Thursday, December 16, 2010

Vigilante justice when the system fails to protect


The murder of Ken Rex McElroy took place in plain view of dozens of residents of this small farm town, under the glare of the morning sun. But in a dramatic act of solidarity with the gunman, every witness, save the dead man’s wife, denied seeing who had pulled the trigger.

The killing was a shocking end for a notoriously brutal man who had terrorized the area for years with seeming impunity from the law until he was struck down in a moment of vigilante justice. It was also the first major case for a young county prosecutor, not far removed from law school and just months into the job, who said he was confident that the case would be solved soon. [...]

Professor David Epstein charged with incest with his daughter

Columbia Spectator

Political science professor David Epstein, 46, was charged Thursday with having a sexual relationship with his daughter, 24.

He was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with one count of incest in the third degree at an arraignment hearing on Thursday. According to police, the relationship appears to have been consensual. [...]

RAshba: Verses understood allegorically to agree with philosophy

From Daas Torah - translation copyrighted

Rashba (Commentary to Agada Bava Basra 74b pp 102-106): 
You should know that when one of our pious Torah sages reads the words of the philosophers, it is possible that he might agree with them. Even if he finds contradictions between Biblical verses and the philosophers, he can explain those verses in a manner that conforms to philosophy. In other words he can view the verses as metaphoric and not literal - since he isn’t rejecting anything learned from prophecy and he isn’t discarding any mitzvos by doing so.  However when it comes to matters [concerning Biblical verses or our Tradition] that are widely accepted by our Sages as literally true – then the sage will insist on understanding them literally according to our Tradition. He will do this even though he knows that the philosophers strongly reject such a literal understanding. For example, the belief that the dead will be literally resurrected is not unequivocally found in Biblical verse. It is seems reasonable that all the relevant verses might be explainable as being allegorical e.g., such as those in Yechezkeil (Chapter 36). Nevertheless such a metaphorical approach is rejected by the sage in favor of the literal one because our Tradition insists that these verses be taken literally. In such cases, the sage acknowledges that the widely accepted traditional understanding takes precedent over the philosophical﷓rationalist view. He readily admits in such conflicts that we do not pay attention to rational analysis which goes against our Tradition because the wisdom of G﷓d is beyond our intellectual grasp. Of necessity in every instance that we have a clear Tradition from our ancestors, we can not reject this Tradition – unless it is established that the traditional understanding is impossible – G﷓d forbid! Why should we destroy our Tradition since we know that it would not have become wide﷓spread except for the fact that it has been received generation after generation all the way back to Moshe or the Prophets… Consequently while we need to acknowledge that many verses in Bible are allegorical, nonetheless we need to accept the truth that some verses are describing actual miracles and that G-d has the ability to change nature according to His wishes…. Therefore when our Tradition requires a literal understanding why should it be discarded just because it is against a rationalistic philosophical understanding? …

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marine's top general:Allowing gays to serve openly is dangerous

The Marine Corps' top general suggested Tuesday that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because their presence on the battlefield would pose "a distraction."

"When your life hangs on the line," said Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, "you don't want anything distracting. . . . Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines' lives."

In an interview with newspaper and wire service reporters at the Pentagon, Amos was vague when pressed to clarify how the presence of gays would distract Marines during a firefight. But he cited a recent Defense Department survey in which a large percentage of Marine combat veterans predicted that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law would harm "unit cohesion" and their tight-knit training for war. [...]

Benefactor for homeless Haitian boys - guilty to child molestation

Fox News

In 1997, while he lived in Connecticut, Perlitz founded the Project Pierre Toussaint (PPT) School for homeless children in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Four years later, the school had evolved into a 10-acre walled village where more than 200 children could eat, live and attend school, according to the brief.

"Dozens, if not hundreds, of youths who had entered the program 'drugged out' and homeless evolved into respectful, productive students with the help of PPT," the document reads. "With the growth of the program, however, came additional pressures, and additional forces that, coupled with the many other stresses of everyday life in Haiti, took their toll on Doug Perlitz."

Those factors, the document claims, ultimately led Perlitz to "cross the line," along with stress and the "never-ending responsibility" of his job at the school, his struggles with homosexuality, a lack of intimacy and his prior physical and spiritual relationship with a priest at Fairfield, a Jesuit institution [...]

