Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Either way, I'm going vegetarian

Thank you to the reader who left a comment with the link for the PETA video of the Postville abattoir.
Clearly, what is shown on the video -- like every method of animal slaughter -- is terribly disturbing. I asked a rabbi who is experienced in shechita to view the video and he stated that he agrees with the reported comments, that (unpleasant as it is) what is being seen here are post-death muscular reactions which are not unusual given the instantaneous death rendered by shechita. He also pointed out that what seems to be at fault here is that the carcasses are being released from the penn before the nerve spasms have ceased -- way too early. In addition, he added that this happens with other methods of slaughter as well and that shechita is still more humane.
The NYT report, however, holds mixed views. The American OU rabbis (who on the face of things have some stake in this, though that does not necc. make their views invalid) seem to agree that this is acceptable, if gruesome practice, and that despite appearances, the animals are not feeling anything at this stage. Shimon Cohen of the UK, a spokesman for a wholly Orthodox-sponsored pro-shechita organization, said that such shechita would not be acceptable in Britain:
[A]fter watching the tape with a rabbi and a British shochet [he said] that he "felt queasy," and added,"I don't know what that is, but it's not shechita."
The spokesman, Shimon Cohen, said that in Britain an animal must be restrained for 30 seconds to bleed, and no second cut is allowed. Done correctly, he said, a shochet's cut must produce instantaneous unconsciousness, so Agriprocessors' meat could not be considered kosher.
Either way, there seems to be cause for serious concern, and some further clarifications are still necessary. If there are any Bloghead readers out there who have experience with Shechita and can watch the video, we'd like to hear from you.

Music to our ears

According to people who should know, Jay Greenberg, 12, is the greatest musical prodigy in 200 years. Greenberg, who has an Israeli mother, has already written five full-length symphonies, which he says just come into his head.
"We are talking about a prodigy of the level of the greatest prodigies in history when it comes to composition," says Sam Zyman, a composer. "I am talking about the likes of Mozart, and Mendelssohn, and Saint-Sans."
Zyman teaches music theory to Jay at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he’s been teaching for 18 years.
With that kind of talent, maybe Greenberg can come up with a good alternative to the Hanukka Song?

UPDATE: Ha'aretz, incidentally, is running a whole feature on the highly successful Israeli talent at Juilliard. Not a word on the Israeli offspring prodigy....

Europe helps Iran go nuclear

Michael Ledeen provides a good explanation of why Europe, as I argued the other day, does not really care whether Iran gets the bomb or not.

(Via Melanie Phillips)


Want an alternative to Adam Sandler's Hanukka Song? This seems like a good contender (although I'm not sure what the Matza balls have to do with anything)...

UPDATE: Barenaked Ladies have come out with a coupl'a Hanukka songs too.

JQ's fresh look

The Jewish Quarterly, the UK's well-respected Jewish literary magazine, has relaunched its website, and a wider selection of articles is now available online. The Revealer can now change its comment...

The ArtScroll Chrismukkah

More than a month after Bloghead wrote about Chrismukkah cards (October 25) the rest of the world press, including the Jerusalem Post, catches up. But hidden in the J-Post report is this intriguing sentence: "American Greetings Corp. has about 10 Hanukka-Christmas line offerings this year."
American Greetings Card Corp. is the company founded by Jacob Sapirstein z'l, and later headed by major patron of ArtScroll, the late philanthropist Irving I. Stone, z"l. - as in the Stone Chumash etc.
Slightly strange, huh??? Would anyone like to try writing a paragraph or two from an 'Overview' to the ArtScroll Chrismukkah????? We'll post the best in time for the festival (and I mean Hannukkah!). Entries by shabbat, please, on the Comments, or directly to pshaviv@netaxis.ca.

Monday, November 29, 2004


Green: Jewish state. Orange: Arab state. Purple: International area. Posted by Hello

In typical disgusting fashion, the UN spent today marking a day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, as it has on this date, I believe, since 1977. Why the disgust? Because today, of course, is the 29th of November -- the anniversary of the UN vote to partition Palestine, which essentially led to the creation of the state of Israel.
It could, of course, also have led to the creation of an Arab state, had the Arabs not rejected the plan. It's been a long time since I've seen the map of the partition plan, and when I found it, I actually gasped aloud when I saw how generous the offer was to the Arabs -- and what a terrible deal was offered to the Jews (a state cut off in 2 places; Jerusalem in the middle of an Arab state; no Galil; the coastal plain barely a strip of land; most of the territory, desert).
This is why I don't buy the argument that Arafat could not possibly have accepted the deal Barak offered him in 2000, because the Palestinian state on offer would have been too cut up and as a result, unviable. The Jews were willing to accept a much more unrealistic state, because they were so desperate for independence. Don't the Palestinians, theoretically, have the same priority?
If the Arabs aren't sitting pretty on that big chunk of land today, they have only themselves to blame. Today is not a day to show solidarity with their victim status and lack of statehood, but a day to urge them not to make the same mistakes -- yet again.

Holy gadgets

Michael Kress does an inventory of must-have gadgets for yuppie religious Jews today. He includes some old favorites such as Kosherlamp, the Sabbath Mode Kit for refrigerators, Sabbath Mode Oven, the Snap Succah, and Shabbat-in-a-bag -- and adds one which I've never heard of: the Hot@hand Buffet cart, which is a Shabbat hot plate disguised as a piece of furniture (with wood finish...). Price: $239 - $1,395. Just what I need for Channukah!

PETA vs. Postville

On the other hand, Rabbi Jolkovsky today has also managed to scoop (he says) the NYT's own story, and reveal that animal-rights group PETA is about to launch a campaign against Shechita. Their weapon appears to be a video of cows being slaughtered in the Postville abettoir, apparently a very bloody scene.
1. In common with so many far-left groups, PETA is revealing its anti-Semitic roots bit by bit. This is, you will recall, the same group which compared the slaughter of chickens to the Holocaust.
2. For us: PETA are generally considered to be a bunch of crazies; it's unlikely that the current American administration would consider messing with Shechita. Against us: Any video of animal slaughter is not going to look good and PETA have the resources to spread it far and wide, doing enormous damage in PR terms. Perhaps the most noticeable effect such a video may have will be in Europe, where Shechita has long been in many countries a sensitive and emotion-laden issue, and where there are several governments who have publicly said they would consider banning it.
3. PETA is claiming that they have the support of two rabbis on this: Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, and Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's director of Interreligious Affairs. I sincerely hope that they have not knowingly and voluntarily given their name to this.

UPDATE: Actually, the story is also in the NY Sun.

