Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Racism and Intolerance Going Mainstream

It is time for Abe Foxman to retire! Or to go to work for the newly appointed Israeli Deputy Prime Minister (and demogogic racist) Avigdor Leiberman.

In a statment that is both untrue and can only harm Jewish interests, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director commented last Friday at the group’s National Commission meeting in Atlanta that, "There are no moderate Muslims with whom to dialogue"

In response Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum, and an ADL lay leader said: “There’s always someone to dialogue with,”

Foxman responded that since Muslim groups refuse to issue a blanket statement rejecting terrorism regardless of the cause, “I don’t know what there is to dialogue about.”

In response, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the group repeatedly had condemned terrorism.

Of course, Avigdor Leiberman's appointment as Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs, is even more worrying than Foxman's latest stupid statement. Together though, they seem to show that racism, intolerance, self fulfilling paranoia, and demagoguery are going mainstream in the Jewish world. In the past, some Israelis and some Jews no doubt would have wished to strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship, but mostly they would have been embarrassed to say so publicly. And certainly no influential Israeli government leader would have said so. Now we have a Deputy Prime Minister who openly espouses this, as a primary plank in his party platform.

For more on Leiberman joining the Israeli cabinet see here, here, here, here, here and here.

And what of daily life for Palestinians living in the occupied territories? Labour's Defence Minister Amir Peretz promised to turn over a new leaf in the territories: to ensure that the rule of law was enforced, and to treat the Palestinian residence with a modicum of fairness and decency. Don't hold your breath! The lawlessness continues. Harassment by the army and the settlers continues. Illegal expansion of settlements continues. Read all about it! And all the while any overtures from the Arab world, whether by Syria, by Hamas, by Abbas, or by the Saudis, is discredited, or more likeley - just ignored

Since there are no Muslims (and certainly no Palestinians) to talk to, and since we can just get rid of all the Arabs anyway, why do any different?

High Stakes for Israeli Pot Smokers

This just in from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)

"Marijuana prices in Israel reportedly have skyrocketed since the Lebanon war.

Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that the cost of cannabis in Israel has increased as much as eightfold, largely because of boosted security at the Lebanese frontier that has discouraged drug smugglers.

Another favored conduit for traffickers, the Sinai desert, has seen strengthened Israeli border patrols aimed at preventing arms from reaching Palestinian terrorists.

“They don’t realize that all their wars are hurting the only thing that can bring a little quiet to the region,” an unnamed Israeli pot dealer complained to Yediot."

"Eco Kashrut" Gains Momentum

Eco-kashrut, which includes notions of sustainable agriculture, fair labor practices and ethical treatment of animals in its definition of what is kosher, or fit to eat, has been a staple of Jewish Renewal since Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi began promoting the term decades ago.

As environmentalism itself entered the American mainstream, eco-kashrut has slowly gained currency in more mainstream Jewish circles.

Now a handful of Jewish groups are poised to take eco-kashrut to the next step, creating a symbiotic food-production chain whereby synagogues and other Jewish institutions buy their food from local organic farms.

Hazon, a New York-based nonprofit, pioneered the idea two summers ago with its Tuv Ha’aretz program. This growing season, five synagogues and Jewish community centers in New York, New Jersey, Washington and Texas contracted with local farmers for all or a significant part of their harvest, giving the farmers financial support while encouraging their own members to eat locally grown, organic produce. Five more cities will be added to the program next year.

“We want to reframe the question of kashrut, not to abandon it, but to ask what it means to keep kosher in the 21st century,” project coordinator Leah Koenig says. “Is it kosher to eat food sprayed with chemicals? Is it kosher to eat eggs from chickens kept in tiny, cramped cages?”

There has been “a groundswell of energy” these past two years in the field of eco-kashrut, Manela says.

“People realize it’s a way of supporting Israel and ourselves, to not be energy-dependent. The halachah is right there: Don’t reap the corners of your field, share your harvest. In Judaism you create social justice by the way you take care of the earth. This is kashrut in a big way.”

Not everyone is buying in, however.

“The Orthodox Union has had this discussion, in terms of animal welfare and healthful foods,” but ultimately decided that its mandate is simply to provide certification of what’s kosher according to halachah, not decide what’s “healthy” or “ethical” food, says Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the organization’s kashrut division.

For the complete story click here.


