Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Gospel According to Lady Gaga


Jewish date:  20 ’Iyyar 5771 (Parashath BeMidhbar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 35 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of Saints Cyril and Methodius Day (Christianity), Feast of Hermes (Thelema).

Unfortunately, Malcolm NC-17 sent me a link to Lady Gaga’s “Judas” with a request to review it.  At 2:30 AM, unable to sleep, I had this dreadful song stuck in my head with a sizable amount of my neural circuitry analyzing it, and the only thing I could really do with it was write about it.  (This is not the only time this has happened.  I have an unpublished sermon I wrote after catching part of Coyote Ugly and finding myself awake for hours afterwards dissecting it.  I am so glad that I do not have work today, because otherwise I would be in really big trouble.)  I hope Malcolm NC-17 comes to regret this.

The video, for the suicidally curious with strong stomachs, can be found here.  I strongly recommend this video be watched only on an empty stomach, and those not used to watching such material should not watch it at all.  Really.  I mean it.  Absolutely not kidding.  This could give people nightmares.  Do not say I did not warn you.

The first thing which comes to mind on watching this video is Proverbs 11:22:  “A gold ring in the nose of a pig is a beautiful woman deviating from taste.”  While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Lady Gaga periodically is criticized for her choice of costumes and makeup such that even people who do not follow popular music (such as myself) hear about it.  This video is no exception, and she rather resembles a gold truck tire in the nose of a hippopotamus, if for nothing other than her atrocious eye makeup.

The word ṭa‘am, which I translate as “taste”, can also be translated as “meaning”, which also fits.  What is happening in the video is unclear, as it is plagued by abrupt changes in costume and setting.  It does make use of recognized Christian religious symbols (to be detailed below), but not consistently using them with anything resembling conventional Christianity; this does not help clarifying the plot.  Even after checking the description on Wikipedia and way too many viewings, the video still comes off somewhat incoherent.  Part of it is that the music is too loud to understand all of the lyrics.  (E.g., is Lady Gaga claiming to be a “holy fool” or a “horny fool”?)  But even the lyrics read alone prove poorly written and partly nonsensical.  (Suddenly Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell seem wonderful.)

I discussed the video with Malcolm, and he claimed the confusion is deliberate:
Look at her carefully.  She’s short, small-breasted, has a big nose, and her face is shaped a little funny.  She’s not abnormal or even terribly unattractive but she’s no supermodel.  For marketing purposes, it’s not atypical to glamour-up performers.  Lady Gaga does this and then goes overboard on top of this.  Like Madonna before kept changing costumes and personas, Lady Gaga attracts constant interest by wearing outrageous outfits.  The outfits and other stunts are shocking and create curiosity, but they are ultimately meaningless.  The same can be said about the videos, the tenth of which you have not seen.  In this context, “Judas” is just a variation on this previous attention-getting behavior.  Both the song and video are a bunch of inane blasphemies.  They shock and get a lot of attention (I hear the pope objected to it), but ultimately it’s meaningless.  All it does it get her attention, create interest, and get people to want to hear the next song and see the next video.  That’s it.
This does make sense in an egotistical sort of way.  However I did note that the video also rather resembles a nightmare, being full of nonsense and discontinuity—not to mention it has a dark tone.  Malcolm admitted, “Her other videos have a nightmarish or surreal quality to them”, which I will take as a sign that interpreting “Judas” as a bad dream is not overthinking it (or at least not overthinking it too much).

