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(Today's daf is 73.)

Normally in the event of a divorce the husband must pay the wife her ketubah. The mishna teaches: these are divorced without making this payment: a wife who transgresses the law of Moses or Jewish practice. What are transgressions against the law of Moses? Feeding him untithed food, having relations during the time of month when this is forbidden, not setting aside the dough offering, and making vows and not fulfilling them. What are transgressions against Jewish practice? Going out with uncovered hair, revealing parts of herself that ought to remain covered in the street (the talmud's phrase is "spinning in the street"), or conversing (jesting) with other men (flirting, maybe?). Abba Saul adds: one who curses her husband's parents in his presence. (72a-b)

 
 
 
 
 
 
It used to be that if you put out a software product, and particularly as you produced new versions of it, people might complain about things that were hard or different (change bad!) or broke their workflow, and you'd decide whether to add some configuration parameters or redesign it again or just tell them to suck it up. There wasn't much they could do within the scope of your software if you didn't give them hooks. (They could, of course, take their business elsewhere if your breaking change was important.)

Then, if what you were developing was a web site, you had to cope with some variations ("IE did what to our site?"), but you still had a lot of control. Well, until browser add-ons became a thing, and people could block your ads and trackers and make you use HTTPS and your site had better still work if you didn't want people to surf away.

Now, quite aside from the multitude of browser add-ons that might be relevant, we have tools like Greasemonkey and Stylish that empower users to rewrite your site to their heart's content. For some of us this lets us turn unusable sites into usable ones ("you chose what font? and assumed I had a 1500px-wide browser? feh!"). But it goes beyond that; Greasemonkey, by allowing JavaScript injection, lets us add, remove, and redefine functionality. I have several Greasemonkey scripts for Stack Exchange that make those sites easier for me to use and moderate, scripts that let me add shortcuts and override assumptions the designers made that don't quite fit my circumstances. I like SE's designers and, mostly, the designs of the sites I use, but some things just don't work so well for me out of the box. I'm not picking on SE; I think this happens with lots of sites.

All of this got me wondering: how do you develop web UIs in that kind of world? Are there some best practices that designers use to say "ok, if you're going to hook into the site and change things, we'll make it easy for you to hook in here and here to try to guide and contain you"? Is there some way of doing defensive design, so that if people do add scripting they can reduce the chances that that'll break something important? Or do they mostly just not worry about this, figuring that the Greasemonkey heads know how to use the browser console and will reverse-engineer their pages and, anyway, if you're going to mess with our site it's ok to say you're on your own? (I don't actually know enough to write those Greasemonkey scripts myself; I use scripts that others have written. So I don't have a good perspective coming from the developer-user side here.)

I'm curious about how the expansion of user-driven variation, on top of the browser-driven variation we already had, is affecting the field.
 
 
 
 
 
 
My employer provides free drinks, including soft drinks, but because ours is a small office we have to do our own buying. When supplies get low somebody goes to the store, which requires carrying cases of pop a couple blocks. Particularly during the winter this sometimes broke down, so that got us to look at options.

It feels wrong that it is cost-effective to buy our drinks from Amazon. That really shouldn't work. It can be less expensive to buy locally if there's a sale, but otherwise it's a wash -- and an Amazon box comes to our door.

Huh, weird.
 
 
 
 
 
 
(Today's daf is 66.)

The mishna teaches: a wife's find -- that is, the benefit from a lost item that she finds (that can't be returned to its owner) -- and the proceeds from her handiwork belong to her husband. Her inheritance belongs to her but he has use of it during her lifetime. But any compensation for an indignity or blemish done to her belongs to her. The g'mara brings an opinion that Rabbi Akiva disagrees on the first part, saying that according to him her find belongs to her, but others disagree with that disagreement. (65b-66a)

 
 
 
 
 
 
The Stack Exchange network has many great Q&A sites, several of which I'm pretty heavily involved with. (I just passed 100k reputation network-wide.) My first and favorite site is Mi Yodeya, the site for Jewish questions and answers. The quality level is very high; I've learned a lot.