Light(en) up

Is this really necessary? Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor of Worldjewishreview.com, has launched a campaign against Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song:
Mr. Jolkovsky calls the song — and others like it — an "embarrassment."
"Hanukkah is about a lot more than menorahs or potato latkes," he says. "It's childish when you take a minority that doesn't take itself seriously and then you see what they're offering"....
Mr. Jolkovsky's solution: Replace the Sandler song with a slightly older piece, "Color Candles," released in 1985 and composed by Eli Nathan. The song wistfully creates a portrait of an entire neighborhood candlelit by menorahs placed on the windowsills of assimilated Jewish residents.
"I'm encouraging people to light menorahs in their windows, not hidden in the kitchen or the library someplace," Mr. Jolkovsky said. "The idea of Hanukkah is to publicize the miracle. Most American Jews don't do that."
I've never heard Color Candles, but I daresay there's a reason the Hanukkah Song became a smash hit and it didn't. As someone in the article says, you are never going to get regular Hanukkah songs on mainstream radio. The Hanukkah Song relates to an entire generation of Jews who probably didn't even know how to pronounce the name of the festival before it was released, and it encourages people to identify with other Jews.
But even if you agree the song has no 'kiruv' merit whatsoever, it also does no harm, and surely launching a campaign against it is just one more example of just how humorless some sections of the Orthodox world have become. Not everything has to be serious! Not everything has to be 'on message'! The song is FUNNY! Light(en) up!

Buy Everything Day

You gotta love it. On international Buy Nothing Day, which was actually marked on the streets of Tel Aviv this Friday, the shops in Azrieli offered a special 'Shocking Sale' with huge discounts. Reports Ha'aretz: "The Shocking Sale, shop owners acknowledged, lived up to its promise: They were positively stunned by the final tally at the end of the day."
The day will also no doubt be inscribed deep in the memories of taxi drivers and security guards posted at the entrances to the mall. The traffic jams and the long lines at its entrance showed for the umpteenth time that the spirit of consumerism is stronger than any dictate to the contrary. Eyewitnesses said that there were times when the mall looked liked the Muqata during Arafat's funeral. "They were throwing punches here yesterday over the shirts," reported one proud shopkeeper.
'The spirit of consumerism'.... a rather tame way to define Israelis' legendary shopping killer instinct!

'A Hassid and a Heretic'

Another Chassid living a double life finds refuge in the blogosphere.

Does Europe actually care whether Iran has the bomb?

Two articles I read over the weekend conclude that the world has left it too late and that we have very few options left to stop Iran getting the bomb. The Atlantic essentially argues that we have no military options, but we have to carry on pretending we do -- and hope the Iranians don't call our bluff -- because otherwise we have no negotiating power. The Jerusalem Post says that our only hope is to string out negotiations with the Iranians for so long that by the time they get the bomb, the country will have a different regime with its finger on the trigger. (Even then, however, the best we may be able to hope for is a more moderate Muslim regime, and not a secular, friendly one.)
The way the European Union is behaving in its farcical and half-hearted negotiations with Iran, however, even those slim hopes are being thrown out the window. It is clear that Iran is just using these flimsy agreements as a cover to continue developing the weapons it so desperately wants (indeed, just one day after signing an agreement to freeze parts of the program last week it began haggling over details which theoretically had already been settled). Europe, however, seems desperate to take Iran at its word and just settle the damn issue! Its attitude reminds me of the willful blindness Britain showed before the second world war, when it believed a scrappy piece of paper with Hitler's signature on it would bring 'Peace in our Time,' despite all the evidence to the contrary. The EU is behaving as if ignoring the problem will make it go away -- although the more I read, the more you have to wonder whether Europe actually cares about Iran having the bomb, or whether it is simply going through the motions so they will be able to say, 'we tried.'

UPDATE: Iran has agreed that it will not operate uranium enrichment equipment -- paving the way for the "International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based United Nations nuclear monitoring body, to pass a resolution that will be only mildly critical of Iran's nuclear program." When you look a bit closer, it also emerges the Iranians won't guarantee to actually shut down the equipment as requested, but will just 'not conduct any testing.'

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Bloghead .......

passes 60,000 hits! Congratulations, Miriam!

I bet some Israeli chatich will change her mind

According to Esther, Natalie Portman, supposedly one of the more affiliated young Jewish Hollywood stars, recently told Elle Magazine she was looking to marry outside the Tribe:
"I want to raise my kids Jewish," she says, "but I think it's more interesting to be with someone who's extremely different from me, as long as the differences aren't too divisive."
Bad for the Jews; If she really believes this, good for thousands of female Hebrew U students, I guess.


Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz echoes what I had to say about Raful.

Anglo-Jewry sells the family silver (again)

Another story featuring the otherwise reclusive Mr. Lunzer, this time in the Jerusalem Report (the story is not online, but I read it last night at a friend's house - who is a subscriber, which raises the issue of why it has been impossible to buy the JR in Toronto for about the last six months ...but that's another subject).

ANYWAY, the JR story sets Mr. Lunzer's wish to sell the Valmadonna Trust library within the general context of the disposal and sale of several world-class collections of Judaica by Anglo-Jewish institutions. The most recent was the sale a few weeks ago in New York of the library formerly associated with the Montefiore College, founded by Sir Moses. Before that, the UK United Synagogue sold the contents of the historic library of its Beth Din. This story was scandalous; the US only realised it possessed such a collection (dating back to the eighteenth century) when it was found that a Dayan of the Beth Din, a known bibliophile, had been stealing books for years and selling them. As soon as it had finished covering up the scandal, the errant Dayan departed for Bnei Brak (he was never prosecuted) and the US sold the collection. Before that it sold rare English Jewish silverware from its vaults. Many years ago the Sassoon collection was sold. Over the years many other bibliophiles have sold their collections to the USA.

Put together, all of the above could have created a world-class museum/library.

Unlike the USA, Jewish cultural heritage is entirely peripheral to the Anglo-Jewish community. Jewish Studies at UK universities, although somewhat improved in recent years, have never enjoyed community support. Many of the faculty, and, in some places, most of the students, come from out of the UK. It isindeed difficult to think of more than one or two scholars of international stature that were born, trained and worked in the UK -- Louis Jacobs comes to mind, and the story of his treatment by the community is salutary. The Hebraica collections for which the UK is famous -- the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, the Rylands Library - even the Parkes Library -- were all acquired and maintained by non-Jews. Few Jews in Britain are even aware of any of the above, and professors of Jewish Studies enjoy no status within the Jewish community. [The community attitude to Jewish schools is about the same.]

So ..... Mr. Lunzer's library is unlikely to remain in the UK, unless, in a change of heart, he donates and endows it to a major university. There is no Jewish institution in Britain that could house it.

Red state voters, blue state lifestyle -- blue state voters, red state moralism?