Long forgotten, self depreciating - some would say self hating - Jewish humour and song from the vaudeville era is now availabe on a new CD "Jewface".

Playing on Jewish stereo-types, this music by Jews for Jews includes such items as a 1916 Irving Berlin number, “Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars,” - concerning a businessman on his deathbed who cannot stop fretting over his unrepaid i.o.u.’s. -, “When Mose With His Nose Leads the Band,” from 1906, and “Under the Matzos Tree,” a 1907 song with lyrics like “Listen to your Abie, baby, Abie, come out in the moonlight with me.”

Long suppressed as tasteless and an embarrasement by Jews as they left the immigrant ghettos, even after a century, the music carries the potential to shock. “My Yiddisha Mammy,” a 1922 riff on Al Jolson’s “Mammy,” written by Eddie Cantor and others, may offend contemporary Jews and African-Americans equally with lyrics like these:

I’ve got a mammy,
But she don’t come from Alabammy.
Her heart is filled with love and real sentiment,
Her cabin door is in a Bronx tenement.

For a complete review see this article in the New York Times.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Life of the Mind

"The real reason not to do evil is that it makes it impossible to live with oneself"
-Hannah Arendt

Everyone is talking and writing about Hanna Arendt. October 2006 is the centenary of her birth. Ardent was one of the seminal political thinkers of post war World War II period, and her influence went well beyond the realm of American academia, where she spent the last three decades of her life.

Arendt was quintessentially the enlightened liberal humanist Jewish intellectual refugee from Nazi Germany. The central concerns in Arendt's thought, if I may be so bold as to summarize, were:
  • an astute sense of just how evil modern societies can actually become;
  • an - at the time - groundbreaking insight into the nature of modern totalitarian societies (based on mind control, total loyalty, homogenization of identities and ideas, a disdain for critical thinking, and intolerance for otherness.)
  • a faith in the power of human thinking, when properly applied, to lead people to strive for good. (Or perhaps - and this difference is significant - the power of lack of critical thinking to lead people to do evil.)
  • a belief that politics – as the engaged, enlightened, and empowered discussion of people concerning their common projects – is the highest form of human endeavour.
  • a love of, and faith in, human reason, of trying to understand everything – "The Life of The Mind", also the title of her last book.
"Arendt's work deals with the nature of power and the subjects of politics, authority, and totalitaianism. Much of her work focuses on affirming a conception of freedom which is synonymous with collective political action among equals.

Arendt theorizes freedom as public and associative, drawing on examples from the Greek polis, American townships, the Paris Commune, and the civil rights movements of the 1960's (among others) to illustrate this conception of freedom."(1)

Arendt is not easy to pigeon hole on any simple spectrum. She, who Norman Podhoretz claimed "had perhaps done more than any single writer to establish the moral equivalence between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, thereby supplying the theoretical basis … for hard anti-Communism …", also openly criticized McCarthyism (correctly pointing out that ex-leftists, like Podhoretz himself, were most likely to become "totalitarian like" in their anti-Communism) and later became active in the anti Vietnam War movement. Likewise, Arendt, who described so well the evil nature of Nazism and Stalinism, is considered by many of her detractors to be the mother of "moral relativism". So it should be no surprise that what she stood for, and what significance her ideas have for our times, are the subjects of debate in the numerous recent articles coming out about her.

Some (like her biographer Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, in her recent book "Why Arendt Matters" ) think Arendt's theories about totalitarianism apply to disturbing trends in America today. Others think this is nonsense, and that Arendt's theories of totalitarianism best apply to "Islamo-fascists", while America was, and mostly remains, an example of Arendt's ideal state.

Amos Oz attacks Arendt for her moral relativism – "for refusing to recognize that real evil exists" (a false charge, in my opinion, based on a misunderstanding of her "banality of evil" argument;) while the neo-conservative New York Sun claims Arendt's ideas while valid 50 years ago are no longer relevant today.

The English language Ha'aretz praises her ideas and claims her as a Zionist (Arendt did work for Youth Aliya in the 1940s, was publicly and proudly Jewish and maintained a strong though extremely critical attachment to Israel her entire adult life;) while the Hebrew language Ha'aretz praises her revolutionary spirit and emphasizes her opposition to an exclusively "Jewish State". (She believed in a Jewish homeland as part of a bi-national state.)