SE started with Stack Overflow, for expert programmers, and then added sites for other technical subjects -- programming, system administration, database administration, and the like. Over the years the scope has broadened to include all sorts of topics -- religions, languages, math, cooking, writing, and many more (over 130 of them at the moment). One of these sites is Biblical Hermeneutics (BH).

When BH first showed up I asked why this topic wasn't already covered by the site for Christianity, and I was assured that, in contrast to the religion sites (Mi Yodeya and Christianity, at the time), BH didn't have a doctrinal basis -- the goal was something more akin to the religious-studies department at a secular university. In other words, this was a site for bible geeks, not zealots. I'm a bible (well, torah) geek, so I jumped in.

It didn't work, despite the best efforts of some excellent users -- shining examples of how people should behave there, some of whom I count as friends. Over the three and a half years that it has existed BH has moved from respectful discourse to quite a bit of Christian evangelism and presumption. When nearly every question about the Hebrew bible is answered with the claim that it's talking about Jesus, no matter how inappropriate, it can get pretty frustrating.

BH is a Christian site. Its users refuse to bracket their bias, to write descriptively rather than prescriptively, and to rein in the preaching and truth claims. Opinions masquerade as answers, supported by those who share the opinions and don't stop to ask if an answer actually supported its claims. When that happens you don't have an academic site; you have a church bible-study group. Most people there seem to be fine with that; it's not likely to change.

The site actively recruited Jews. Originally they welcomed us, but the evangelists and those who support them have driven nearly all of us out now by creating a hostile environment. (Last I checked, there was one known Jew there.) It kind of feels like we've been invited to a medieval disputation, except that we, unlike our ancestors, can actually opt out.

In explaining why I no longer felt comfortable there, I wrote:

I don't have a problem with Christians. I have a problem with Christian axioms -- or any other religion's axioms -- being treated as givens on a site that claims to welcome all. I thought we could keep that in check, but now I wonder. [...]

I came to teach and learn in a classroom. But people brought in an altar, crucifix, and communion wafers, and the caretakers gave them directions.

That was in 2013. Not only did those words fall on deaf ears, but things got worse. I (belatedly) sought rabbinic advice, and it became clear that BH.SE is no place for Jews. I left the site, made (and later updated) this post on Mi Yodeya's discussion (meta) site, and ultimately deleted an account with over 10k reputation.

Other Jews from Mi Yodeya were smart enough to not get very involved there in the first place. But for the sake of other Jews who might come across that site (and this post) I leave this warning: participating there comes with hazards. Please consult your rabbi first.

I'll stay in touch with friends from there in other ways. I wish them the best of luck in trying to bring the site back on track, Herculean task though that may be. I hope it doesn't hurt them. But I'm done.

(I was not planning to make a public post in this journal about this, but some discussions with other SE folks after the deletion of my account persuaded me that I should make one post here.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
One of the dishes I made for my seder got compliments from everybody (and requests for how I did it), and it was incredibly easy. I wasn't expecting it to be one of the stars of the night. So, to share this discovery with others:

Vegetable-stuffed peppers

Dice a large sweet onion (next time I'll use more) and cube about a pound of butternut squash (~half-inch cubes), mix in enough olive oil to coat, spread in a pan, and roast at 400 for about half an hour (stirring a couple times in there). Meanwhile, cut four red peppers1 in half, removing the stems, seeds, and white vein-like stuff. Ideally you will have selected peppers that are square-ish in shape, such that when you set the halves in a pan they'll stay put rather than tipping over. Fill the peppers with the cooked onion-squash mixture, add a bit of water to the pan (I find this helps prevent the peppers from burning), and put back in the oven until done (maybe another 20 minutes, though definitions of "done" vary). The onions on top should be caramelized and everything should be tender.

That's it. I didn't even season it before cooking, and it turns out I didn't need to.

