Sunday, October 31, 2010

“God Himself Couldn’t Sink This Ship”

According to legend when the Titanic was launched a White Star Line employee claimed, "God Himself couldn’t sink this ship!". Of course, the Titanic famously did sink. On April 15, 1912 during her first trans-Atlantic trip she hit an iceberg and went down in the North Atlantic. Over 1500 people drowned or froze to death before the nearest ships could reach them.

I remember hearing the story of the Titanic in school. The part about the claim that God couldn’t sink it was always told with grim self-satisfaction. The message was clear: don’t challenge God, or He’ll show you who’s boss. We the believers were a superior group, and the people who had flippantly challenged God with an unsinkable ship had gotten what was coming to them.

The story itself is probably apocryphal, and to be fair, I don’t think that any of my teachers and rabbeim really thought that the Titanic sank just because of what one person said. They probably never really thought about it at all; it was just a cute story to illustrate a point and make us all feel righteous about our belief in God.

The implications of the story, however, are not flattering to God. God apparently gets upset when a mere human challenges His power. Upset enough to kill 1500 people in a fit of rage. This is comparable to a father who gets upset when his three-year-old proudly claims that, “Not even Daddy could break my fort!” and in a fit of rage smashes the cardboard fort and seriously hurts the children playing inside.

Why is it that so many people don’t realize that stories like this one portray God as a petty, vindictive megalomaniac?

I suppose I should just be happy that at least in the Titanic story, God is acknowledged as the Cause of the iceberg. Usually the disaster is attributed to bad luck while those who managed to survive praise God for the miracle of their rescue.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tiferes Yisroel Update

I objected strongly when Tiferes Yisroel implemented their policy of mandatory monitoring of student’s families’ internet usage, so it seems only fair that I should note that they seem to have thought better of it. I’ve been told by people with kids in the yeshiva that the policy hasn’t been enforced. Many of the parents never signed up for Web Chaver, and many of those who did are now letting their accounts lapse. It’s outrageous that the policy was ever implemented, but at least in practice sanity has won out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Debugged Kashrus

A few months ago ( I think while the fish-worm nonsense was going on) I half-jokingly predicted in a comment somewhere that pretty soon the only food that would be considered kosher would be vegetables grown in cleanroom-like greenhouses. I’m sad to say that over yom tov I saw an ad for what may be the first step towards that eventuality.

“Eden”, a company that markets vegetables to the kosher market, ran an ad in Jewish newspapers that reads in part:

“Cauliflower, broccoli, and many other vegetables are home to tiny insects that are nearly invisible to the untrained eye, and are quite impossible to remove. That’s why Eden doesn’t just try to get rid of insects; we keep the insects out, from the moment of planting.…

Eden keeps insects out by growing its vegetables in greenhouses… So if you want to keep the food in your home truly kosher, trust the brand that has… a greenhouse –that keeps the tiniest intruders away.”

Now this is an advertisement, not a halachic ruling, but much like pre-washed vegetables, I can see greenhouse-grown vegetables becoming a widespread convenience bought “just in case;” then a communal norm; and finally a standard to be kept without which the vegetables may not be eaten.

And so Orthodoxy becomes ever-more restrictive. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.