For me, these words of hers, written in a 1948 (as quoted in the Hebrew language Ha'artez and translated back to English by myself,) are sadly prophetic.

"Even if the Jews win the war, in the end we will find the unique possibilities and extraordinary achievements of Zionism in the land of Israel wounded beyond healing …. The 'victorious' Jews will be surrounded by a hostile Arab population, secluded within ever-threatened borders, submerged in physical self defence to a degree that will cast a pall on all other activities and interests. The development of Jewish culture will cease to be the concern of the nation; all social experiments will be jettisoned as they will be considered "impractical"; political thought will be reduced to military strategy."

Likewise her insights regarding the "banality of evil" - how "thoughtlessness" can lead to the greatest of crimes - stands the test of time.

For two short fairly straightforward biographies of Arendt click here and (1)here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mea Culpa

In a previous post to this blog I cited Alan Dershowitz's attack on Human Rights Watch, and used that as one example of anti-Semtism and exaggerated anti-Israel reaction in light of this summer's Lebanon war. I should have known better than to rely on Dershowitz as a reliable source. (There are enough other example of this phenomenon without using tainted ones.)

It now turns out that Human Rights Watch did not in fact say many of the things ascribed to it, and did say things that Desrhowitz accused it of not saying (e.g. criticizing both Hezbollah and Israel of war crimes and human right violations.)

It seems in retrospect that Human Rights Watch was the victim of a smear campaign, the kind that is often direct at anyone or any organization that criticizes Israel's policies too blatantly.

See this article in the NY Review of Books for more details.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Shabbat Coffee: A Real Treat

This article, and the responses to it, are just DELICIOUS!

A real Shabbat Treat, for those - like me - who love Jewish diversity and creativity, and find it all to often subsumed by tired old stereotypes, and the overbearing weight of "TRADITION" , mindless conformism or frozen "law"

As one who usually picks up a Starbuck's coffee on my way to Shabbat morning Torah study, I empathise with the author.

Onward - tutti fruitty chocolate chip eclectic apicorsim !

Click here and enjoy.

A Ray of Hope

Finally a bit of good news on the otherwise bleak landscape of Arab Jewish relations.

"(Toronto) special to the CJN - Yalla, a journal of creative expression that promotes dialogue and communication among Jewish and Arab youths, is being launched next week in Toronto and Montreal.

The contributors and editors are mainly Jews and Arabs aged 18 to 30. Yalla was launched in 2004 as a publication that was Canadian in scope. The new edition features voices from the United States, England, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

Yalla's editors are homegrown, with connections to McGill University and the University of Toronto. They include senior Jewish editor Rachel Davidson, senior Arab editor Dina Awad, Jewish editors Lisa Anthony and Ran Goel, and Arab editors Rasha Srouji and Adam Allouba. Meena Rafie, an Afghan Muslim, is the producer.

'The editorial board'’s mandate is to let the authors speak for themselves. We want to take the reader on a journey with the youth who are tied to the Holy Land, so that they can understand how their lives are affected by this conflict,' says Allouba.

The launch will feature readings and performances, which Davidson considers ' the “physical incarnations of our hopes and dreams for Yalla, instead of people on either side of the picket fences screaming at each other.' "

See the full story in the Canadian Jewish News

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ignatieff's Flip Flop

The big question in Canadian politics this past week has been, “What does Michael Ignatieff really believe?”

Last summer, the leading candidate for leadership of the federal Liberal Party of Canada shocked many when he said the death of 29 Lebanese civilians at Qana, due to an Israeli air strike was no big deal; that he “wasn’t losing any sleep over it” – or, for that matter, any of the other “collateral damage” in Lebanon. Then, this past week, in a French language interview, when pressed on this issue, he reversed himself, saying that in fact this very incident at Qana was a war crime. And as a profesor of internation human rights law he was certain of this. He apologized for making insensitive remarks last summer.

The official Canadian Jewish community is apoplectic. The Jewish chair of Mr Ignatieff’s campaign in Ontario resigned. The Israeli born wife of Canada’s former Justice Minister under the Liberals, announced she was quitting the Liberal Party. The Conservative Prime Minister, Mr Harper, accuse all Liberal’s of being anti Israel, and thanked Mr Ignatieff for exposing their true colours. Mr Rae, another leading candidate for the Liberal leadership, whose wife and children are Jewish, called Mr Harper a liar, and said he is and has always been pro Israel. On Saturday Mr Ignatieff announced that he had been misunderstood, and that he was making a trip to Israel in November, to meet with old friends and show support. (Rumour has it he will walk all the way from Ben Gurion Airport to the Yad VaShem Holocaust memorial on his knees.)