The plot (if it can be called that) of the video seems to be the strangest variation on the Gospel story of which your humble blogger is aware.  Jesus (wearing his crown of thorns, anachronistically well before the Crucifixion) and the Apostles are recast as a motorcycle gang(!), and Lady Gaga plays Mary Magdalene (at least according to Wikipedia), who is caught in a love triangle between Jesus (“my virtue”) and Judas (“the demon I cling to”).  The lyrics seem to be Mary Magdalene addressing Jesus on how she is in love with Judas.  Such a complex relationship is not attested in the Gospels, despite anything The Da Vinci Code claims.  The idea of a Mary Magdalene-Judas relationship may have been inspired by Color of the Cross, in which Mary Magdalene sleeps with Judas in order to distract him.  Taken from the Gospels in plot points are a woman (here Mary/Gaga) washing Jesus’s feet with her hair—here in a tub with not just Jesus but Judas as well, both fully dressed!—and Judas kissing Jesus.  The Gospels depict Jesus and Judas confronting each other, but in this video Mary/Gaga is caught in the middle of the confrontation.  The best your humble blogger can interpret her actions and lyrics, she has probably been ordered by Jesus to shoot Judas—and she may even want to do it to some degree—but she cannot bring herself to do anything more than mark his face with lipstick.  The lipstick, incoherently, is extruded from the gun.  For her failure, Mary/Gaga is stoned to death.  I am unaware of anything like this in the New Testament.

If “Judas” is meant to actually mean anything, it is a dismal failure, being a huge piece of nonsense and obviously untenable interpretation of the Gospels.  If, like the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, it is meant as a nightmare, it may actually work.  If it is meant to manipulate others into giving her attention, do not bother.  Anyone who makes videos like this arguably is mentally ill and is in need of attention from psychologists, not music-lovers.  I, for one, do not intend to watch anything by Lady Gaga ever again, I was so offended.

Theological rating:  F (with demotion to peasant)


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Rapture and Pesaḥ preparation


Jewish date:  18 ’Iyyar 5771 (Parashath BeMidhbar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 33 of the ‘Omer/Lagh ba‘Omer (Judaism), Fifth Sunday of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Elphinstone (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  This is a followup to the last post, in which your humble blogger noted that Saturday (21 May 2011) was supposed to be the Rapture according to Harold Camping.  (This is actually the second time he has predicted the Rapture; the first was 1994.)  As should be obvious to anyone, he was wrong—as everyone who has predicted the end of the world as we know it has been before.  Other people have felt inclined to comment on this whole incident, both on when the Rapture was supposed to occur and the silence from Harold Camping afterwards (“Predictor of May 21 doomsday to watch it on TV”, “Broadcaster silent as "Judgment Day" hours tick by”, “The Rapture Is Not Saturday -- It's Tonight”, “As hours tick by, "Judgment Day" looks a dud”).  At least one atheist has taken advantage of it for profit by agreeing to take care of people’s pets after the Rapture if paid in advance (“After The Rapture, Who Will Walk Your Dog?”).  Some people downright made fun of it:

funny graphs - Sunny With a Chance of Rapture

funny pictures - Well....? To a kitteh maybe!

Personally I do not find the failure of the Rapture to appear so funny.  Some people actually believed that Camping was right and spend their life savings.  Now these people look like a bunch of idiots, are broke, and are going to have to deal with the social and economic consequences.  Great going, Camping.

Topic 2:  More on Pesaḥ (Passover) in Israel.  Preparation for Pesaḥ was largely unremarkable, though made somewhat easier because I have a small apartment and thus not much to clean.  Having a small apartment also makes it a lot easier to search for ḥameṣ (leavened grain products, which are forbidden on Pesaḥ), as there was less area to search.

Getting rid of ḥameṣ was accomplished by making sure I ate it all before Pesaḥ.  The common practice of selling one’s ḥameṣ to a non-Jew before Pesaḥ was totally irrelevant to me.  Some, such as the Ga’on of Vilna, have decried the practice as not being a real sale, at least as normally performed; in my case, if I had any ḥameṣ left, it was in the form of individual crumbs or grains hidden in inaccessible parts of my apartment.  In practical terms, such ḥameṣ is worthless and unsellable.  No one in their right mind is going to buy isolated crumbs, and if they really wanted to buy such crumbs (maybe due to insanity), one cannot really take possession of and exercise the authority of ownership on something one has no real access to.  Such a sale would therefore be, to say the least, absurd.  I therefore relied on disowning any such ḥameṣ, which is pretty easy since it was nothing anyone would want anyway.

There is a common practice of burning any ḥameṣ left over on the morning before Pesaḥ, and this was practiced very publicly over here.  There is a field next to the local mall, and there were large piles of and barrels filled with ḥameṣ being burned.
That is my shadow you see in front.  I personally would have preferred that a lot of this ḥameṣ would have been given to non-Jews (no point in wasting edible food), but there are very few people who are visibly non-Jewish here in Giv‘ath Shemu’el.