I cooked this the day before and it went onto a hot plate during the early part of the seder.

At other times of year I might add rice to the mixture, particularly of the multi-colored-mixture variety. There were going to be other starches, so I didn't add farfel.

1 Yellow or orange peppers would work taste-wise, but the colors are prettier with red ones (with the orange squash and the light-yellow onion). Green peppers are never an option in my kitchen, but I also think they'd be too bitter in this combination even for people who like them otherwise.

stuffed peppers
 
 
 
 
 
 
The mishna teaches that, just as a man owes maintenance to his wife, she owes certain work to him. The following are the kinds of work which a wife must do for her husband: grinding corn, baking bread, washing clothes, cooking, suckling her child, making ready his bed, and working in wool. But if she brings bondwomen into the household these tasks are reduced: with one bondwoman she doesn't have to grind corn, bake bread, or wash clothes; with a second she also need not cook or suckle her child; with a third she also need not make ready his bed or work in wool; with four she may lounge in an easy chair. But R. Eliezer said that even if she brings a hundred bondwomen he may still require her to work in wool, because idleness leads to unchastity. (59b)

The question arose this morning of whether he is required to support the bondwomen, or if that is somehow her responsibility. I don't yet know the answer to that.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Here are some more pictures of the visiting Stack Exchange unicorn. In this batch she picks up a little local memento, visits an SCA event, and finally (finally!) sees signs of spring in the 'burgh.

Read more...Collapse )

 
 
 
 
 
 
Today's daf teaches some laws about a husband's obligations that apply even if he did not write them in the ketubah for his wife: their sons inherit the amount of her ketubah in addition to their other inheritance; he must maintain their daughters in his house until they are married; and should he die first, his wife may stay in his house and be maintained out of his estate for as long as she remains a widow. (I take it that this means that, should she remarry, this arrangement ends -- which makes sense.) That is all in the mishna; in the g'mara we learn that he is required to provide a dowry for his daughters so that men will be anxious to woo them. How much? Up to a tenth of his wealth. (52b)

(I don't know what the "up to" depends on or if there's a minimum.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
These are some pictures from the Roaming Unicorn. Some silliness here, and more to come later in the week I suspect.

Stack Exchange Roaming UnicornCollapse )

Finally (for now), the Ladycorn joined me at choir practice, where our director, desperate to get us to pay more attention to our hypothetical audience, began conducting with her -- and I was laughing too hard to think about taking a picture. Oh well; some things will just have to be left to memory and imagination.

 
 
 
 
 
 
The Stack Exchange mascot, a plush unicorn, is currently making a world tour of moderators who wanted to participate. (I, um, kind of had something to do with hatching that plan.) She arrived yesterday, along with her memory book (looking forward to reading that) and assorted mementos from places she's been. I really need to figure out something that says "Pittsburgh" to add to the collection. At scale is best; she's about 8" tall, so, for example, a regular-sized Terrible Towel would be overkill.

Suggestions welcome! Must be something I can obtain in the next week or so, and must not be an imposition to ship.

She'll be going to the local SCA event next week, so I've already located a baronial token for her (one of the cast comets). But that's a little...specialized.

Yes I'll post some pictures later of her visits around town.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The torah (in D'varim 22) talks about the case of a man who marries a maiden, hates her, and goes the next morning to her father and says she was not a virgin, and the father objects. They bring out "the signs" (the bedding), and if his words are found to be not true, he is fined 100 pieces of silver for bringing an evil name upon her. Today's g'mara talks about this case, saying that he is always flogged as a penalty for tale-bearing (bringing an evil name upon her). However, the payment of the fine depends on them having actually had relations; if they did and he's lying then he is flogged and pays the fine, but if they didn't -- if his claim is based instead on witnesses -- then he doesn't pay the fine but he is still flogged. (45b)

We learned previously of a case where a fine isn't owed on top of a death penalty (the latter punishment suffices), but that doesn't seem to apply here -- execution precludes a fine but flogging doesn't, at least in some cases. I don't know these laws very well, sorry.