An interesting article by Andrew Sullivan in the London Times points out that the divorce rate in America is higher in states that voted for Bush, and lower in states that voted for Kerry. Same for teenage births. Similarly, marriage itself is more popular in Massachusetts than in Texas; and America has three times as many abortions (per capita) than the ultra-liberal Dutch.
Says Sullivan:
"The complicated truth is that America is a divided and conflicted country. But it is a grotesque exaggeration to say that the split is geographical or correlated with Democrat and Republican states. Many of America’s biggest “sinners” are those most intent on upholding virtue. It may be partly because they know sin close up that they want to prevent its occurrence among others....
Within many a red state voter there is a blue state lifestyle. And within many a blue state liberal there is a surprisingly resilient streak of moralism."
It seems to me that rather than people who 'know sin close up' wanting to prevent it in others, they probably need to proclaim those higher standards loud and clear in an effort to restrain their own urges. Those that 'trust themselves' to intuitively behave more virtuously, on the other hand, may feel more confident about relaxing public standards. (It is also possible that Sullivan has it the wrong way round: rather than 'sin' leading to conservatism, for example, it may be the strict public standards which cause more people to rebel and stray, and vice versa.)
In any case, this debate throws interesting light on the Jewish community, which has a relatively conservative lifestyle with divorce rates and abortion rates which are supposed to be lower than in the general population -- yet which is predominantly liberal. Perhaps not such a paradox, or an exception, after all?

I wouldn't touch one of these passports with a ten-foot pole

Israelis are lining up to get Polish passports, either to settle there, get into the EU, or to get closer to their Jewish-Polish roots:
For the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv, the wave of applicants is proving a challenge, since the staff is ill equipped to cope with the added workload."
We can accept about 100 applications a month, approximately half of the applicants get a positive answer from Poland," he said.
The situation is made all the more complicated since local administration officials in Poland often drag their feet when processing individual claims.
Who could have seen it coming: Operation Shylock coming to life.

And I thought he just had a funny handwriting

One thing I learned from the Jack Lunzer interview which I never knew: 'Rashi script' was the invention of Daniel Bomberg, the Calvinist Venetian printer who was responsible for the first complete printing of both the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud in 1523. It was first used for Rashi's commentary on the Tanach in 1517.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Lose some .. win some

We lost the JuBu's but we gained Rabbi Natan Gamedze.

How many other Jeff Millers are we still missing out on?

The Forward interviews America's most senior Buddhist, the Lama Surya Das -- otherwise known as Brooklyn boy Jeff Miller, or as his Jewish mother calls him, the 'Deli Lama' (ouch).
One exchange stands out:
JM: Many Forward readers will want to know why you "left" Judaism and became a Buddhist monk.
SD: Judaism never really answered my questions when I was growing up. I asked questions, they said: "Be quiet. Stop with the questions. What's wrong with you?" So I sought elsewhere: psychology, philosophy, consciousness expansion, radical politics and then spirituality — Eastern philosophy, including yoga, meditation, prayer, fasting and other practices. I had a dry suburban rabbi who was a nice person, but didn't light my fire. Judaism didn't do it for me.
Now, in later years I met more enlightened rabbis — including Shlomo Carlebach, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Art Green and others. I remember, Shlomo said: "Jeffrey, the goyim don't need you, your people need you." I said: "They have me, rabbi. They don't know what to do with me."
You can't catch them all. But what an indictment.

What comes first?

In an extremely rare interview, the brains behind Israel's Disengagement plan, former head of the IDF's Strategic Planning Division Eival Giladi, explains that the concept of seperation is the reverse of the Oslo mind-set: "Rather than peace bringing security, it aims for security to ultimately yield peace."
Considering how much trouble Israel has had selling the process to a world which should be massively in favor, this is a clear, positive way of looking at things.

Thanksgiving and the Jews

The first time I ever came across American Jews celebrating Thanksgiving was in my year off in Israel, in 1994. At the time, like many non-Americans, I found the religious overtones of the 'chag' overwhelming and was simply shocked at the idea that religious Jews would celebrate it.
Ten years on, I understand much better what Thanksgiving represents to most Americans, and last night even attended my very first Thanksgiving dinner, here in London (Canada, by the way, has its own thanksgiving; in all my years in Canada, I have no recollection of celebrating it at all). In that context, it is interesting to read that Thanksgiving was an occasion some American Jews actually fought to celebrate.
As American readers will know, it was only in 1863 that President Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an 'official' "day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." According to the American Jewish Historical Society, in 1868 Governor John W. Geary of Pennsylvania issued a proclamation to the citizens of his state calling on them to celebrate Thanksgiving, ending with the words,
"Let us thank Him with Christian humility for health and prosperity"... and he called on Pennsylvanians to pray that "our paths through life may be directed by the example and instructions of the Redeemer, who died that we might enjoy the blessings which temporarily flow therefrom, and eternal life in the world to come."
This "roused a unified protest from Philadelphia’s rabbis because, in the words of America’s first English-language Jewish newspaper, The Occident, Geary "apparently intended to exclude Israelites" from the celebration...."
Philadelphia at the time had 4,000 Jews -- more than anywhere else -- and the city's rabbis, of all denominations, decided to protest with a 'powerful petition.' They declared that
"An [elected] official, chosen by a large constituency, as the guardian of inalienable rights, ought not to have evinced a spirit of exclusiveness. He should have remembered that the people he governs are not of one mind touching religious dogmas, and that by asking all to pray that ‘their paths through life may be directed by the example and instruction of the Redeemer’ . . . he casts reflections upon thousands, who hold a different creed from that which he avows...."
The rabbis condemned Geary’s proclamation as "an encroachment upon the immunities we are entitled to share with all the inhabitants thereof; and we appeal to the sense of justice which animates our fellow-citizens, that a conduct so unwarrantable may receive the rebuke it deserves, being universally stigmatized as an offence against liberty of conscience, unbecoming a public functionary, and derogatory to the honor of the noble state he represents."
Despite this outspoken rabbinical indictment, says the AJHS, "Geary did not revoke his proclamation, and Pennsylvania officially celebrated a Christianized Thanksgiving that year."
Not so, of course, today; the rabbis' request that government-dictated holidays should be secular in nature ultimately prevailed. Happy Thanksgiving!

Henry VIII's Talmud? -- episode 2

In the same issue of the 'JC", Jenny also has a rare interview with Jack Lunzer, the collector who assembled the library of the Valmadonna Trust - probably the world's most important privately-owned collection of Hebraica (books and mss). It includes the 'Westminster Talmud', reputedly ordered by Henry VIII to help him assemble arguments to permit him to divorce Catherine of Aragon. A selection of items from the library was exhibited last summer at Sotheby's in London, and we wrote about the story of Mr. Lunzer and his Talmud in Bloghead.

In truth, mainly Miriam .....