But the question most Canadian columnists have been asking is what does Mr Ignatieff really believe about Israel’s actions in the Lebanon war. And how could he reverse himself so totally so quickly. Is he inconsistent? Opportunistic? Not careful with his words?

The truth is that he is remarkably consistent – just a bit too honest. Given Ignatieff’s loud and public support for the war in Iraq, his stated position in favour of legalizing torture (“regulating” it, as he would have it), and his passionate support of extending and expanding Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, his true position should be clear. Ignatieff believes that Israel’s actions in Lebanon were war crimes, and he isn’t loosing any sleep over it. In other words, war crimes are just the price other people have to pay for securing “our freedoms.”

Looking for an “Existential Threat” in All the Wrong Places.

I am a member of a Reconstructionist Synagogue, and I recently receive the latest issue of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation's magazine “Reconstructionist Today”. In it was a long article by Dr. Carl Sheingold in which he argues that Diaspora Jews should care about Israel – be in community with Israeli Jews, to use his phraseology. This in itself is not controversial. But what was, in my opinion, is his “proof”. It is based on how bad Diaspora Jews would feel if Israel disappeared. This was driven home, according to Dr. Sheingold, by this past summer’s "existential threat" to Israel’s survival.

Israel was never under existential threat this past summer. The number of Israeli civilians killed over the six weeks of fighting was equal to about one months worth of Israeli traffic accidents and less then the number of Palestinian’s killed by Israel military action in Gaza in a similar 6 week period. The number of Israeli soldiers killed in the 6 weeks of war was less than a single battle – the Chinese Farm – in the 1973 war against Egypt. The economic damage done to Israel was about 1/10th that done to Lebanon.

There are only two things that, in the foreseeable future, pose a existential threat to Israel: an Iranian nuclear attack, and internal rot within the Israeli society and politics that causes living conditions and morale to sink enough to cause emigration a economic stagnation. Neither of these imminent. Neither is inevitable. Each can be avoided, by taking strategic action now.

But the rational long term planning, collective self criticism, strategic thinking, and return to morality, required to mitigate these threats are impossible as long as the hysteria of an “Existential Threat” is thrown up – all the time – as the primary reason to “support” Israel.

My own understanding of why Dr Sheingold’s arguments, despite the facts, will resonate with so many Jews, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, is two fold.

First, we are all still deeply traumatized by the Holocaust. We just can’t get over it.

But just as a violent rape victim’s fear of the outside world, a fear that can be debilitating to a normal life, may be understandable - it is not, in the end, a useful or correct assessment of the world as it is. Rape happens. That’s a fact. But not all the time, and it is not inevitable. Many rape victim’s – and holocaust survivors – have dysfunctional traumas. Those of us less traumatized by world's potential for cruelty need to help them get over it, not re-enforce their fears and prejudices.

Second, Israel as it is, has become something much less than a light unto the nations. When Israeli’s where recently asked what made then proudest about their country, they pointed to their achievements in high tech. Is this what Jews dreamed about for 2000 years? To invent a better cell phone? Israel today has the second most unequal economy in the developed world. It’s public health system is in ruins. It’s public schools in decline. It’s humanities and social science faculties second rate. It’s treatment of its non-Jewish citizens blatantly discriminatory. It’s policies in the occupied territories cruel and oppressive. It leaderships corrupt. And it’s social fabric fragmented. What else then remains to rally its own citizen’s, and Jews around the world, to its cause, but an ever present “Existential Threat”?

Partly, this is a card cynically played by Jewish and Israeli leaders, but more significantly it has been internalized by many Jews – in Israel and outside. We want to support Israel. We have invested so much already. It hasn’t been easy. We don’t want to admit how far from our hopes things have strayed. We need a reason to stick with “supporting Israel” – even when such mindless support only harms the vision and values we desire. With all the carrots seemingly unnattianable, what better stick to urge ourselves blindly forward with, then the always present, always imminent “existential threat.”