Now somebody prod me to talk about the sedher, qiṭniyyoth, and yom ṭov sheni on Tuesday.  If I pick up the pace, I may actually get caught up with discussing the Jewish holidays before Shavu‘oth…

Peace and enjoy burning stuff this Lagh ba‘Omer.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture and soft maṣṣah


Jewish date:  16 ’Iyyar 5771 (Parashath Beḥuqqothay).

Today’s holidays:  Day 31 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Feast Day of Bernardine of Siena (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Edward II (Church of the SubGenius).

Note:  I am working my way through An Episode of Flatland, so there is another theological review coming up, though with the other things I am trying to do, this will take some time before it gets written and published.

Topic 1:  The Rapture according to Harold Camping is tomorrow (21 May 2011).  See “May 21: Is the end near?”, “May 21 End of the World: Harold Camping's $72M business”, and his farewell letter.  Please note that though the end of the world as we know it has been predicted many times before, all of these predictions have been wrong.  If the Rapture actually happens tomorrow, I will be nothing less than shocked.

Topic 2:  Back to discussing Pesaḥ.  One thing they have over here which I only heard about in the United States is soft maṣṣah.  The maṣṣah available in the United States is hard and brittle, more of a cracker than a proper bread.  But maṣṣah in the old days was softer.  E.g., korekh literally means that one wraps the maṣṣah around the qorban Pesaḥ (paschal sacrifice, which would be lamb or baby goat) and maror (bitter herbs).  (See “Soft Massa: It’s the Real Thing”.)  I was delighted to find soft maṣṣah commercially available in Israel, and so I bought a three-pack to examine them myself.  These were not the first that I ate; at the sedher I attended they had soft maṣṣah.  The following pictures are of the maṣṣah I bought myself.

This is the box the maṣṣah came in.  Do note that according to the instructions on the box indicate it should be kept frozen, unlike brittle maṣṣah, which requires no refrigeration.  The box was kept in my freezer until Pesaḥ.  I put the box in the refrigerator and let it defrost.

 This is what a soft maṣṣah looks like.  I thought it would look more like a pita than this.

It is also fairly thick.

A soft maṣṣah compared with a brittle maṣṣah.

Comparative maṣṣah thickness.  The soft maṣṣah is noticeably thicker.

Not visible in the photographs are the physical properties.  It is much less bendable than pita, though (expectedly) a lot more than brittle maṣṣah.  It still is flexible enough to wrap lamb and romaine lettuce in it.  The taste is fairly doughy, even though it is thoroughly baked; it takes getting used to.

Topic 3:  Sunday is Lagh ba‘Omer.  “Lagh Ba’Omer - A Gratuitous Holiday” claims that the holiday is not what it is commonly claimed to be.

Topic 4:  For today’s religious humor (something I have not done in a while: “The LOLcat Passover story”.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Temple Mount infiltration and vandalism


Jewish date:  13 ’Iyyar 5771 (Parashath Beḥuqqothay).

Today’s holidays:  Day 28 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Laval homeboy (Church of the SubGenius).

I am painfully aware that I still have a backlog of things to say about Pesaḥ, but there is something else which is more important to discuss sooner.

On Israeli Independence Day (6 ’Iyyar 5771 AM, 10 May 2011 CE), I had the opportunity to visit the Temple Mount for the first time.  This is the place YHWH, God of Israel, designated for His Temple where the First and Second Temples actually stood, and the most important place in Judaism.  The experience was such that my emotions are still going strong.  What I am writing is not just a report for Divine Misconceptions, but an attempt to deal with what I experienced.  Some of the crimes perpetuated by Muslims up there, such as the wanton destruction of anything of Jewish origin and dumping of artifacts as if they were trash, have been discussed by others.  But not all aspects of Muslim behavior up there are well publicized.