 
 
 
 
 
 
The ketubah (marriage document) is in large part a financial contract, and the tractate discussing ketubot naturally leads to other financial aspects of marriage -- and non-marriage. A mishna on today's daf teaches: if a man sleeps with a girl who was betrothed and then divorced (before the marriage was completed), there is a dispute about whether he pays a fine. If she were married that would be adultery; if she were never married he would have to marry her unless she objected; this case is in between. (The text does specifically say "girl", not "woman", though the role her age plays isn't elaborated here.)

R. Yose says he does not pay a fine, but R. Akiva says that not only does he pay a fine but it belongs to her, not to her father. Why is her divorced status important? Because if she were betrothed and not divorced there would be no fine for a different reason -- that's a death-penalty offense for him (adultery starts from betrothal not marriage), and a man who is liable for death by the court does not also pay fines. (38a) This last point is based on Exodus 21:22-23. (36b)

It appears that the purpose of a fine is punishment, not compensation, and the rule is that there is one punishment per transgression. In other cases (like theft, and I think property damage) there are compensatory payments, like paying back the value plus some extra, but this appears to be different. I don't understand this yet.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Today is Purim, so I'm interrupting the cycle to share something from Tractate Megillah.

At the beginning of the book of Esther we're told of the rather-excessive party that King Achashverosh threw for his court. We're told that the wine was abundant and drunk from gold vessels. What does abundant mean? That each man was given wine older than himself. The drinking was according to the law -- what does that mean? According to torah -- there was more food than drink. None did compel -- what does that mean? That each man was given wine from his own country. It's good to be the king (or at least a rich king), and perhaps even better to be one of his friends. Cheers! :-)

On the seventh day when the king's heart grew merry with wine -- wait, what? Was he not merry with wine before then? He's been drinking for seven days, after all! The seventh day was Shabbat; on Shabbat Israel begins with discourse about torah and proceeds to give thanks, but the idolatrous nations of the world begin with frivolity and proceed with lewdness. This is how it came to be that they were discussing which nation's women are the most beautiful -- one would say the Medians, and another would say the Persians, and another the Chaldeans, and it was getting right rowdy. The king said that Vashti was the hottest babe and said "would you like to see her?" and they said "yes, but she has to be naked!", and so he summoned her but she refused. And because of that we get the rest of the book of Esther. (Megillah 12a-b)

I took some liberties in the retelling -- it's Purim, after all. Happy Purim! Be sure to check out this small collection of Purim-related Q&A, serious and silly.

(Today's daf is Ketubot 31.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
Yesterday we got word that one of my fellow Stack Exchange moderators (not on a site I moderate, but a different one) had died. I didn't know him well, but we had talked in our moderator-only chat room intermittently, we'd read each others' posts, and I felt like I'd gotten to know him some. It seems like that was mutual. The last conversation we had started with him telling me he respects me "a heck of a lot" (that's mutual) and ended with plans for him to come to Mi Yodeya with a question he was forming. And now he's gone. We found out because somebody -- we don't know who -- updated his profile, and investigation showed it not to be a cruel prank.

I've been on the net a long time, and I still manage to be surprised by how much I grieve people who I may have only known as names and gravatars. But they are still people, people who shared their thoughts and knowledge and aspirations, people I got to know, and online communities -- the ones that are really communities, not drive-bys and transient places to post comments and stuff like that -- cause us to form connections that are every bit as real as those we form with the people we see, speak with, hug. It blows my mind.

And as we grow more and more connected, and frankly as I get older and have online friendships that stretch from years to decades, I know there's going to be more and more of this. Affable Geek wasn't the first in my digital life by far, he won't be the last, and we knew each other only casually, and yet his passing still touches me deeply. I still expect to see his digital face pop up on the network, but it won't any more.
 
