31 May, 2009

Upset by evolution

Filed under: Judaism,Religion,Society and culture by Joel @ 1:48 pm, 31 May 2009.

I did not attend a Shavuot dinner hosted by Young Adult Chabad with Emeritus Professor of Statistics Abraham Michael Hasofer speaking on the conflict between Science and Religion: Do they Conflict?. I have only heard one attendee’s summary of the argument, and in public rhetoric the audience’s response is perhaps more important than what was said itself.

The summary suggested that since science has not decoded the mechanics of genetic mutation on the scale required for functional evolution, humans were created by God and are not descended from apes.

Seeing as the person who attended and summarised the talk for me had no desire to be descended from an ape, this was preaching to the converted. I hope it was not what Hasofer said, as I would think it clear to a statistician that the lack of clear scientific evidence to fill in all the holes in a theory is no real support to a counter-argument. I still fail to see the exclusive disjunction between creation and evolution.

But I was just as shocked by the idea that someone I know would have real aversion to the idea of being cousin to a gorilla or chimpanzee. Is this person equally shocked that our food is grown in something as disgusting as manure? Do they forget that they are cousin to genocidal serial killers, murderous tyrants, and fraudulent businessman? Do they find no compassion for animals, be they apes, or our more distant relatives the dogs and the snails that they are so upset to call them “cousin”, “friend”, “granddad”? Surely, we humans are at least as disgusting, even if we claim to be so with greater sophistication.

29 May, 2008

No q in Nakba

Filed under: Language,Society and culture by Joel @ 10:00 am, 29 May 2008.

After a few articles about “Al-Naqba” in the AJN, I wrote to suggest that they should be using a k and not a q:

There is no q in “Al-Naqba”. The Arabic spelling includes the equivalent of a Hebrew kaf, not their quf.

It seems ‘q’ is used, often by Jewish sources, to Arabise the word and make it seem more foreign and distasteful.

Even the spellings of words can express one’s biases, just as “Moslem”, once an accepted variant, is now considered more derogatory than “Muslim”.

The AJN should utilise the more neutral and accurate spellings, and write articles on “Nakba” rather than “Naqba”.

The printed letter stops after the second paragraph, which I maybe should have made more clear: I do not accuse the Jewish press of a conspiracy to use a stigmatised spelling variant. Language is more subtle and subconscious than that.

I try not to dictate others’ language use. In the case of a newspaper, though, there are always editorial style guides, and I wanted to point out two factors in the spelling of this word:

  1. Phonology: there is a letter q in Arabic, but it’s not used in the word “nakba”.
  2. Sociolinguistics: people have a choice to use “nakba” or “naqba” as both are found in the English press (according to Google in about 10:1 ratio). They may actually use the latter because they perceive it as a more “authentic” transliteration. Of course, it is not. On the other hand, it does make the word look more foreign, and so its use carries some pre-conceived “Arab” feeling that makes the word no longer neutral.

Of course, the word is naturally not a neutral word, whichever way it is spelt. People will often react to it either with distate or with pride. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be spelt in the “unbiased press” in a way that shows one’s side and one’s ignorance more than necessary.

20 December, 2007

India and Ibn Ezra

Filed under: Society and culture,Tanakh by Joel @ 12:16 am, 20 December 2007.

It would seem from a few of his comments that Ibn Ezra had a fascination for the Hindus and their culture.

For instance, the hand-under-thigh oath that we see between Eliezer (?) and Abraham, and between Joseph and Jacob. Rashi takes this practice as akin to swearing on a bible: Eliezer and Joseph swore on the place of circumcision. Ibn Ezra’s comment is not clear on whether “thigh” is mere euphemism as Rashi takes it, but claims that:

It was the law (custom?) in those days for a man to put his hand under the thigh of authority … as if to say: behold, my hand is under your authority to do your will. And this is still the law in India.


17 October, 2007

Getting away with murder

Filed under: Halakha,Society and culture,Tanakh by Joel @ 5:03 pm, 17 October 2007.

Apart from beautiful poetic structure of Genesis 9:6 (“שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ”, “the spiller of man’s blood, his blood by man will be spilled”), it seems to support quite radical capital punishment, or surely avengance at the hand of man. Most modern societies would not support such a simple policy; even early translations and interpretations do not take it literally; but Rabbinic Judaism tends to quite the opposite, possibly to a fault.