The Danger Lurking at the Edge of Israeli Politics

Avigdor Leiberman is a scary guy. As head of Israel’s opposition "Yisrael Betaynu" party he advocates: getting rid of as many of Israel's Arab citizens as possible - by annexing most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and "in return" giving Arab villages in Israel to the Palestinian Authority (whether the residence of these villages wanted this or not); applying the death penalty to any Israeli - including members of the Knesset - who talk to Hamas officials; by expelling Israeli Arabs who are not sufficiently "loyal" to the state; increasing Israel's military raids into Gaza; and by instituting a strong presidential system in Israel, an executive independent of the Knesset, similar to Putin's regime in Russia.

Leiberman's party is based in the Russian immigrant population in Israel, but its extreme nationalist positions have been growing in popularity. A recent poll shows them as the second most popular party in Israel today, and only 2% behind the more popular Likud party. The Knesset is about to begin debate on Leiberman's proposal fro a presidential system, and he is in negotiations with Prime Minister Olmert about entering the existing coaltion government.

The only thing more scary than Leiberman's ascendance is the thesis extended in the article below, by Gideon Levy:

"Peace-seekers should support the move to bring Avigdor Lieberman into the government. It is impossible to understand the opposition of several Labor party ministers to having Yisrael Beitenu join the government after all, just what precisely are they afraid will happen? That Israel will embark on an unnecessary war? That the settlement enterprise will be reinforced? That the government will reject Syria's peace proposal? That racism toward Arab citizens of Israel will increase, or that the occupation army will be cruel to the Palestinians?

Indeed, the government in its current constellation is already providing all of this, abundantly, and Lieberman's participation would only remove its camouflage...."

I don't want to believe it, but I'm not sure Levy is entirely wrong. To see the rest of this article, click here.

Does Israel Want Peace?

Many would be outraged by even asking the question, “Does Israel want peace?” And, of course, the answer to the question – when taken out of any context – is “Yes, it does want peace.”

But, I fear, most Israeli’s desire only a fantasy peace – a peace for the Messianic era, or the peace of Heaven. They are either, not willing give up land for peace, and/or they believe that peace is not now, nor will it ever be, possible. In either case, peace is a childish fantasy, to be pursued by fools or traitors.

And as if to prove this point, Israel is now refusing to engage in peace talks with Syria.

The Syrian government has been strongly signalling that it is willing to sign a complete and final peace deal with Israel in return for all of the Golan Heights captured by Israel in 1967. Israel is refusing to enter into these talks.

For years Israel pushed for unconditional peace talks with Syria, and Syria refused. Now Syria is offering just that, and Israel is refusing. Optimists argued that a possible positive outcome of the Lebanese war might be to open up a channel for peace with Syria, thus cutting off Syria’s aid to Hezbolah, and removing a strategic ally from the Iranian sphere of influence. Now that this opportunity has come to pass, Israel is balking.

Friends of mine, who claim to know, say that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was inclined to enter into such talks, but was afraid the Israeli public wouldn’t stand for it. This only makes things worse, showing both what weak leadership Israel has, and that we can’t blame this confusion of values (and strategic mistake), only on recalcitrant leaders.

Apparently the Golan wineries are now more important to us, than peace. I hope we learn our lesson when next the Syrians do cause harm to Israel, either by a direct attack, or more likely by continued support for virulently anti-Israel elements in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories.

For a fuller analysis of this issue see "The Golan in the role of Sharm"
by former Mossad chief and Labor Knesset member - Danny Yatom and Dr. Moshe Amirav head of Public Policy Studies at Beit Berl College, and a Kadima Knesset member.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

O Jerusalem!


Jerusalem is a city of deep symbolism, and deep conflicts. It is full of passion, sadness, nuttiness and dysfunction. It encapsulates everything that is wrong, and most of what is fascinating about Israel and Palestine. A city with much too much history.

The compendium of articles below, taken together – in all their contradictions and ironies – give a flavour of the issues beguiling and bedevelling Jerusalem - and all of Israel.

Many of these links where sent to me by Mark Berch, whose devotion to dissemination of eclectic Jewish information is truly commendable. Thank you, Mark.

• • •

Yehuda Avners’s ode to Jerusalem is sentimental chauvinistic claptrap in my opinion, but it probably represents the unconsidered viewpoint of most Jews, both in Israel and without. A vision that stares right past the earthly Jerusalem that is in front of the eyes, and sees only the imagined heavenly Jerusalem. This article definitely represents part of the problem, not the solution.

