictionalized depictions of their past lives and communities after they do.

Even so, this article is an amazing journey into the realm of illogic. Its basis is a single anonymous phone call to a store in Lakewood selling “trendy” clothing, berating them for advertising depicting a seven or eight-year-old boy dressed according to current fashion — which, in all honesty, outfits him as a Ringling Bros. employee. Be that as it may, the caller was outraged, not amused, and she threatens a boycott if the store won’t stop wasting their money trying to market clown costumes to the Orthodox Jews of Lakewood.

Which, to Frimet Goldberger, “continues a cycle in which women perpetuate their own victimhood.” I wish … Read More >>

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Learning Torah Is Equal to them All

On Shavuos, many of us will stay awake throughout the night, learning until we daven k’vasikin (pray at dawn). But as we finish our final cup of coffee and pat ourselves on the back, we should acknowledge for a moment that for many this is a weekly practice. And we should ponder, further, how unique this makes our nation.

During my first year in college, a lighthearted op-ed in the town newspaper complained that it was difficult to hire a student babysitter due to frequent breaks and vacations: mid-semester break, Thanksgiving weekend, winter vacation, reading period, post-exam break, and the list goes on. I responded with a letter to the editor, co-signed by my roommates, arguing the importance of independent research and our other efforts outside the classroom.

All of that was true, of course. But as I continued my college career, I slowly learned things covered neither in class nor the student handbook. Rules such as “9 am classes are for freshmen,” “the weekend begins on Thursday evening,” and “you need to be on the field by 4:30″ were as important as any published by the school. Our schedules were augmented by sports, theater, music, the school newspaper, … Read More >>

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A Catholic Understanding of the NY Times vs. Rav Yaakov Perlow

Why does it take a Catholic blogger to so aptly describe the NY Times attack on Rav Yaakov Perlow?

Give credit where credit is due.

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More about Dossim

This (the linked article) is terrific coverage of a terrific organization. A must-read.

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Leading the Blind

The results of recent Jewish community surveys are alternately delightful and dismal, exciting and excruciating. The growth of Torah-observant households is a stunning phenomenon, while Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen observed, “the sky is falling for the rest of the population.”

Given this dichotomy and the urgency of the problem, we might imagine that everyone would want to know what it is that we, the Orthodox, are doing right. But apparently we would be wrong. Despite multiple surveys detailing the divergent trajectories of young traditional versus liberal Jews today, we have seen no studies dedicated to understanding our successful formula. Instead, Federations and well-meaning philanthropic foundations continue to invest great sums of money on projects whose claim to promote Jewish continuity is nothing more than conjecture — with predictable results.

As we all know, the Torah community is thriving. In less than a decade, the number of Orthodox Jews grew by over 100,000 in the New York area alone, according to the UJA/Federation survey — over 20%. In Baltimore, a similar survey showed an increase of 50%. Last year’s Pew Survey reported more modest growth nationally, but noted that while 11% of adults 18-29 are Orthodox, the … Read More >>

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Punishing American Learning in Israel

Besides the legal changes affecting the funding for the Yeshivos, the Religion Ministry under Bennet has a few tricks up its sleeve that we don’t even know about. I just spoke with a Rosh Yeshiva in Israel whom I know personally to confirm details of this, and who insisted that his name not be used, so he had no reason to exaggerate.

Like college after the end of exams, students from abroad will often exit during the last few days of a yeshiva zman, especially at the end of the winter before Pesach. It is quite routine that if a zman ends on Monday, for example, students will be permitted to fly back home on Saturday night or Sunday.

The inspectors from the Religion Ministry are essentially hired accountants, who come to visit a yeshiva and see how many students they have. But they do not have control over their schedules. An inspector who had visited a yeshiva several times previously, and knew that it was functioning and flourishing, was deliberately instructed to come visit the yeshiva on Sunday, immediately prior to the “official” end of zman but once all the students had been let go. And by taking … Read More >>

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Outmaneuvered by Dossim

There’s an organization called “Dossim” in Israel that has been working to counter the anti-charedi bias of Israel’s secular media for over a year. It is how I first met Tzippy Yarom, who did the first-draft translation of my earlier post about Yom HaZikaron-related incitement.

A group from Dossim assembled last night in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, which is where the media usually go to capture their annual photographs of those Charedim who do not stand during the siren. When media arrived, they found the group had lit memorial candles and was reciting Tehillim on behalf of the IDF’s fallen soldiers, before and during the siren.

They made the point that the vast majority of charedim do indeed stand during the siren, and that we must remember something else — to call for the end of incitement.

[Hat Tip: Ellen Solomon]

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Incitement on Memorial Day

Journalist Amnon Levi speaks to Yaron Dekel concerning incitement against the Charedi community due to their failure to stand during the alarm on Yom HaZikaron:

YD: Welcome to the journalist Amnon Levi.

AL: Shalom Yaron.

YD: Let’s talk about one sector that is always portrayed in TV as one who does not respect the siren, and that is the Charedi sector.

AL: Yes, the truth is that for many years I have wanted to talk about this, and even to speak sharply, because in my eyes this is an example of ugly, blunt incitement against the charedim with this topic.

YD: Why?

AL: You see, in truth every year they take photos of the charedim in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem that are not standing at the time of the siren on the Memorial Day for the IDF casualties.

This is ugly. Why? Because, first of all, it’s not at random that they select Memorial Day as the day to take pictures of them there. They also do not stand during the siren on Holocaust Remembrance Day that occurs exactly a week before! Last week as well, during the siren on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the charedim didn’t stand.

The … Read More >>

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And Now For Something Completely Different

This is worth posting just because of the “conventional wisdom” that the Charedim are an overwhelmingly serious bunch. That, and the guy’s name is Yankel.

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More on the Charedi Draft

I had this as a comment to Rabbi Landesman’s post, but Rabbi Adlerstein encouraged me to elevate it to a post unto itself. He did say that Rabbi Landesman may go “a second round” as well — so let me say now that much as I might wish to continue, it is already known in the Menken house that my study, which is the one room that is my sole responsibility to clean, is also the last to be ready for bedikas chametz. Should Rabbi Landesman wish to have it, I’ll have to surrender the last word.

Nonetheless, what Rabbi Landesman appears to have overlooked is that the problem of the day is neither motzi dibat ha’Aretz nor motzi dibat ha-medinah, but rather, motzi dibat ha-haredim l’dvar HaShem, the bad-mouthing of the Charedim who, on advice of their Gedolim, continue not to go into the Army. Rabbi Landesman seems to level no criticism against those who reside outside our world yet critique it (often in the most bizarre fashion) at every occasion, including the present one — on the contrary, he only seems to find fault with those of us in Chutz L’Aretz who presume to defend the … Read More >>

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