 
 
 
 
 
(Today's daf is 24.)

The last several pages have been talking about testimony and who is believed under what circumstances. Today's daf presents two cases. First, if two women were taken captive and later each one says "I am (ritually) pure", they are not believed. However, if one says of the other "she is pure", she is believed in the absence of other witnesses. But if one says "I am impure" she is believed. Claims about one's own purity are rejected; claims about one's impurity are accepted; claims of another's purity are accepted; and claims of another's impurity are rejected. In other words, you can say something beneficial about another or limiting about yourself and be believed, but not the reverse.

Lest we think this is just about women, the next mishna concerns two men who claim to be kohanim (priests) but have no other witnesses. Again, a man saying "I am a kohein" is not believed, but one saying that another is a kohein is believed. The g'mara then enters into a discussion about different levels of priesthood -- maybe we believe one's claim for the purposes of some functions but not for others. That is beyond the scope of this daf bit. (23b)

 
 
 
 
 
 
The month of Adar began a few days ago, which means that silliest of holidays, Purim, is coming up soon. And that means that Purim Torah -- discourse of a, shall we say, not entirely serious nature -- is in season on Mi Yodeya. Here are some of my favorites from this season so far -- recommended, and most of the ones I've selected should be broadly accessible. (Feel free to leave comments here if you need help interpreting anything.)

Why don't Jews accept Our Lord and Savior? The question (which skirts the "can Purim Torah be too heretical?" line really closely) lays out some textual "proofs". I had fun answering this.

What does Judaism think of math? Quite a variety of answers here.

What is the text of kiddush for Purim night? I've heard a couple really silly and (within my limits of comprehension) hilarious texts for Purim kiddush, the prayer of sanctifying a special day. The one (so far) posted here looks like it's pretty funny, but I can only comprehend part of it. (If anybody reading this is inclined to provide a translation, please consider adding it there. If you're not comfortable with that, though, please feel free to post here...)

Why didn't Esther follow Mordechai's instructions? This answer is fun, and check out the link in the answerer's first comment.

Is the torah in the public domain? Wikipedia says that only works published before 1923 are automatically public domain. The torah was written in 2448, so that's safe...
 
 
 
 
 
 
We sometimes hear about mandatory evacuations because of storms (hurricanes, winter storms, etc). Hearing about one a couple of years ago that was announced on a Saturday morning prompted me to ask this question about evacuations on Shabbat. Now the question of timing has come up.

I've been fortunate to never have to evacuate my home or city. (Buildings yes, but that's different.) I have this impression, perhaps informed by Hollywood rather than reality, that announcements get broadcast far and wide and then police or National Guard or whoever start going through the area making sure people clear out, and you maybe have an hour or two to get underway at best. But then I thought about the logistics of that, and I'm wondering if you really have several hours, maybe the better part of a day, to do your prep and get out.

I'm not talking about cases where the problem is immediate (there's just been an earthquake, the missile will strike in half an hour, etc), but about other cases where the threat is dire enough that there is an evacuation but it might not be "drop everything and go right now" -- the storm is making landfall tonight, cases where you have (or think you have) time to get everybody home from work/school so you can leave together, pack your car, contact people outside the affected area to arrange for shelter, etc. I realize it's a good idea to get out as soon as you can, if nothing else because of traffic, but we know people don't always do that (and can't always, if not everybody is together to start with).

So for those of you who've been through these kinds of evacuations, or who know more about it than I do, what's the timeline usually like? How long do people take to clear out?
 
 
 
 
 
 
We learn from the mishna: a maiden's ketubah -- that is, the amount she is due should the marriage end -- is 200 zuz, while a widow's is a maneh (100 zuz). What of a maiden who is a widow (that is, one who was betrothed but he died before their wedding day), or who is divorced, or who was released from a levirate marriage? Her ketubah is also 200 zuz, and he can bring a charge of non-virginity. (10b)

We learned from the first mishna of this tractate, which I wrote about last week, that a man who finds that his wife wasn't actually a virgin after all (but said she was) can go to the court the next morning. This is because of the difference in the financial obligation for these two cases.