Another beguiling fantasy: Reviving Pilgrimages; Hiking to Jerusalem for the Sukkoth. "Yoav has a vision of thousands of people marching to Jerusalem and people everywhere greeting us joyfully, …Perhaps one day visitors from throughout the world will be able to join in a renewal of the ancient pilgrimage to the City of Peace.”

Missing the point of Sukkoth entirely. Jerusalem municipality redoubles its efforts to deny Palestinians permanent housing.

Hareidim too face housing shortages. But rather than being stymied by the authorities they are allowed to build or to expand into secular neighbourhoods as they wish. Haredi activists have begun to organize for group purchase of entire apartments in secular neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Besides housing for Haredim, another segment of Jerusalem's housing stock that is growing rapidly, is that of second homes for wealthy Diaspora Jews. Increasingly apartments in some of Jerusalem’s most affluent neighborhoods are vacant for much or most of the year, and that has triggered fierce discontent among some local residents and officials --- and has triggered crime.

Diaspora Jews are collecting into small groups to negotiate land and housing deals in Jerusalem. Most at astronomical prices.

And here is a look at the efforts of Jews of the French Hill section of Jerusalem to keep Arabs out of their neighbourhood. "There are some who say that this is pure racism, but as a Jew I am happy to be racist. If I won't be one, it's unclear what my children's future will be...."

The densely-populated Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem has been the site of major property ownership disputes since Israel took over in 1967, and courts have increasing difficulties sorting out competing claims, with the result that in July 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it is impossible to decide who in fact owns the disputed housing.

Some statistics on the net outflow of Jews from Jerusalem over the years. Last year’s net outflow was about 6000. By 2020, the Jewish population is expected to fall from 66% to 60%

Professor Ruth Lapidoth, awarded the Israel Prize for Law, has represented Israel at some of its most critical international moments, has taught at prestigious universities all over the world, has authored nine books, edited numerous others, and published more than 90 academic and scholarly articles. For over a decade, she has focused on legal solutions to the conflict in Jerusalem, taking the widest possible perspective. She considers undivided sovereignty to be unworkable.

In some areas of Jerusalem the school graduation rates are as high as 80-100 percent, while in others, especially neighborhoods with Mizrahim [Sephardim] and immigrants from Ethiopia, they are as low as 20 and under. Why does Jerusalem has such a shocking level of inequality in its schools?

Jerusalem high school kids of Ethiopian origin create a play that reflect their experience in Jerusalem

A gastronomic tour of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods.

A look at Jerusalem’s hidden corners, from the tiny San Simon monastery, to two manhole covers with hand-made designs on them.

A look at the diverse past and diverse present of Jerusalem’s shuk.

Jerusalem sets plans to "rebuild and raise the Churva and Tiferes Yisroel shuls…making them higher than the churches and mosques ... Upon completion one year from now the beis knesses will once again serve as an important spiritual center in the Jewish Quarter and will tower even higher than the Al-Aqsa Mosque, lehavdil !"

An in-depth look at the Kotel tunnels (in 2 parts)

Will the publication of an old photo shake up the entire debate on whether Jews are permitted to go on the Temple Mount?

Could the struggle over the Temple Mount be resolved by having the Jews take the bottom and the Muslims take the top?

A former senior leader of the Waqf, the Islamic custodians of the Temple Mount, says that the first and second Jewish Temples existed and stood at the current location of the Al Aqsa Mosque. He also said that said the Muslim world's widespread denial of this is political in nature and is not rooted in facts.

What should be done with the hundreds of sacks of notes left in the Kotel each year? What about the stones that fall out of the wall? What about the graffiti spray-painted on the wall? No easy questions, these.

Mississippi by the Jordan

In a move that defies logic, but rather re-enforces the most radical theories of an official Israeli government policy of tormenting the Palestinians, the Israeli Army in the West Bank is banning Israelis and foreign nationals from aiding Palestinian farmers in harvesting their olive crop.

Despite endless documentation of Jewish ultra-nationalist thugs sabotaging - for years now - the Palestinian olive harvest, the Israeli army, which is legally bound to protect the farmers, but has never done so, instead removes the very people who have been attempting to provide the protection that the army will not. For years, Israeli and foreign peace activists have escorted Palestinian olive pickers in some 30 West Bank villages, as protection against settler attacks. This year, apparently, this will not be allowed.