Jenny Frazer writes on Jewish blogs in the 'Jewish Chronicle' (unfortunately accessible only to subscribers). Most of the article is about the impending demise of Protocols, but we get honourable mention:
"The Jewish blog world is closely knit. Prominent within it, the highly regarded Bloghead is written mainly by father-and-daughter team Paul and Miriam Shaviv. Paul, based in Canada, is an ex-Londoner whose career in Jewish education informs his comments. Miriam, his daughter, is the former literary editor of the Jerusalem Post, now living in London ..... "

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Is this Israel's greatest contribution to the world yet?

An Israeli scientist has a solution to halitosis -- laser treatment! Zap!

Russian anti-Semitism -- in Israel

The BBC reports on the Russian Olim returning to the FSU -- which I already discussed, here -- and points out another interesting phenomenon: the rise in anti-Semitism in Israel, coming mainly from non-Jewish Russian Olim:
The incidents include swastika graffiti on the walls of synagogues, and verbal and physical abuse...
[T]he Israeli Attorney General launched a criminal investigation into a neo-Nazi website which called itself the White Israeli Union, after pictures appeared of a man in an Israeli army uniform with his arm raised in a "Heil Hitler" salute.
But since then, other Russian language websites with similar content have appeared, with tasteless jokes about Jewish people and Holocaust denials.
One Russian Oleh says he has documented more than 500 cases of Russian anti-Semitic acts in Israel in the past year. Out of one million Olim, this represents a tiny minority -- but perhaps it's time the Jewish Agency started being a little more discriminating with the people they are encouraging to make Aliya?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


It made a nice change this morning to pick up the London Times and find, on the cover of its daily magazine, what I think must be the most philo-Semitic piece I can remember... ever, anywhere.
Times correspondent Julie Burchill says that she has always felt an affinity for Israel, and blames its current unpopularity in Europe on the fact it's turned from plucky little victim to victor -- galling for Europeans, she says, at a time when they have travelled in the opposite direction, from powerful to powerless (an interesting observation).
Last week, she returned from her first ever trip to the Holy Land, and came back raving:
“Shalom.” They say it, them Jews, every time. It’s their hello, their goodbye, their have-a-nice-day, and they mean it. You hear them say it, you see them do it, and sometimes, just a little bit, got to say it, it makes you hate them — makes you hate their endless belief in the goodness of Mankind, the very Mankind that came so very near to destroying them.
You see it in Jerusalem, where the mosques and churches gleam free. You see it in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, where the Avenue of the Righteous comes before everything else — the Righteous being un-Jews, that is. You see it from the car, being driven from Jerusalem to Eilat, when you ask your Israeli tour guide what is that place over there that looks . . . different? Oh, that’s the Bedouins. That’s the Palestinians. That’s where they cut off people ’s hands and stone women to death, because it’s their culture, and that’s what so much of the “civilised” world wants even more of Israel to be sacrificed unto.
You see it in Ariel Sharon, that alleged hawk of hawks, sending in the Israeli Defence Force to violently evict 8,000 Jews from the Gaza in order to go ONE STEP CLOSER towards peace with a people who want his own people dead. You see it in the beautiful English Jewish journalist Charlotte Halle from Haaretz, the “Tel Aviv Guardian”, married to an Israeli, with a three-year-old son, who only comes near to losing her temper once with me — when I express too much antipathy towards the Palestinians who already want her baby son dead, because he will grow up to be a Jew, and she is prepared to go, as her ceaseless, blameless, shameless people are always prepared to go, for ever a bridge too far....
Once I couldn’t imagine not living — or dying — in England, but as I get older the more I feel the need to walk in the sun; in the blatant, blameless light of confidence, of communal effort, of a cause greater than keeping the European gravy train/hate machine on track. It’s not exactly next year in Jerusalem — but, God willing, five years from now in Tel Aviv will do me just fine.
Now I'll admit: my usual instinct is to be nervous at such idealization. If Julie Burchill realized just how hard it is for a non-Jew to immigrate to Israel (unless they get in under the Law of Return), let alone how hard daily life can be (as my one non-Jewish friend in Israel has told me), would she still love us so much? How would she feel if she realized that Secular Israel does not exactly regard its ultra-religious Jews who do not serve in the army with "its characteristic, ceaseless tolerance," as she thinks?
Given the current political climate, however, I am simply grateful for every friend we have, and can only say: Thank you, Julie, so much, for arguing our case with so much passion, and for seeing us in a better light than most of us see ourselves. There's a lot to be learned from that. Come back to Israel soon!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Blogger weirdness

Well that's a little strange. I stopped a piece publishing in the middle, and when I went to check whether it posted or not, I found half of my piece on my page -- running smoothly into half of someone else's piece (about some rock band). Has that ever happened to anyone else??

Two down, eight to go

If the Anthropic Principle dictates that the universe looks as if it is specifically designed for human beings, I'm beginning to wonder whether there's some equivalent principle, about how the world at the moment looks as if it is specifically designed to help me teach my Sunday School class. (A little self-centered, I know. But I digress).
One of the topics I have to cover this term is the life of Moses -- and I'm just getting up to the ten plagues. So last week we had the locust invading Israel. And now we have the scientific analysis of the skull of the oldest son of Rameses II, who most historians agree was the Pharaoh during the Exodus. If this is true, the son -- whose name, apparently, was Amun-her-khepeshef -- would be the one who was killed by the 10th plague. His skull comes complete with a mysterious, deep fracture which apparently occured 'at time of death.'
Watch out for the frogs, people....

(Via The Revealer)

Here's a plan...

Thanks to Reb Yudel for pointing out an interesting new blog, Lamed, which is updated by the staff of ATID, a modern Orthodox Jewish educational think tank headed by Rabbi Chaim Brovender.
Lamed provides a fascinating translation of an eyewitness account to the last big locust plague to hit the Holy Land, in 1915:
The locusts came to the cities, and on 6 Nissan (1915) the plague blanketed the skies of the Holy City until it was pitch dark at noon. The Badatz decreed that on the following day there should be a Taanit Tzibbur and the whole day should be one of selichot, prayer and petition. After a few days the locusts left the Land, leaving fear in their wake, for the female had enough time to lay her eggs. The government grabbed at every chance to fight it…but it was impossible, for the locusts were so great and mighty. When they saw that the eggs were everywhere, they decreed that each male between 15 and 60 must collect 5 kilograms (=11 lbs.) of eggs and turn them over to the authorities… But it didn't succeed in collecting even 1/100th of the eggs. The larvae began crawling on the trees, devouring whatever had been left… Encampments of locusts were sighted throughout the summer, until Kislev (=December), and we can only hope that the concluding words of Yoel (2: 20, 23) will also be fulfilled for us: "I will drive the northerner [=locusts] far from you, I will thrust it into the parched and desolate land… O children of Zion, be glad, Rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the early rain in His kindness…and threshing floors shall be piled with grain, and vats shall overflow with new wine and oil."
Ah, the good old days... I'd like to see the government trying to send out the men (or anyone, really) to collect locust eggs today!
The account, incidentally, is cited in the Da'at Mikra to Yoel.