Related:

 
 
 
 
 
 
Last night Dani and I went out for dinner, as we always do after Shabbat, and chose a restaurant in Monroeville (part of the mall complex but not in the main building). We had a nice dinner and, upon leaving, found the front door locked and other people standing around. The employee at the door told us that we were on lockdown because there was a shooter in the mall. Somebody asked if we were permitted to leave and she said "I can't stop you". After conferring briefly we decided to leave, as did some of the others there. (Our car was nearby and not in the direction of the mall.) By the time I went to sleep last night they hadn't yet found the guy, so I'd say that was a reasonable call.

But that's not the main point of this post. Several news articles (here's one) report that they identified the suspect by matching store surveillance video with pictures on social media. This future contender for the Darwin award had actually posted a picture of himself on Instagram four hours earlier, wearing the same distinctive clothing he wore in the mall later, but most such searches would presumably be harder.

Image search (by keyword) is not new, of course, and more recently Google offers reverse image search (upload an image and find ones like it). I don't know how well the latter works (haven't tested it). Searching "social media" for pictures matching surveillance footage is a large task unless Google has already indexed it for you. Either way, I wonder if they are also using geo-coding information when that's embedded in photos or posts to narrow the search. (Or law-enforcement organizations might have a big, private database that includes web scrapes and lots more; they wouldn't be the first government agency to do that.)

So this all got me wondering: are local police using Google to find suspects? What kind of success rate do they get doing that?
 
 
 
 
 
 
We now move on to a new tractate, Ketubot. A ketubah is the marriage contract that a man gives his wife, guaranteeing her certain rights (particularly in the event that the marriage ends, but also his marital obligations to her).

The first mishna of this tractate teaches: a maiden is married on the fourth day of the week and a widow on the fifth, because the courts of justice sit twice a week in the towns, on the second and fifth days, so a man who finds that his bride is not a maiden after all can go early on the morning of the fifth day to court (to seek an adjustment of the ketubah). In the g'mara R. Shmuel b. Yitzchak says: this timing was true only from the time of Ezra; before that the courts sat every day so a woman could be married on any day. And further, he says, if there are courts today that sit like they did before Ezra, then for the same reason weddings may occur on other days. (2a mishna, 3a g'mara)

Lest you wonder why the first day isn't given as another option for maidens (because the courts sit on the second day), the g'mara says that he should be preparing for three days before the wedding and the implication is we don't want that to include Shabbat. So, fourth day fine, first day (Sunday) not so fine. Today, however, Sunday is a common day for weddings. I don't know the schedule of my local beit din (court).

 
 
 
 
 
 
The mishna discusses a case of unproven death: if a man and a woman move across the sea and there is peace between them (they're a happy couple) and there is peace in the land, and she returns home and reports that her husband is dead, she is believed and she may remarry. If either of those conditions isn't true she isn't believed. (This is from 114b and I supply it for context.)

Now what happens if there are witnesses (besides the wife) and they disagree? If one witness said he is dead and on that basis she was allowed to remarry, and then another witness comes and says he is alive, she is not required to divorce. But if one said he is dead and two say he is alive, then even though she remarried legally, she must divorce. And if two said he is dead and one said he is alive, she needn't divorce and may remarry if she hasn't yet. (117a-b)

(In case you're wondering what peace in the land has to do with anything: the g'mara points out that in time of war people may come to incorrect conclusions if people don't return.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
I asked a question over on the Community Building site on Stack Exchange and I suspect some of my readers might be interested or even have relevant knowledge: Detecting and preventing hostility to women? Excerpt:
I recently had a conversation with one of the users who stood by during [personal attacks directed at me], in which he said approximately: "Well what did you expect? That's how guys work -- if a woman pushes back against a guy all the other guys are going to rally to his side".