More then anything else this reminds me of the cozy and hypocritical relationship the Mississippi police departments used to have with the Klu Klux Klan. The Klan would burn down negro churches, and intimidate "uppity" blacks, while the police would not only look the other way, but arrest any one trying to protect or comfort the negro population.

See here for more details.

And lest we think that the seemingly systematic and never-ending harassment of the Palestinians is restricted to destroying their agricultural base - a policy that at least can be rationally explained as an (immoral but potentially effective) method of limiting access to land and livelihood, we read about incidents that are pure intimidation. Designed to at once humiliate and terrorize the Palestinian people, and to aggrandize and solidify the superior self image of the Israeli instigators. Is this what things have come to? Beating Palestinians just to boost Jewish egos? Thuggery in uniform? The Klan and the police have become one!

See here for more details of one such incident. Complaints of incidents like these have risen sharply in the past three months.

Defense Minister Peretz promised to turn over a new leaf in the army's relationship with the Palestinian population. No one thought this is what he meant.

What hypocracy! What shame! Or are we already beyond shame?

Simchat Torah, Talmud, and Change (or lack thereof)

The Talmud is the real basis of traditional Judaism, not the Hebrew Bible.

It is both an example of innovation, adaptation and change, and - in its deification and distillation over the centuries - an example of ultra conservative non change and refusal to adapt.

This interesting article, explores these ideas more fully.

A "Modern Orthodox" Manifesto

Would that its was so!

In a previous posting to this blog, I pointed to the mystical, irrational, revisionist, and dangerous tendencies growing in orthodox Judaism.

Once upon a time, there was a movement called "Modern Orthodoxy", that tried to create a religious Judaism that could live in, and with, the modern world of science and rational inquiry, while being true to Halakha - Jewish Law - and fully accepting, and not metaphorically, Ol Malhut Shamayim - the yoke of heaven.

For a while, this movement seemed to be in ascendancy in the orthodox Jewish world. But it has been eclipsed, world wide, by a combination of mystical nationalist Religious Zionism and by Haredut - ultra-Orthodoxy - of both the Hasidic and Litvakish schools. Indeed, the extremist Religious Zionists, the Hasidism, and the Mitnagdim, have, for the most part, blended: each adopting elements of the other's basic world views, and all based on ultra conservative, non rational, and anti-modern positions.

But now my old friend and childhood classmate, Martin Lockshin, has published a spirited, if in my view overly optimistic defense of "Modern Orthodoxy". It is well worth reading, click here.

Marty, I wish it where so, and that your vision wins out in the halakhic world. Not that I think it will (sadly). And not that I agree with it. But it is a position that liberal Jews can actually have dialogue with, and whose values and methods are not anathema. It is a view point that is not actually detrimental to the welfare of the Jewish people and of Judaism, but rather promises some positive and adaptive development. It is a vision of Orthodoxy that honestly tries to deal with modernity, and which allows the possibility of a true klal yisrael - community of Israel. In short, it is a position that I and other liberal Jews can live with and even admire. All things, which the rising anti-rational ultra-Orthodox trend in Judaism is not.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Those Wild and Crazy Orthodox

I you needed more proof that there is a strain of madness and wild irrationality, or at least extreme eccentricity, that is growing within Orthodox Judaism, two items I came across should help provide it.

The first is an article in the Forward about the annual pilgrimage of the Bratslav Hassidim to the grave of Reb Nachman in Uman, Ukraine.

“On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the dirt roads on the northern edge of this central Ukrainian town had Jewish worshippers at every turn, transforming the site of a historic massacre into a place of dancing and prayer.

The crowd — a collection of black-hatted Hasidim, tie-dyed teenagers from the West Bank, American seekers and participants from more than 20 countries in all — had come to Uman to spend the holiday near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachman, a charismatic 19th-century Hasidic Rabbi, had asked to be buried at the site of the 1768 Haidemack massacre, where some 20,000 Jews were killed.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, the annual pilgrimage has grown steadily, peaking with this year’s estimated 20,000 visitors. …

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, nearly every pilgrim gathered near Nachman’s grave to read 10 psalms prescribed by the rabbi. He is said to have told followers that he would personally pull up from hell, by the sidelocks, any Jew who reads the psalms over his grave on the Jewish New Year.” (for the full story click here)

In Israel the Bratslavers have been growing rapidly due to their aggressive recruiting in prisons, in the Sephardi community, and among disaffected teenagers. And despite the sects traditional focus on the interior life, they have become vocally in favour of keeping all the land of Israel, and are not above beating and intimidating members of their rival Haredi factions.