Raful -- a hero, but nonetheless a racist

It took me a while to find this but I knew it was out there somewhere. One interesting thing I haven't seen reference to in the obits for former Chief-of-Staff and minister Rafael Eitan is the persistent rumors that he actually wasn't halachically Jewish; as this source says, "In an interview with the press.... he admitted his mother was an evangelical Christian who came to Eretz Yisrael after fleeing religious persecution in the former Soviet Union." I can't see any other references to this (well, one rather nasty one) and can't remember the exact details myself but I do remember when the interview came out. As far as I remember, he/his mother never converted, which would technically make him Israel's first non-Jewish chief-of-staff and government minister -- and shed a rather interesting light on his entire career.
From the obits I've read, it's clearly a case of achrei mot kedoshim emor -- because the truth is that while Raful was a military hero, a modest man and a Zionist he was also a total racist who is most famous for saying that "When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle." In life he was regarded as a Gandhi -- an idealistic Israeli of the old school, whose unpalatable views on Arabs left most Israelis deeply uncomfortable and consigned him to the very edge of the political map. Let's not whitewash the truth.

UPDATE: I see the Seattle PI makes some reference to Raful's ancestry too.

Israelis hand Beslan survivors over to Christian missionaries

Remember the group of (as far as I know, non-Jewish) survivors of the Beslan terror attacks, who were brought to Israel for a 'therapeutic' 3-week visit by the City of Ashkelon, the Even Ezer Foundation and the Organization of Olim from the Caucuses?
According to Bartholomew's Notes,, they actually spent at least part of their time touring Christian sites as guests of a Messianic Jewish congregation, who took the opportunity to
"bring the gospel message and invite all to receive Christ."
The blog asks: "are Israeli organisations so desperate to keep in with Christian Zionists that they are willing to hand over traumatised Russian children to be converted to Charismatic Protestantism?"
I suspect the case has nothing at all to do with that, but rather is just yet another example of how incredibly naive Israelis are when it comes to understanding what Christian missionaries are all about.

(Via The Revealer)

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Anthropic Principle

Time Magazine devotes a long feature to Biocosm, a year-old book by an attorney from Portland, James Gardner, which is getting some surprisingly positive reviews from some famous scientists. Surprising, because Gardner argues that the universe just might have been manufactured by... a race of superintelligent extraterrestrial beings.
His theory rests on the fact that no one, to date, has ever shown why the universe is so hospitable to human beings, and looks as if it was designed specifically for us:
Many of the most fundamental characteristics of our cosmos — the relative strengths of gravity, electromagnetism and the forces that operate inside atomic nuclei as well as the masses and relative abundances of different particles — are so finely tuned that if just one of them were even slightly different, life as we know it couldn't exist.
If the so-called weak nuclear interaction were a tiny bit stronger or weaker than it is, for example, stars wouldn't blow up in the mammoth supernovas that spread elements like carbon and oxygen out into space — and without those elements, there would be no water and no organic molecules. If the strong nuclear force were just one-half of 1% stronger or weaker, stars could not make carbon or oxygen in the first place. In 1999 Martin Rees postulated that there were "just six numbers" that make life possible, although other theorists have since added several. And because there is no known law that requires those forces to have the values they do, scientists figure that there must be another explanation for how we got so lucky.
All of this might be rather annoying for one Nathan Aviezer, a Bar Ilan professor of Physics whom I heard just the other week speaking about this very same idea. Except that he, like a tiny minority of other scientists, argues that the Anthropic Principle, as it is known, is evidence that the universe must have been created by G-d. Suffice to say, Aviezer's book hasn't been quite as successful as Gardner's.
From the bits that I've heard, I'm not remotely convinced by either of them -- but I do think it's rather amusing that the modern world evidently feels more comfortable with, and more interested in, a theory that the universe was created by 'a race of superintelligent extraterrestrial beings' than an identical theory saying it was created by G-d!

I particularly like the guys hanging off the street lamps -- gulp

Thought Arafat's funeral was a little disorganized? Check out this terrifying photoblog of the event -- by, as far as I can tell, a Russian-Israeli soldier (what on earth was he doing there?). An absolute Wild West.

(Via Mentalblog)

Mengele papers discovered

This is astonishing. A Brazilian paper has published a series of previously unknown letters and diaries by the Nazi Angel of Death, Joseph Mengele, which were found last month in a police store-room in São Paulo. The 85 documents show that although he felt 'alone' and 'abandoned,' he was unrepentant -- and in denial -- to the end ("I gave life in Auschwitz, I did not take it"), admired South Africa's apartheid, and in an act of sheer chutzpah, actually found time to criticize Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians -- in 1969.
The papers and other items will be transferred to the National Police Academy in Brasilia, where they will be open to public examination.

Thank G-d for the Internet site

Hmmm, it really is a new regime at the Jerusalem Post. Geoffrey Elliot, vice president for CanWest's global affairs, has publicly revealed the paper's real circulation figures -- numbers which the previous lot did not like admitting, for reasons which will be self-explanatory when you see them, at the bottom of this article.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Necessary evils

My cousin D., who made Aliya from the UK a couple of years ago, is in the final stretch of his army service, and has just been moved to the Bethlehem region. Here's an excerpt from his latest email, which does a lot to dispel the commonly held view that Israeli soldiers are racist monsters:
[M]y experience in the Bethlehem area is markedly different to those that I had either on the Lebanese border or in Gaza as it is the first time that I have interacted with Palestinians on a daily basis. My job consists of patrolling the area on the look out for anything suspicious and also helping to staff army road blocks, with the job of ensuring that the complex division of Palestinian and Israeli areas isn't breached by terrorists. Usually both populations, Israeli and Palestinian are able to use the same roads and transport routes in the area, but occasionally in times of high tension, some roads are closed to Palestinians in order to ensure the security of the Israeli population.
This was the scenario that I encountered over the past couple of weeks and it was one that was not easy to deal with. As I'm sure most of you have noticed, a significant event recently took place in the region - namely the death of Yasser Arafat. There was a very real fear that following his death, utter chaos and violence would rein in the West Bank and so in preparation for this, restrictions were placed on Palestinian movement immediately following Arafat's death. I found myself on a hastily built checkpoint with instructions to turn back Palestinians wishing to use that particular route.
Although many Palestinians were understanding, how do you turn away a man begging to go to work? How do you turn away an uncle who wants to pick up his family to take them home? How do you turn away a man with his elderly father? Fortunately for me I was able to defer many decisions to my officer who made the difficult choice as to whether to make an exception or not - on some occasions he did. Why? Because like me, beneath the weapons and the uniform, the soldiers that I serve with are also decent human beings. On the one hand we carry with us the huge responsibility of the safety of Israeli citizens but on the other we all recognise the equal humanity of the Palestinian population and don't wish to cause them any additional inconvenience than is absolutely necessary.
In the last few weeks I have been more conscious of this than ever before and when on duty I try to carry out my work with the greatest respect and humanity possible - even if it is just smiling when I check someone's ID or wishing them a good day as they pass my road block. The situation in the West Bank is both complex and difficult and sadly necessary evils do exist such as road blocks and checkpoints - I simply hope that with the death of Arafat a new, moderate and progressive Palestinian leadership will emerge that will help to bring about an end to these necessary evils.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Another strike for Jewish education

The anonymous philanthropic gift of $45m. to the Jewish schools of Boston has really set new standards. Now, the Jewish Community of LA has gone public with discussions to establish a massive endowment fund to keep costs and tuition down for its schools. Whilst they don't have any donors yet, Jewish Education is clearly moving up as a communal priority. Terrific.