Child & Domestic Abuse Book: Discussed in Hirhurim


A new book by Dr. Daniel Eidensohn, Child & Domestic Abuse: Torah, Psychological, & Legal Perspectives, displays a different balance between thoughtful response and outrage. The first volume contains essays by an assortment of professionals — rabbis, psychologists, social workers, lawyers. Each, in his own way, lashes out at the community’s response to sexual abuse of children and attempts to explain the proper response according to the Torah and/or their professional training and experience.

Dr. Eidensohn writes that we will not change the attitude of our rabbinic leaders by providing Torah sources and arguments, even from someone as respected as R. Moshe Sternbuch, who advised Dr. Eidensohn on the publication and personally reviewed the Synopsis section. The only way to spark change is to dramatically describe victims’ pain. When community leaders recognize the extent of the problem and its effects, they will join the cause. “To the degree that the rabbis and community leaders can be convinced that abused children suffer horrible lifetime wounds, you will discover that the legal objections disappear” (p. 12). The same, I believe, applies to the problem of corrupt and unethical practices. When leaders realize how much this damages the community, how deeply this disrupts the basic functioning of our community, they will respond seriously. [...]

Rav Ovadia Yosef: Obeying Rabbinic authority even when they are wrong?d

The Torah tells us that we must obey the Sanhedrin in the well known
verse in Devarim (17:11) According to the Torah which I will teach you
and the laws which they will tell you, don't turn from that which they
say right or left. Rashi(Devarim 17:11) comments that this requirement
to obey them is, Even if they tell you that "right" is "left" and "left"
is "right" and surely if they tell you that "right" is "right" and
"left" is "left". The Sifre (Devarim 154:11) modifies this a bit, Right
and left - Even if it appears in your eyes that "right" is "left" and
that "left" is "right" – you should obey them. Thus there is a clear
requirement to obey the Sanhedrin or Rabbinic authorities even if they
tell you the opposite of what is or seems to be correct.

On the other hand the Yerushalmi(Horius 1:1) states, You might think
that you must obey the [Sanhedrin or Rabbinic authorities] even when
they tell you that "right" is "left" and that "left" is "right"
–therefore the Torah says that you are to follow after them "right and
left". Thus it is only when they tell you that "right" is "right" and
"left" is "left" that you should obey them. On the surface then it seems
to be simply a dispute between the Babylonian and the Yerushalmi.
However Horious (2b) states that if a person knows the truth and yet
follows the mistaken ruling of the Sanhedrin he must be a korbon as an
act of repentance. Thus clearly the Bavli also requires that you do what
you think is right - even against the Sanhedrin.

An interesting and persuasive explanation is given by Rav Ovadia Yosef.

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabiah Omer Y.D. 6:7.2): … The Yerushalmi (Horious
1:1) states, that you might think even if they tell you that "right" is
"left" and that "left" is "right" that they must be obeyed. Therefore
the Torah says that you should only obey them if they say that "right"
is "right" and "left" is "left". But this is the opposite of the Sifre
[that you must obey them even if they tell you that "right" is "left"
and "left" is "right"…. However according to the explanation of the
Ramban (Sefer HaMitzvos Shoresh I) and those who support him [Ran
Sanhedrin 87a] there is a reconciliation. According to the Ramban as
long as the dissenting view has not been directly presented to the
Sanhedrin [or Rabbinic authority] then he must refuse to eat that which
the Sanhedrin insists is kosher. [If he eats food that he regards as
unkosher because he is relying on the Sanhedrin he must bring a korbon]
However once he has directly discussed the issue with the Sanhedrin and
they have rejected his view [despite his best efforts] then the halacha
becomes that he must obey them [even if he is still convinced he is right.]

Novel, three nonfiction books on problem in Orthodox community point to growing awareness as cases persist.

Jewish Week    by Hella Winston

[...] The book’s author — a chasidic woman writing under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil (“Woman of Valor”) — told The Jewish Week that “after many suicides and hundreds in the streets, on drugs, in therapy, there is definitely more awareness [of the sexual abuse issue].” But she also cautions that “there is still so much ignorance” in the Orthodox community. “And as I know firsthand,” she said, “practical advice for parents is sorely lacking.”