It's true that I was one of the only identifiable women -- perhaps the only identifiable woman (don't remember now) -- on the site at the time. In the 21st century and in an online community not prone to attract teenagers (the average age was probably over 30), it never occurred to me that this could be an issue. Some of the ad-hominem attacks I received take on whole new meanings in light of this.

How much does this still happen? (Any recent research?) And if I'm in a community where I don't think this is happening to people (but who knows, maybe I'm just blind), how do we keep it from happening?

Most of my online communities are well-behaved, polite, and AFAIK gender-, race-, and religion-blind. But not all communities are, obviously.
 
 
 
 
 
 
(Today's daf is 110.)

The g'mara is discussing learning torah and observing it. R. Papa says: torah says "that you may learn them (mitzvot) and observe them", so he who is engaged in observance is also regarded as engaged in study (he had to learn them), but he who is not engaged in observance is not regarded as engaged in study. (Yes there is a logical fallacy there. No it is not addressed here.)

Another teaching: Who rivets himself to the word of the halacha brings evil upon himself -- this refers to a judge who, when a lawsuit is brought before him and he knows the halacha of a related (but not identical) case, even though he has a teacher, does not go to that teacher to inquire but simply judges the case based on the other halacha. Such a judge brings evil upon himself according to R. Shmuel b. Nachmani in the name of R. Yonatan, who said a judge should always regard himself as if he had a sword lying between his thighs and Gehenna was open beneath him. (109b)

The logical fallacy in that first one could be resolved thus: if one has truly studied torah, he will come to an inevitable conclusion and come to follow it. I don't know if that was considered obvious enough to R. Papa that it need not be stated.

 
 
 
 
 
 
One day last week on my way out of the office, I encountered a pair of college-age women who looked a little lost. One politely asked if they could ask me something, so I said sure. (Cue ominous music.)

Her question: did I know where in the bible it says that God is female?

I said that no, it doesn't say that, or at least not the Hebrew Bible -- what any other books might claim is neither known nor interesting to me -- and that God doesn't have gender; grammar does. She then took a weird turn, talking about how the word "Elohim" (one of the words for God) is plural. I never did learn, during the conversation, where she was going with that. I told her that while the word has the appearance of being plural it is usually singular; for example, I said, in the very first verse of Genesis, we see that noun paired with a singular verb (and that continues through the rest of the creation narrative). I taught her as much Hebrew grammar as I could explain while standing on one foot.

She then said something like "but Genesis says 'male and female he created them, in his image, in his likeness' -- so God must be female too". I happen to know the Rashi on that and responded that God, master of the universe, is surely not limited by physical form, so "in his image" and "in his likeness" must mean something else, and gave Rashi's answer.

Soon after the conversation started to go in circles. She pulled out her phone to show me the verse in English (might have been King James; not sure); I pulled out my phone and said "let's look at that in the Hebrew, shall we?". The other person spoke for the first time around this point, saying something like "oh, are you Jewish? We have great respect for the Jews", which is usually a Christian lead-in for "but they've missed an important message", so I said that yes I am, sorry but I do have to get home, and good luck in their quest for knowledge and do check out the Rashi I mentioned.

I suspect that the one was tutoring the other in missionary work. It looks like they both need some more practice. Meanwhile, while I did a decent job in the counter-missionary role, I clearly didn't convince them that they were mistaken in the five minutes or so that I was willing to give this.

That was Wednesday, I think. Then tonight I came across this question on Mi Yodeya, which asks about the word "Elohim" being female, and that question links to a Christian video making an argument that uses these elements (arguing that there must be two gods, and the male one made Adam and the female one made Chava, err, Eve), so I see the connection they were failing to make now. It's still utter nonsense, but at least now I know the nature of the utter nonsense.

A comment on the Mi Yodeya post says the group behind this idea is actually a doomsday cult, but I'm not curious enough to actually research that.

I work in a usually-staid office building -- not a place I expect this kind of encounter.