Secular flight to Modi'in

One of our Friday night dinner guests brought with her one of the councillers of the city of Modi'in, in London for a couple of weeks. When I asked him about the development of the city (where many of my friends live), he started going on and on about how worried they were that Chabad, which is apparently trying to buy a plot of land in order to set up a mikveh and a shul, was going to try and 'convert' the entire city. Or -- just as bad for many of the city's residents who have fled from an increasingly haredi Jerusalem -- they might become a large presence in Modi'in themselves. At this point I asked him which party he represented, to be told, of course, 'Shinui.'
What was striking, however, was that this man, who on the surface of things was so anti-religious, made sure he went to shul that night, put on a kippa for kiddush, and quite happily recited birkat hamazon with us. He also told us that his family has a Friday night meal each week. This backs up what many Shinui voters have told me -- that they are not necessarily anti-religious, simply anti-religious establishment, and anti-religious coercion. I find it absolutely tragic that because of the mixture of politics and religion in Israel, even people who themselves are traditional, or sypathetic to tradition, have reached a point where they are so suspicious of haredim, and where relations between the different streams are so fraught with tension.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Just because you're offended does not mean you can kill someone

A particularly horrific passage from The Spectator:
In a sickening essay, Rohan Jayasekera.... blamed van Gogh for his own murder. He wrote that the film-maker was guilty of ‘an abuse of his right to free speech’, his ritual slaughter was ‘his very own martyrdom operation’ and we should ‘applaud Theo van Gogh’s death as the marvellous piece of theatre it was’.
Mr. Jayasekera is the associate director of Index on Censorship -- a group which supposedly defends freedom of speech. The organization has defended Jayasekera, saying that his piece argued "that sometimes free speech has to be limited by our responsibilities – and it castigated Van Gogh for his failure to recognise that. He did so robustly and in a style that was, inevitably, not to everyone’s taste."
Even if you agree that freedom of speech does sometimes have to be curtailed, Van Gogh's movie -- which was pointing out the abuse of women in Muslim society -- was not one of those cases.
His real crime was to have offended Muslims. But as my father-in-law once wrote, "The liberty to cause offence, even outrage, is precisely what freedom of speech is about. It presumes the right to be wrong."
In any case, Jayasekera did not merely argue that Van Gogh has abused his right of free speech, as his defenders claim. He actually defended murder, and seemed to relish it. It would be interesting to see how he would have responded had the makers of The Last Temptation of Christ or Life of Brian had been hacked to death for offending Christians. If people like him are placing the importance of not offending Muslims above free speech, and above the responsibility not to murder, what hope do the democracies of the West have?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Har for the men, Nof for the women

Is it possible for Har Nof -- stomping ground of my youth -- to become any frummer? Apparently so. NRG reports it is about to get a brand new, gender-segregated promenade.
I fear the segregated streets are not far behind.

Kabbalah makes royal inroads

The latest lost soul to express 'an interest' in the Kabbalah cult is Fergie, the Duchess of York. Her buddy Demi Moore arranged for her to meet with Michael Berg and she is now apparently 'pursuing' an interest in the 'religion.'
Who knows, maybe she'll convert her nephew and we'll end up with a Kabbalist King of England? Now that would be a coup for the Kabbalah Center.

Time to change the way Chief Rabbis are chosen

The Jerusalem Post reports on the disgrace which is the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger. What they don't mention is that the only constituency which apparently really holds the position in esteem, the national religious camp, is effectively boycotting Metzger and not inviting him to many of their events, including those to which the Chief Rabbi is traditionally invited (or at least they weren't 8 months ago, when I left Israel). Instead, they are treating Rabbi Ya'akov Ariel, who was the NRP's candidate for the position, as the de-facto Chief. If more would follow, instead of passively putting up with that national embarrasment Metzger, perhaps the Chief Rabbinate -- which does play an important symbolic role, although 2 Chief Rabbis are not really necessary -- can still be rescued.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Coy about the coup .......

Haaretz is uncharacteristically reserved about their headline for this story about what almost happened in 1967 ..... the UK Daily Telegraph (and others) are a little more explicit ('Sharon considered 1967 coup to force war with Egypt').


Um no, my counter is not broken... I just got linked to by Instapundit and have had 11,000 hits in the past four hours. What a nice present for my 6-month blogiversary!
Note to self: no more content. Just cartoons.

If this is what happens to Iraq's friends....

So, Margaret Hassan, the aid worker who married an Iraqi, converted to Islam and devoted 30 years of her life to helping the Iraqi people has been murdered -- although she was spared the horror of a beheading (were her kidnappers perhaps in too much of a rush to escape the Americans?). Surely this demonstrates once and for all that the Iraqi insurgents are not simply motivated by hatred of the American 'occupiers' -- but by hatred of the West and of Westerners, whatever they do. This murder should strike fear into anyone and any nation who thinks that by staying out of Iraq, and by not confronting extremists, they are earning 'immunity from attack.'

Kerry Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

As a Jew, am I allowed to feel that this is the most wonderful time of the year without feeling guilty???? Because I do.... Particularly after 3 winters in Israel, I am really enjoying the decorations, the musak, the light shows, the slowing down, the cheeriness... G-d help me.

Jerusalem Post sold -- you read it here first...

.... well, just a few minutes after Haaretz!

Tel Aviv-based media firm Mirkaei Tikshoret to purchase Jerusalem Post from Hollinger, Inc. for reported $13.2 million

FULLER REPORT here -- including detail that the Asper CanWest is taking 50% of the JP. CanWest are publishers of the Canadian 'National Post', which is possibly the most pro-Israel national paper in the western world ....

UPDATE (From Miriam): It's interesting to recall that just a few years ago, Hollinger was rejecting bids of $80m. for the Post because they thought it was worth more. The fact that they would settle for a mere $13m. just goes to show how incredibly, incredibly greedy David Radler and Conrad Black really were (not to mention how much financial trouble they are in at the moment and how much they must have run down the paper's value). It will be interesting to see how the new owners will get along with the paper's new editor, who, you will recall, got a guarantee of editorial independence from Hollinger before he agreed to take the job.

