Archive for the ‘Religious’ Category


Michael Vick: Who offers forgiveness when all those you wronged are dead?

August 14, 2009

I think the thing that bothers me the most about Michael Vick’s reinstatement into the NFL is the idea that Vick has ‘reformed’ himself and is now redeemed and worthy of serving as a role model to kids.  This is nonsense.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the prison system is designed to rehabilitate people and that people are able to change, but part of both of those processes is gaining forgiveness from those you wronged.  There are two aspects to Vick’s crimes that I find upsetting.  The first is the tacit implication that an animal’s life is inherently less valuable than a persons.  The second is that forgiveness can be given by someone other than the wronged party. 

Regarding the first, imagine if Vick had done to people what he did to dogs:  Locked them up, starved them, trained them to fight, had the women raped to produce new, better offspring, then drowned, burned, and hanged those that wouldn’t or couldn’t fight.  The simple answer is that Vick would have been given the death penalty and gone down in history as one of the most despicable criminals ever to live.  That isn’t going to happen because of the fundamental belief that dogs are an inferior form of life, and therefore it is acceptable to treat them in a manner worse than you would treat a human.  (Note:  I am not a vegetarian, in fact, I had steak for dinner last night, but the difference is that the deaths of those animals served a purpose, and while one can argue the necessity or morality of eating meat, the bottom line is that the cow’s death served a necessary purpose, whereas the torture and death of Vick’s dogs served no purpose other than entertainment, which is not a morally justifiable reason to kill)  Every major religion, from Judaism to Buddhism, argues that animal life is just as sacred as human life, and if you believe that God created the heavens and the earth, then it is implied that he created dogs as well, and in the absence of any specified pecking order (which the bible does not prescribe, in fact, it goes to great lengths to ensure that animals, when killed, are done so humanely) there is no reason to figure that human life is any more valuable than a dogs life.  It is modern society that argues otherwise, and by accepting Vick’s return to the NFL, we are actively going against religious teachings regarding the sacred nature of animals.

The second issue, that one can be rehabilitated without forgiveness from those you wronged, gets to the issue of who exactly has been hurt by Vick’s actions?  All the lives he hurt are animals, and are either dead or incapable of expressing forgiveness for what was done to them.  As such, there is no one to stand up and say, “No, what you did was wrong, and I don’t forgive you.”  All methods of correcting ones wrongs involve asking for forgiveness from those you wronged, from Alcoholics Anonymous to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur where a person must ask everyone they’ve wronged in the past year for forgiveness, but Vick has no one who can stand up and forgive him, and as such, he can never truly repent for there is no one to accept his repentance.  Instead of actual forgivness, Vick’s rehabilitation will be based on the third party opinions of groups like the humane society, who will undoubtedly gain financially from their public support of Vick, Tony Dungy, who has no right to speak for the animals Vick murdered, or the NFL fan base, which is perhaps the most capricious fan base in all professional sports.  In other words, the only people who are expressing forgiveness of Vick are those he didn’t harm, and as a result, have no right to offer forgiveness. 

I realize that none of this matters, and that the NFL fans, led by the millions of dollars worth of PR we are about to witness, will gladly follow Vick and award him forgivness and say he has been rehabilitated.  There will be pictures of him holding dogs, performing acts of contrition, donating to charities, and kissing babies on the foreheads, but the only real question, and the one that truly expresses whether or not Vick can ever be forgiven, is this:  If you went away for a weekend, would you let Michael Vick look after your dogs?


Oversized Coffee Cups

June 25, 2009

I just got back from a roadtrip out to the Southwest, an area I absolutely love and desire to live in someday, and as a memento I brought back a coffee mug from Roswell, a town that by all I could tell was doing its best to try and move on from that unfortunate incident that allegedly happened so many years ago but that can’t because that incident is the single best thing to ever happen to the town’s economy.  Anyway, this morning I put the cup under my single cup coffee maker at work, put in the same amount of coffee/water I would for my normal corporate mug and hit start.  I turned to my computer and perused the internet while waiting for my coffee to brew when after a few minutes I heard what sounded like a babbling brook coming from the other side of my cubicle.  Since my battery operated zen water garden is dead I knew it couldn’t be that, so I turned around to find coffee overflowing the mug and spilling all over my desk.  Not good.  Now I am stuck in the unenviable position of having to choose between my corporate mug which is perfectly sized for the amount of coffee I drink, or my Southwest mug, which doesn’t hold as much coffee but makes me smile and feel good about myself.  If this isn’t a perfect parallel for the two competing desires in my life, I don’t know what is.  On one hand I have my corporate life, one that provides me with a healthy salary that allows me to live a very comfortable life, albeit a fairly unsatisifying one, and on the other hand is my desire to pack up everything I own, move to the Southwest and start a life out there, one that would be far less profitable but infinitely more rewarding.  Sadly, as I’m sure will happen, I will return to the corporate mug which promises both security and a healthy portion of coffee but that ultimately leaves me feeling empty and desiring more, thereby creating a vicious cycle of material gains being used to supplement true happiness.  Or I could just reduce the amount of water I put in the coffee pot.