It is, in part, this ignorance and lack of practical advice for parents that is being addressed by three new nonfiction books on the topic: “Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse and the Jewish Community”(Ktav) edited by David Mandel, the CEO of Ohel Family and Children’s Services, and David Pelcovitz, who teaches psychology and education at Yeshiva University; “Child Abuse and Domestic Abuse, Volume I and II,” edited and self-published by Daniel Eidensohn, a haredi rabbi and author who writes a blog on issues of Jewish identity; and “Abuse: The Communal and Religious Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims” (Urim Publishing, Jerusalem) by Michael J. Salamon, a prominent psychologist in the Orthodox world.[...]

Attention-Deficit (ADHD) is real and not caused by computer games


As recently as 2002, an international group of leading neuroscientists found it necessary to publish a statement arguing passionately that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was a real condition.

In the face of “overwhelming” scientific evidence, they complained, A.D.H.D. was regularly portrayed in the media as “myth, fraud or benign condition” — an artifact of too-strict teachers, perhaps, or too much television.

In recent years, it has been rarer to hear serious doubt that the disorder really exists, and the evidence explaining its neurocircuitry and genetics has become more convincing and more complex. [...]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chasam Sofer: Sanhedrin is not protected against error

From Daas Torah (translation copyrighted)

Chasam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat #191):
The Sifri concludes, “Even if the Sanhedrin tells you that right is left… and surely if they tell you that right is right and left is left [you must obey them].” This doesn’t seem to consistent. What is the second part which starts with, “and surely”? The Zakein Mamre (rebellious judge) is asserting that what he considers right is truly “right” and that the position of the majority of the Sanhedrin is “left” i.e., false. Therefore who is to determine that the second  part is ,”and surely”? This seems to be a major difficulty. In fact, however, the clear explanation is as follows. The Zakein Mamre (rebellious judge) and his colleagues are major scholars who are in dispute with the Sanhedrin. And even though the Sanhedrin is  composed of the leading Jewish authorities - who sit in G-d’s presence in His house (i.e., the Temple) - there is no necessity that their reasoning in this matter is true. In fact it could be that the Zakein Mamre’s understanding of the Torah verse is closer to the truth than theirs is. This is so even if they are more numerous and in general sharper in their thinking. On the other hand it is possible that in fact that the Zakein Mamre and his supporters number in the tens of thousands while the Sanhedrin can not be more than 71 people. Nevertheless G﷓d has decreed we must follow the scriptural understanding of the Sanhedrin in halacha since its source is no longer in Heaven. Therefore we don’t pay attention even to bas kol (voice from Heaven) or a prophet who claims to know the halacha in Heaven. Furthermore a prophet who claims prophetic knowledge of halachic is deserving of the death penalty for this crime of being a false prophet – since G﷓d would never provide a prophet vision of a halachic question. Even when Yehoshua ben Nun forgot thousands of halachos, they weren’t restored through prophecy but rather through the legal reasoning of Ozniel ben Kenaz. Besides who knows for certain that Ozniel ben Kenaz ascertained the truth through his reasoning? The understanding of man is transient in its understanding of Biblical verses as well as the reasoning of kal v’chomer and other midos. The fact is that legal authority is because G﷓d gave the Torah according to man’s understanding in order that there shouldn’t be an every growing number of unresolved disputes – [and not because the truth was necessarily ascertained]. Therefore G﷓d made the provision that if chas v’shalom the majority of Sanhedrin erred and permitted a substance which was actually prohibited and the people ate it  – G﷓d would not count it as a sin. In other words since the Sanhedrin erred, the people did not commit a sin by eating the prohibited substance. Furthermore if the Zakein Mamre himself decided to be stringent and not eat this substance because of his original suspicions – even though in Heaven it is known that he was correct – he is deserving of death as the Rambam rules (Hilchos Maamrim 4). This punishment is deserved even if he merely refrained from eating the disputed substance. This law is very constructive in that it works to prevent unresolved disputes amongst the Jews. Consequently this Zakein Mamre should not have had the slightest concern about eating the substance that Sanhedrin had declared permitted – even if prior to the final ruling of Sanhedrin he was certain it was prohibited. Similarly if Sanhedrin declares a certain type of activity prohibited on Shabbos, he should not be concerned about his initial certainty that it was prohibited. In other words even if the Sanhedrin mistakenly tells you concerning a halacha which it is clear in Heaven [“right”] that it is the opposite of what they say [“left”]  - their ruling is in fact correct [“right”]. That is because G﷓d accepts what they do even though it is mistaken in the objective sense. However there is an alternative explanation of the Sifri. We are to believe that what the Sanhedrin is saying is true [“right”] and that they have not erred. In other words we are to believe that they have ascertained the proper understanding of what G﷓d expressed in the Torah because G﷓d gave the Torah according to their understanding. Thus we see that both side are sincerely motivated to discover the truth. However if the Sanhedrin errs in their rulings then all Jews end up erring also – but it is considered that they had been forced. However this alternative explanation assumes that G﷓d guards his pious ones from erring and thus misleading the Jewish people – since they want to do G﷓d’s will. Now we can properly explain the second part of the Sifri, “and surely they must be obeyed when they say that the truly right is right.” The explanation of the Sifri according to this alternative explanation is that even when they had erred in ascertaining what the Torah mandates, nevertheless they would have discovered what appears to them to be the truth – and G﷓d would accept the validity of their erroneous decision. And surely we are to understand that they have in fact not erred and have correctly told us what the Torah actually mandates. Thus the alternative explanation is based on the assumption that the Sanhedrin is protected from error. However this second explanation is problematic since it is asserting infallibility. In other words the second explanation is saying that by nature man is capable of error, however the sanctity of the Temple prevents it. However this seems to be a violation of Torah not being in Heaven – since even a Bas Kol and even a prophet can not make halachic decisions. Therefore it would seem that the first explanation is better. Thus the Sifri clearly means that even if the Sanhedrin errs, G﷓d will not count it as a sin and thus G﷓d is not allowing the Sanhedrin to cause the people to sin. If you study the comments of the Ramban to Torah you will understand that he is also expressing this view. So while the Sanhedrin is forgiven when it makes an honest mistake, G﷓d forbid to say that they have the power to deliberately alter even the slightest matter. Such a view is that of the Sadducees and early heretics.