UPDATE II (From Miriam): My sources inform me that Hollinger owed CanWest a lot of money because of a previous deal between them that went wrong, something to do with the National Post. The reason they are willing to accept such a low sum for the Jerusalem Post is because CanWest is receiving the Post in lieu of payment. And there you have it!

Monday, November 15, 2004

The case for Esav

Ever since I had to write a Bat-Mitzvah project on a biblical woman, I've been convinced that Vashti was hard-done-by by the commentators over the years. I've always thought that the text in no way showed her to be a bad person -- on the contrary -- and disliked the way she's been victimized.
Over the past few weeks, while we've been reading the first parashot of Bereshit, I've been surprised to discover that my husband's family has their own hard-done-by biblical character: Esav. My husband's father, z"l, even went so far as to establish a (joke) Esau Rehabilitation Society.
For a very interesting take on this, see Rabbi Ya'akov Meidan, who argues that Esav, who refrained from killing Ya'akov out of respect to his father (Bereshit 27:41), was greater than Ya'akov's children who allowed themselves to sell Yosef despite their father's love for him. Rebecca, argues Rav Meidan, sent Ya'akov on twenty years worth of exile for nothing; Esav would never have broken his father's heart by killing Ya'akov, however much he was tempted.
In a further article (a reply to Rav Moshe Lichtenstein's objections to his initial piece), he emphasises that because of his deeds, Esav was certainly still more evil than good. However, he got so many 'points' for his enormous Kibbud Av, that according to Midrash Raba he merited to have his head buried in Ma'arat Hamachpelah.
It has also been pointed out that if you read the verse in which Esav gives up his birthright literally ("Behold, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?"), perhaps it's not so hard to understand why he would do it; was he, perhaps, literally returning from the field starving, or perhaps wounded?
In addition, the Midrash makes several connections between Esav and King David (both redheads, for example; the Midrash says that when Shmuel first saw David, he initially thought he looked like Esav).
All in all, the case isn't as strong as it is for Vashti; but it's interesting to note how few biblical characters are ever black-and-white.


Check out this very funny (if somewhat old) flash movie about Italy. Substitute Israel, and the similarities are uncanny!

What is the WJC afraid of?

It seems like the World Jewish Congress is slowly being torn apart by the allegations of financial 'irregularities' which have been bandied about for some time now. After Elan Steinberg and Isi Liebler were booted out, you now have the chairman of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities threatening to pull out of the WJC unless the irregularities are investigated by an external auditor -- and the European Jewish Congress, in turn, is threatening to remove the chairman of the Swiss Federation from its own presiding board.
To an outsider, it certainly seems as if an external audit of the WJC is warranted; the internal audit, which WJC officials are saying should be enough, is being conducted by Stephen Herbits, a former employee of Seagrams -- hardly an objective figure. But regardless, we are quickly reaching the point where it would seem to be in the WJC's interests to do whatever it needs in order to clear its name and reputation, even if this means an external audit. What are they so afraid of???????
(And please don't say, 'a public row which will damage the Jewish people,' which is the line being taken by so many WJC spokespeople -- unless they reach a conclusive result, the long-term damage will be far worse).

Morality -- pheh!

England is closely following the saga of Boris Johnson, the editor of the British Spectator (recently dubbed the 'Sextator'), a member of the Shadow Cabinet and recent visitor to Israel. Some of you may recall that he was recently forced to apologise to the people of Liverpool when his magazine published an article criticising the Brits in general, and Liverpudlians (yes, I swear that's the word) in particular, for becoming a "society hooked on grief" and one that "likes to wallow in a sense of vicarious victimhood."
In any case, he was fired this week as a shadow minister when it emerged that Johnson, a married man with 4 young children, was having an affair with one of his columnists, and 'misled' the Conservative leader Michael Howard over it. What really gets me is the claim which is being repeated ad nauseum that Johnson was fired for the lying -- and not for 'morality.' (The lying, apparently, is being treated purely as a stratetgic weakness and not as a moral vice).
Now, I actually am not sure whether people should be fired for having affairs or not. But I really object to the way 'morality' is being treated here as a dirty word. Affairs are actually something British ministers used to resign over (Cecil Parkinson, Jeffrey Archer, David Mellor etc). That the Conservative leader, who should stand for 'family values,' is in such a rush to dismiss even the possibility that 'morality' could have been a consideration for him shows just how continental, and how relativist Britain is becoming.

Free Walid Shoebat II

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Encounter Conference (basically a 'Kosher' Limmud). I went specifically to hear Walid Shoebat, Palestinian terrorist-turned-Zionist. Last time I wrote about him, we ended up in a lengthy correspondence and I decided it really was time I caught his act.
To be fair, I came away impressed by a man who had the courage to admit that his own society was morally corrupt and to try to right some wrongs. He was certainly sincere and it was hard not to admire that -- although I was still unnerved by the extent to which he seemed to support the Zionist cause, which reminded me, a little, of the Neturei Karta on the other side.
Shoebat spent his entire hour railing against the corruption and anti-Semitism in Palestinian society, talking about the Jews' biblical rights to the land and reminiscing at how much better off the Palestinians were under the Jews than they are under the PA. I dare say there was no one in the room who learned anything new. If anything, I think Shoebat unwittingly did a disservice to a great number of people in the audience, who came out completely delusional with hope that a million Palestinians might one day follow Shoebat and admit the Zionists are right -- or conversely, as one person told me, more convinced than ever that the only answer is Transfer, because even a Palestinian has just said that the Arabs will never compromise.
The question is, what's the use of Shoebat's message? It would be far more interesting to hear an insider's view of how the Palestinian society can be transformed, or convinced to reach some sort of settlement or practical solution. Whilst his messages about the corruption of the PA would be extremely useful for a non-Jewish, or anti-Israel audience to hear, I still do not really see the point of his talking to Jewish audiences who are already converted to the cause. As I said before, I blame the Jewish community for seeking out too many speakers who simply confirm their own prejudices instead of spending our free evenings listening to, and learning the lessons from, our opponents; listening to, and learning the lesson from, strategic thinkers; campaigning to get fairer coverage; sending mass-emails about the matzav to someone other than our Jewish best friends; or frankly, doing the washing-up. Again: it's time to free up Mr. Shoebat and people like him so that he can talk to the people who really need to hear him -- which is not us.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The God gene

A new book is causing waves by claiming that some people have a genetic predisposition towards spirituality/'self-transcendence':
Dr Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Cancer Institute in America, asked volunteers 226 questions in order to determine how spiritually connected they felt to the universe. The higher their score, the greater a person's ability to believe in a greater spiritual force and, Dr Hamer found, the more likely they were to share the gene, VMAT2.
Studies on twins showed that those with this gene, a vesicular monoamine transporter that regulates the flow of mood-altering chemicals in the brain, were more likely to develop a spiritual belief.
Growing up in a religious environment was said to have little effect on belief. Dr Hamer, who in 1993 claimed to have identified a DNA sequence linked to male homosexuality, said the existence of the "god gene" explained why some people had more aptitude for spirituality than others.
"This is not a thing that is strictly handed down from parents to children" [he said.] "It could skip a generation - it's like intelligence."
From what I've read, Hamer's scientific claims are still far from being scientifically substantiated -- and clearly, merely having a 'God gene' would not mean that someone had no choice but to end up religious, or vice versa. Still, the very concept raises some interesting questions. Would the existance of a 'God gene' result in religious people becoming be more accepted in a secular society -- or atheists (who presumably lack the gene) becoming be more accepted in religious societies? Would parents one day be able to genetically engineer their children to make them more or less spiritually inclined? And -- most importantly -- would proof that faith is influenced by genetics undermine or reinforce the notion of religion? I'd be interested to hear people's opinions on the latter question...