What were those crazy Jews up to this morning?

April 9, 2009

On Wed, April 8th at sunrise, a whole bunch of crazy Jews gathered around the world to apparently worship the sun.  An article about the phenomenon ran in the paper ( and my rabbinic friend, Juan Muerdleberg, asked me what the deal was, to which I responded, “I have no friggin’ clue!”  However, after some serious scholarly research I have come up with a helpful series of questions and answers: 


What were those crazy Jews up to this morning?


They were reciting a prayer called the Birkat Hachama that honors God for creating the Sun.  The prayer is said once every 28 years when the sun returns to the exact position in which it was created by God.


Where does the 28 years come from?


Jews believe that the position of the sun when the vernal equinox occurs on a Tuesday at sunset matches the position in which God originally created the sun and once every 28 years is how often the Vernal Equinox occurs on a Tuesday at sundown


Why were people reciting the prayer at sunrise instead of sunset the night before?


The Birkat Hachama is recited when the vernal equinox occurs at sundown on a Tuesday, but because the sun is no longer visible, you wait until sunrise of the following day to recite the prayer


Didn’t the vernal equinox occur this year on the 20th of March?


The Birkat Hachama is said not during the true vernal equinox, but during the halachic (religious) equinox.


So, how did we come up with Tuesday?


Judaism believes God created the Sun on the fourth day (Tuesday) of the month of Nissan.


If the Jewish week begins on Sunday, why isn’t the prayer said on Wed rather than Tuesday since Wed is four days from Sunday?


Judaism believes a day is measured from sunset to sunset, so Tuesday sunset marks the beginning of the new day, which equals four days from Saturday sunset.  When we say Tuesday sunset, we really mean the start of the next day.


So, now we have a prayer that has to be recited when the halachic vernal equinox occurs on a Tuesday at sunset, how do we determine when the halachic vernal equinox occurs?


Rabbis in the year 45 BC set the date as the 25th of March.


If it was set as the 25th of March, why was it observed on the 8th of April?


The 25th of March refers to the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar which is what the world currently follows. 


When and why did we switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar?


The Julian calendar was created by Julius Caesar and was based on 355 days alternating with intercalary years of 377 or 378 days, but this became very confusing and didn’t work very well so Christian leaders got together at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE and established a new calendar that was designed to correct errors in the old calendar and make it so it aligned perfectly with the sun’s cycle without human intervention.  This calendar was adopted by the European world in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII which is why it is called the Gregorian calendar.  The Gregorian calendar was designed to be 365 ¼ days, with an extra day every 4 years to realign the calendar with the sun.


What did the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar mean for Birkat Halachah?


When converting from a Julian to Gregorian calendar you have to jump ahead about 10 days.  This is because the inaccuracies inherent in the Julian calendar cause extra days to build up and at the time the switch occurred, there were about 10 extra days that had to be removed.  So when the Julian calendar ended on Thursday 4 Oct 1582, the next day when the Gregorian Calendar started was Friday 15 October 1582.  However, because of the religious reasons behind the change, Judaism didn’t accept the switch from Julian to Gregorian, so according to the Jewish calendar the first post-Gregorian Birkat Halacham occurred on March 25th, 1609, but for the rest of the world it was April 4th, 1609.  


If Birkat Halacham occurred on Apr 4th of the Gregorian calendar to correspond with March 25th of the Julian calendar, and Birkat Halacham always occurs on the Julian March 25th, why was it observed on April 8th of this year? 


The Gregorian calendar gains one day each century year that is not a leap year in relation to the Julian calendar.  A leap year is defined by the following algorithm:


    1. Every year that is divisible by four is a leap year;
    2. of those years, if it can be divided by 100, it is NOT a leap year, unless
    3. the year is divisible by 400. Then it is a leap year.


Therefore, the years 1600, 1700, 1800, and 1900 all resulted in the Gregorian calendar gaining one day in relation to the Julian calendar meaning that the Birkat Halacham jumps forward one day in the Gregorian calendar every 100 year in relation to the Julian calendar.  This means that if the first Birkat Halacham of the Gregorian calendar was April 4th, 1609, you have to add 3 days in order to get the most recent date.  The following shows why:


a.       If you add one day for each non-leap century year, you get the following:

                                                               i.      1709 = Apr 5

                                                             ii.      1809 = Apr 6

                                                            iii.      1909 = Apr 7

                                                           iv.      2009 = Apr 7 (not Apr 8, because the year 2000 was a leap year, therefore an extra day did not need to be added)




In conclusion, the Birkat Halacham started on March 25th of the Julian calendar, then shifted to April 4th of the Gregorian calendar because of the 10 days that were skipped when the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar occurred, and you then add 3 more days for each non-leap century year that has occurred since the switch from Julian to Gregorian, which results in the Birkat Halacham being recited on April 7th, but because you wait until sunrise of the following day, the prayer was said on April 8th at sunrise.


And that’s what those crazy Jews were doing this morning.