I have heard much about observant Jews being treated shabbily when visiting the Temple Mount, not being allowed to bring Jewish ritual objects with them or pray on the Temple Mount; they are also subject to arbitrary restrictions on visiting hours and harassment from the Waqf and police to keep them from praying.  And yes, people, this is a blatant violation of freedom of religion.  I therefore disguised myself as a tourist, tucking my ṣiṣiyyoth into my pants, not wearing a kippah (but still wearing a hat), and carrying my American passport instead of my Israeli identity document.  I also spoke with a more exaggerated Southernish accent.

The disguise was more of a success than I expected.  Nobody asked to see any identification.  Nobody stopped me from going anywhere or doing anything.  A few guards spoke to me a bit, mostly to ask where I was from, which I quite honestly answered as Charleston, South Carolina.  One man did ask if I was a Muslim, to which I replied, “Is it required?”  The worst I got was that I was asked to leave when visiting hours for non-Muslims were about over.  For the most part, I was ignored.

When I say that nobody stopped me from going anywhere or doing anything, I really mean it.  I avoided doing any “forbidden” activities in front of other people, but no one made any effort to follow me or stop me from doing anything.  The first of these “forbidden” activities was prayer, which I did rather a lot.  While I was there, someone who will only be referred to here as “Oscar” felt emboldened to take further action.  Given that the Torah prohibits trees on the Temple Mount, Oscar tore twigs off of trees—four times.  Oscar even took a rock and scratched “THE DOME OF THE ROCK WILL FALL” on a green electrical box.  No one noticed.  No one stopped him.  And he left without anyone realizing what he did.  Oscar feels tempted to cause even greater damage the next time he goes.

Oscar’s faint handiwork
Now, one may argue that Oscar really should not have committed five counts of vandalism.  But the fact he got away with it is very revealing.  The Temple Mount is the holiest place on Earth for Jews, and the Waqf cannot be (or at least should not be) so stupid as to not consider the possibility that some observant Jew, being angry at being discriminated against and over the maltreatment of his/her holy place, might disguise him/herself as an ordinary tourist and take action against them.  And yet Oscar committed vandalism without being detected.  For people trying to lord it over and intimidate Jews, they failed miserably, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.  What they created is a false appearance that nothing Jewish is going on on the Temple Mount, an absurd lie, considering that every Jew I have discussed visiting the Temple Mount with who has been there has reported praying there.  All they have done is to lead Jews to be subversive, and I would be shocked if no one has done anything far worse than I have.

The Waqf should also be ashamed of themselves for how they treat the Temple Mount.  One often sees pretty pictures of their prize structures up there, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain.  But being ritually impure from the dead, I am severely restricted to where I can go up there.  I thus stayed to the edges of the Temple Mount which were added on by Herod the Great, and what I saw there was not so pretty.  In many places there are blocks, rubble, and pieces of columns lying around.  (I will have to defer to historians and archaeologists on how ancient any of them are.)  Many of the staircases on the edges are completely lacking in guardrails, making them very dangerous to anyone who dares ascend them.  Boys play ball all over the place, and no one suggests to them that this is in any way inappropriate.

And then there is the graffiti.  Oscar should have not bothered vandalizing that electrical box.  (Or he should have at least written something true yet disgraceful about Muḥammad’s sex life.)  I discovered rather a lot of graffiti along the edges (much more than I took pictures of)— and most of it in Arabic and in areas more favored by Muslim visitors.

If a recurring scribble in there looks at all familiar to you, that is because it is Allah (الله‎), the name of the God of Islam.  The most likely scenario is that Muslims did this, and if they did not, the perpetrators were braver than Oscar and still got away with it.  In any case, the Waqf has done nothing to remove such blemishes.

But, wait!  One might object that the amount of graffiti is not so unusual for such a holy site.  Which is why I deliberately went looking for graffiti at the Western Wall compound afterwards for comparison.  I had to deliberately look for it to find it at all.

