Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inter- no-net

A major concern for the religious community in Israel surrounds the fact that it’s not much FUN being religious. You only read from the Bible (or other religious books), women are always covered from head-to-toe et cetera. The most frightening thing for the community is that a member will discover how much fun it is being secular, and decide to abandon religion and the community. To prevent that, it’s very important to them to keep their people from being “tried” – they close themselves off in their own neighborhoods and try to shield the residents from any clue of the outside world. As part of this, TV has traditionally been forbidden, and since the introduction of the internet, it has been a source of controversy. On one hand, they realize their businesses, which do have to sell and buy to secular businesses, need the web, but the web also provides access to everything that is forbidden – pictures, information…and even PORN!

Naturally, they started coming up with various crazy work-around “solutions”. One company will receive letters and faxes from religious people, type them into a computer and send them out as Email. Another company provides heavily censored internet connections, with proxy-servers that block 99% of the web except specific sites deemed permissible. The craziest idea, though, is something that started about 2 years ago…it’s a CD that contains cached copies of pre-approved websites, and sent to subscribers monthly via the post. The disc has about 3500 websites, and even a search component. The entrepreneur says he has about 200,000 subscribers, and that they also allow them to update their content using public terminals and a USB-drive, in case you want to be updated more than once a month. I’m wondering how come nobody thought of having a pay-per-minute search service, where someone reads out censored results to you over the phone…that way, you wouldn’t even have to have a computer (which many religious folk are extremely against even without the internet)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thou shall not cheat thy god

A few weeks back, I told you about Saturdays, which are the weekend-days (like the American Sunday). I also said that during the day of rest you cannot work, operate machinery or electronics. You can’t turn on your oven, so religious families have electric hotplates, because you can turn them on before the weekend starts, and the thermostat keeps them safe until Saturday evening. The electric hotplate is a perfect example for a major industry in Israel – products that can cheat the no-work rule. For example, riding an elevator would require you to press a button, which is “work”, so every elevator in Israel has a Shabbat mode, in which it automatically stops at every floor, so you don’t have to actively press anything. Also, dialing the phone is forbidden, because pressing the numbers is “work” too, so some company came up with a genius solution. Their phone scrolls through the digits 0-9, and you stop it on the digit you need, thereby building up the number step-by-step…like cracking a combination lock. Another company is selling pens with disappearing ink, which make them ‘legal’ to use on a Saturday. The industrial union estimates the market for such products to be at 10 million dollar a year.

So…god bless the Israeli mind for coming up with clever circumvention, but the stupid thing is that the religious folk actually think that they can outsmart their god. I mean…if you really believe that your creator wants you to rest on the weekend, what do you think will happen when you’re judged after you die? Do Smarty-pants go to heaven?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Random Congratulations

The Jewish calendar is based on the moon, as opposed to the standard calendars we use around the world. This means that the Jewish year only has 354 days a year, instead of 365, and the Jewish holidays “move” backwards in relation to the Gregorian calendar. Most of the country uses the Gregorian calendar anyway, but he orthodox community use the Hebrew calendar almost exclusively (some of them keep track of both, if they have a business need to work with civilian groups or companies). For example, my birthday moves around between Aug 26th and Sep 20th. It was on Sep 13th in 2003, and on Sep 2nd in 2004, and so every year it’s different. I have a good friend who is religious, and we were both born on the same day. I call him to congratulate him every September 13th, and he calls me to congratulate me on some random date every year…

Personally, I don’t care – I celebrate it on the Gregorian date of Sep 13th, which is when it was on my original birthday in 1973. Who DO care is pretty much the entire population of Israel…at least the secular population. The reason is that the Daylight Savings time is also affected by this, which means that on some years, they switch off DST as early as the beginning of September. Every few years, some organization or political party tries to change this so that the DST changes are set by the Gregorian calendar, but the religious politicians are always able to keep it the way it is.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How to be ashamed of one's self

Christians have Lent, Muslims have Ramadan, and Jews have Yom Kippur. The Jewish Day of Atonement, which occurs around September or October of every year, is one unique and funny day. In theory, you are supposed to fast for a day to atone for your sins, and ask for forgiveness from everyone you know for any wrong-doing that you may have done to them. Sounds reasonable? Just wait…
The weird part about Yom Kippur is that many people who are secular still fast during it. Some do it for coolness and others as a display of machoism (even women). Ironically, it seems many people don’t really get the idea…abstaining from eating for a long period of time is supposed to make you suffer, which is why you’re supposed to do it to atone for having committed sin. The result is that thousands of people stay at home, starving themselves while watching comedy marathons or surfing the web. Internet usage in Israel during Yom Kippur spikes by about 200%, and the video libraries clean out a few days before.