Israeli hit teams have a history of eliminating weapons scientists.


During his years as Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion was haunted by a recurring nightmare. In it, the Holocaust’s survivors had taken refuge in Israel only to become the targets of another Holocaust. The nightmare seemed to be coming true in July 1962, when Egypt’s then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser announced four successful tests of missiles capable of striking anywhere “south of Beirut”—that is, anywhere in Israel.

Israeli officials panicked. The Mossad had never guessed that Nasser was developing the means to destroy “the Zionist entity,” as he had repeatedly promised. Israel’s military intelligence quickly learned that Egypt had built a secret facility in the desert, known as Factory 333 and staffed by German scientists, builders of the V1 and V2 rockets that had devastated London. Even the project’s security chief was a veteran of Hitler’s SS. The Egyptians’ plan was to build some 900 missiles, all of them presumably to be aimed at Israel. [...]

Monday, December 13, 2010

The new hungry: College-educated, middle-class cope with food insecurity


Come Christmas dinner, Rolanda McCarty, a 36-year-old single mother, usually goes all out.

Her table last year featured a rosemary-and-oil rubbed turkey and a sweet ham. She prepared fresh collard greens according to her grandmother's recipe. The dessert -- a rich butter pound cake -- was made from scratch.

But after being laid off from her technical recruiting job in January because of the struggling economy, there will be no fancy holiday feast, no family members pouring into her downsized one-bedroom apartment. She will rely on what she has: canned vegetables and microwavable meals from her community food bank.

"It was a little bit embarrassing," said McCarty of accessing the food pantry at the Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry for the first time last month. "But you know, I have to do what I have to do to survive." [...]

At Gallaudet, College for the Deaf, the speechless pursuit of romance

Washington Post

The ground rules at a Gallaudet University speed-dating night were simple: Five minutes with each partner. When time is up, everyone switches seats. Keep the conversations G-rated. And no talking allowed. The last rule was the easiest to follow, since Gallaudet is one of the few colleges in the world where American Sign Language dominates all nonwritten communication. [...]

Obamacare has apparently been ruled unconstitutional

Time Magazine

Virginia U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson finds key provision of health reform law violates Commerce Clause.

Congressman Eric Cantor (VA-07) today issued the following statement in support of the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia, which declared the Democrats’ health care law to be unconstitutional: [...]

Washington Post

U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson found that Congress could not order individuals to buy health insurance.

In a 42-page opinion, Hudson said the provision of the law that requires most individuals to get insurance or pay a fine by 2014 is an unprecedented expansion of federal power that cannot be supported by Congress's power to regulate interstate trade.

"Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market," he wrote. "In doing so, enactment of the [individual mandate] exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I [of the Constitution.] [...]