(On the other hand, who cannot help but be drawn to the obvious fervour and passion of the men in the picture above. The beatific look on the face of the young man at the bottom centre, makes one long to drink the kool-aid too.)

A news item without any redeeming charm in my opinion, is the completely misguided and dangerous attempt to revive the Sanhedrin (religious court / parliament of Mishnaic times). This move, steeped as it is in a belief that the Messiah’s arrival is indeed imminent, and that the Temple will soon be restored, is very controversial in the Orthodox world. If it had not attracted some respected Rabbis, most notably Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz , it would be completely laughable. Hopefully, it will remain marginal. Otherwise it will lead even more Orthodox to support anti democratic theocratic rule, and a catastrophic false messianism.

The news article originally appeared in the Hebrew edition of Haartetz .

My translation is below:

A Storm in the Haredi World:
Rabbis Blow Shofar On Shabbat !

According to the Halakha, in our times, it is forbidden to blow shofar on Rosh Hashana that falls on Shabbat, because of the possibility of carrying it in the public realm; the minyan was organized by the "New Sanhedrein" group.

by Nadav Shragai

This past Shabbat, a group of prayers [people who pray] smashed a Halakhic tabu, when they organized a minyan for the purpose of blowing Shofar on Shabbat. According to the Halakha, it is forbidden, in out times, to blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana that falls on Shabbat, because of the possibility of carrying it in the public realm. This act has already caused a storm, particularly in the Haredi world, but has also sparked halakhic discussions that deal with the possibility that, in the future, there may be persons that will ask to allow nitilat lulav on Shabbat as well; an act that is forbidden for the same reasons.

The minyan, which was held in Yishivat Beit Hab'khira in the Old City of Jerusalem, was organized by the "New Sanhedrein" group, under the presidency of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, which seeks to see itself as the continuation of the Sanhedrein of old.

Members of this group, among them Professor Hillel Weiss of Elkana, a member of the Temple Movement, see in the act "a precursor and a remembrance of the Temple", in which they did blow Shofar on Shabbat. In an announcement that was released on Erev Rosh Hashana they explained that, " ... Now, as we stand before the War of Gog and Magog (a war of Israelis enemies against Israel at the end of days, according to the Book of Ezekiel) shall we not delay the decree ... by means of blowing the Shofar? ...."

Weiss even published, in a a Torah newsletter that is distributed by bar Ilan University, an scientific-research paper on the issue, wherein he cites Jewish sources, that show that, in the past, even after the destruction of the Temple, Shofar was blown on Rosh Hashana that fell on Shabbat. He also pointed to a recently discovered Piyut that is meant to be said at Ma'ariv of Rosh Hashana, that seemingly confirms this practice.

Shofar Blown on Shabbat - 101 year ago.

Rabbi Tzvi Idan, the first Nasi of the "New Sanhedrein", was present and invested a Beit Din of three, that permitted - supposedly - the act. The Shofar blowers were rabbi Tzvi Rogin and Rabbi Lieper.

Among the 23 prayers, there were Haredim - Gur Hasidim, Litvaks, Sephardim from Shas - as well as knit kippas, and Americans and French olim.

It should be recalled that 101 years ago Rabbi Akiva Yosef Shlezinger instigated blowing Shofar on Shabbat, but he did virtually in secret. This act of Rabbi Shlezinger, who was a Haredi Zionist and called for Jews to make aliya to the Land of Israel, aroused much reaction. Shlezinger took this innovative step because he was convinced that the Shofar blasts would preven the spread of anti-Semitic pogroms Russia.

According to a number of researchers, at the time, he obtained the tacit approval of the chief Rabbis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Samuel Salant, the ADRAT (Rabbi Eliahu David Rabinovich Teomim), and Rabbi Chacham Bashi, the Rishon L'Zion Rabbi Yaacov Shaul Elishar.