20 July, 2007

Home hospitality

Filed under: Society and culture,Travels by Joel @ 2:00 am, 20 July 2007.

So the year-and-a-day is over.

But I think it is remarkable that of those 366 nights, I stayed in a hostel / motel / hotel only:

  • 5 nights in San Francisco (July 19, 20, 23, 24, 25)
  • 4 nights in New Orleans (July 26, 27, 30, 31)
  • 1 night in Memphis (August 1)
  • 2 nights in Niagara (March 23, 24)
  • 1 night in London (April 30)
  • 2 nights in Amsterdam (May 1, 2)
  • 2 nights in Paris (May 7, 8)

That’s seventeen days in total!

I wanted to say an enormous thank you to everyone I’ve stayed with along the way, who have all been extraordinarily hospitable to me in finding somewhere for me to sleep, feeding me, taking me out occasionally, giving me their kids to play with… (more…)

24 June, 2007

Time is Torah

Filed under: Judaism,Religion,Society and culture by Joel @ 11:36 am, 24 June 2007.

There is a term, bittul torah, which literally means ‘negation of Torah’—a term that I long did not understand. By some people it can be thrown around anywhere to refer to time spent doing anything apart from learning from the corpus of Jewish text and thought. The assumption is that if you’re not learning Torah (or possibly otherwise doing God’s Will), you are destroying it merely by wasting time.

I failed to understand this assumption until I decided to spend a bit of time in a yeshiva. Although maybe the feeling has decreased a little since then, the atmosphere here is one of immersion and little distraction, and so the first time I tried to leave the yeshiva, I felt somewhat guilty for not studying for a few hours. Learning of course doesn’t preclude enjoying (through studying or apart from it), but you really begin to notice when you have left it for something else. (more…)

16 April, 2007

Popular scare tactics: forwarded emails

Filed under: Current affairs,Society and culture,Technology by Joel @ 9:09 pm, 16 April 2007.

Forwarded emails are not as popular as they used to be. But every now and then, someone receives something they agree with, or something that concerns them (most often), and forwards it along to a handful of faithful forwardees.

If this sounds like you, STOP.

Or at least check first to see if you can find evidence that what is said in the email is true. A lot of what you read online is fact; most is opinion. Some is true, some is false, some wavers between the two. Others may be true opinion but based on false backgrounds.

That was the case with an email I received today. Twice, from opposite sides of the world. (more…)

5 April, 2007

Freedom of Religion

Filed under: Current affairs,Jewish community,Montreal,Religion,Society and culture by Joel @ 8:07 pm, 5 April 2007.

In March 2005, McGill closed its Muslim prayer room. In 2006 the Canadian Supreme Court overruled a Québec school’s ban on carrying a Sikh ceremonial weapon. In January 2007, Canada was inflamed with discussions of “reasonable accommodation” after the release of a “Code of Conduct” for newcomers to Hérouxville. It seems as if Québec again wants to copy France in a strong stand on Laïcité.

Chapel up the stairs to the leftMcGill Chapel wiped out of existence Suddenly in these last few days, University administration has decided the chapel in the McGill “Birks” Religious Studies building no longer exists. Signs that once indicated its presence are now gone. The room that the rest of the building is centred around no longer has any official purpose or title. (more…)

20 February, 2007

“I’ll Facebook friend you…”

Filed under: Online communities,Society and culture by Joel @ 7:59 pm, 20 February 2007.

As the Facebook craze sweeps the universities and high schools of Australia, I have begun to find myself with a problem: I don’t know who my friends are anymore. And by that, it’s not a matter of trust, but that all sorts of people I’ve known but otherwise wouldn’t call “friends” have decided to “Facebook friend” me. Do I accept? (more…)

15 November, 2006

Loving difference and hating indifference

Filed under: Judaism,Montreal,Society and culture,Tanakh by Joel @ 2:53 am, 15 November 2006.

Eli Wiesel flyerOne advantage of being in North America is that it doesn’t cost inordinate sums of money to bring famous intellectuals to speak to an audience. So while the Jewish community finds itself with one esteemed guest after another here, and I heard from Adin Steinsaltz a couple of weeks ago (he came to Sydney last year but I missed him), tonight I had the opportunity to hear Elie Wiesel speak. The holocaust survivor, acclaimed author, social activist, Boston University professor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate lectured and took questions on the topic of “Building a moral society: the urgency of hope”. (more…)

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