There was some assorted Hebrew graffiti on the pay phones and an electrical box next to them.  In one of the arched-over areas which has been turned into an area for study and prayer, someone scratched his name in Hebrew.  And on a pole about as far as one can get from the Western Wall in the compound as one can get, someone attached a sticker in support of Gil‘adh Shalliṭ.  That was it.  The vast majority of the Western Wall compound was graffiti-free.  If there are people attempting vandalism at the Western Wall, they are doing a crummy job, at least at keeping the vandalism visible and lasting.  As opposed to the Temple Mount, on which one can find graffiti without even trying, and the Waqf does not care enough to remove it.

So the situation is that the Waqf is doing a miserable job at preserving the sanctity of the Temple Mount and treating visibly observant Jews badly.  I am angry, and I need to fight back.  One thing I probably ought to avoid doing is to commit vandalism; that is immature and not likely to make anything better.  I also want to avoid doing anything violent; the goals are proper treatment of the Temple Mount and Jewish religious freedom, not hurting Muslims.  What I want, as a first step towards rebuilding the Temple, is an end to discrimination against observant Jews on the Temple Mount.  For too long the government has attempted to appease Muslims by turning a blind eye to the destruction of historical evidence and letting Jews be treated as second-class citizens in their own holiest place, and this has never worked.  Please notice the Arab-Israeli War is nowhere near a close.  The only way politicians can be expected to do the right thing is if the people demand it from them.  And so now I have to figure out how to create a grassroots civil rights movement.  In the meantime, I encourage every Jew possible to visit the Temple Mount to let the politicians and police know that this site is important to Jews.  Thank you.

WARNING:  Information in this essay on how to infiltrate the Temple Mount is presented so that observant Jews can visit without being harassed.  Under no circumstances should it be taken as an endorsement to act foolishly.  A visit to the Temple Mount is not a game one plays with the Muslims, but rather a very serious matter.  Muslims may be the enemy, but they have feelings and have been known at times to act violently in response to real or imagined provocations.  Oscar and I may have gotten away with what we did only by the protection of YHWH.  I cannot guarantee that other visitors will be similarly ignored, so do not assume you can simply do what you want up there.  Be very, very careful and make sure you do not get caught!



UPDATE:  You can now see every photo I have taken on the Temple Mount on my Facebook account. See Temple Mount graffiti 2011-05-10Kids playing ball on the Temple Mount 2011-05-10Temple Mount desolation 2011-05-10, and Temple Mount anything else 2011-05-10.  And, yes, I know the photo of Oscar’s graffiti is poor.  My camera’s battery ran out, and I had to use my cell phone to take pictures.  Consider it an incentive to visit the Temple Mount yourself.
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Friday, May 6, 2011

Pesaḥ advertising


Jewish date:  2 ’Iyyar 5771 (Parashath ’Emor).

Today’s holidays:  Day 17 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Feast Day of St. Guiness (The Stout) (Church of the SubGenius), Friday of the Second Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism).

It has been quite a while since I posted.  I have experienced my first Pesaḥ (Passover) in Israel, and there is a lot to comment on.  (And I had better get cracking if I want to comment on it.  There are other things coming up that will definitely merit discussion.  Not to mention I am very busy these days.  E.g., I have now received my shipment from the United States, and parts of my apartment look a lot like Tetris and need desperately to be reordered.)  Given my series on holiday advertising in Israel, something one expects to start well before the actual holiday (at least it does in the USA), we will start there.  The holiday advertising I saw did pick up a bit for Pesaḥ, but one would often be unaware of it.  For example:

The former is a fashion advertisement.  The latter is for perfume.  Neither of them gives any impression that these stores are trying to show off their Pesaḥ spirit.  A bit closer is this one:
This one actually shows (and is for) relevant food, though it is not ostentatious.  The closest anyone got to ostentation is this one:
At this place they were actually selling silver utensils which might be used during Pesaḥ.

In the USA, there are not just advertisements seeking to cash in on major holidays, but public decorations for several of them as well.  I did not see any Pesaḥ decorations, and the nearest thing I saw to them were a few signs like this one:

This does not go much further than wishing everyone a happy Pesaḥ.  So far the USA is still beating Israel on commercialization and overdoing of holidays.

I hate to stop here, but my Internet connection has been very unreliable recently, and I would rather get out something than nothing.    I hope to write about preparing for Pesaḥ and Pesaḥ itself soon.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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