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Messiah clause

My brother the law student is staying with us for a few days and has been amusing us with stories of the strange quirks of the Israeli legal system. Apparently, for example, there is an interesting loophole in Israeli tax law. When a man dies, the wife who claims the money from a Ketubah does not have to pay tax on it. According to one of my brother's professors, one lawyer got his non-religious client, who had been married for years in a civil union (presumably out of Israel), to have a quickie Jewish wedding and write out a Ketubah for his wife for tax reasons only, putting in an astronomical sum. When he died, the entire sum was passed to her free of tax -- making her a very rich woman.
And another one: In Israeli law, a husband and wife cannot testify against each other. Two drug trafficers, a man and a woman, both Muslims, were arrested and were the only witnesses against each other. According to Muslim law, apparently, a man and a woman do not even have to be in the same room to marry; so the lawyer married them... Apparently, the judge in the case, who told my brother's class all about it, was absolutely flummoxed as to how to handle this, and the case was only resolved when the man/'husband' made a confession.
And while we're on the subject, here's another strange Israeli legal anecdote: I know of at least two people, one of them being my other brother, whose apartment leases in Jerusalem include a clause that if the Messiah comes, they have to either move out (in one case) or move into the spare bedroom (in another), so that the landlords can move back 'home.' It's quite well-known and is called 'the Messiah clause.' I swear. In any case, my brother's roommate really didn't want to sign this clause, and so his lawyer, trying to solve the problem, suggested he take out insurance against the coming of the Messiah. Ie. if the Messiah came, the insurance would pay out enough money to fund an apartment in Jerusalem where his landlords could live until the end of their lease. Completely seriously, the lawyer asked Lloyd's of London whether they would be willing to insure them for this. Lloyds agreed, but asked to be given more details, specifically -- when was the last time the Messiah arrived. Since this has been a matter of dispute for the past 2,000 years, the lawyer decided to end things there.

About-turn, II

The Town Crier has published a statement from Edgar Bronfman, in which he says some of the statements attributed to him in the Jewish Chronicle were 'misrepresented' and states:
I have dedicated the latter part of my life to combating threats to world Jewry. Through Hillel, the World Union of Jewish Students, Birthright, and March of the Living, I have sought to bring generations of Jews closer to their spiritual and cultural heritage. I have spoken hundreds of times in opposition to intermarriage and assimilation and I will continue to do so. Assimilation represents a clear and present danger to the continuity of the Jewish people.
Intermarried couples and their children, however, pose many questions and challenges for Jewish institutions and communities around the world. Jewish leaders must reassess our efforts to combating assimilation and disaffiliation. This conversation must take place in a serious, sensitive and respectful manner, if we are to succeed in reversing this trend.

I'm glad we have that cleared up. Now, when is Bronfman going to clarify that he realizes the battle against intermarriage has nothing to do with racism or 'keeping the bloodlines clean' -- an accusation I consider slanderous?

About-turn, I

Kudos to Israellycool for picking up a new piece written by Philip Kurian, the Duke University senior who caused an uproar last month when he published an extremely anti-Semitic editorial in his university paper. And would you believe it? Kurian seems to have learned something from the ordeal:
Intentions cannot always be discerned through the mask of language. I wanted to start a dialogue about human suffering, but instead I ripped open old wounds, to fuel the very anti-Semitism that caused them. For this, I am deeply sorry. It is my failure as a columnist, and as a student. Our failure as a community is the dishearteningly narrow space we reserve for transformative conversation......
Am I an anti-Semite? A champion of free speech? A victim? A fool? I cannot see or be seen behind the mask of anger, and as the tears stream down I reach out, offering my hand in support to the Jewish community as I taste the salt of pride, hoping that one day it will fade through our mutual understanding.
This is a very brave column, which Kurian should be commended and supported for. The question is, when will we hear similar thoughts from the editors of The Chronicle, which published his article?

What could have been

After the ongoing 'confusion' (read: covering up vs. leaks) of the last few days, Arafat's death seems, from a news point of view, almost an anti-climax. Pretty much everything that could have been said has been said, there's already been a group catharsis. Most of the world leaders praising Arafat are doing so half-heartedly, and all seem to acknowledge that his passing opens up new opportunities for peace. (The only head of state so far with real courage, incidentally, has been Australia's John Howard -- proving Melanie Phillips' point). In addition, what is really noticeable is the near-silence of the Arab street. It is simply clear that in the past few years, Arafat faded into irrelevancy on all fronts.
It didn't have to be this way: he could have been eulagised almost unanimously as a great statesman, who lead his people to the statehood they so badly desired. Ultimately, however, he overplayed his hand and was undone by his own weaknesses and his own mythology. As the rest of the world seems to be pushing Israel and the Palestinians to step back 4 years and pick up where they left off, I hope they -- and the Palestinians -- keep this lesson very much in mind.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Making excuses

Christopher Hitchens makes a good point to those who complain that Bush's camp are 'religious fanatics:':
Only one faction in American politics has found itself able to make excuses for the kind of religious fanaticism that immediately menaces us in the here and now. And that faction, I am sorry and furious to say, is the left. From the first day of the immolation of the World Trade Center, right down to the present moment, a gallery of pseudointellectuals has been willing to represent the worst face of Islam as the voice of the oppressed. How can these people bear to reread their own propaganda? Suicide murderers in Palestine—disowned and denounced by the new leader of the PLO—described as the victims of "despair." The forces of al-Qaida and the Taliban represented as misguided spokespeople for antiglobalization. The blood-maddened thugs in Iraq, who would rather bring down the roof on a suffering people than allow them to vote, pictured prettily as "insurgents" or even, by Michael Moore, as the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers. If this is liberal secularism, I'll take a modest, God-fearing, deer-hunting Baptist from Kentucky every time, as long as he didn't want to impose his principles on me (which our Constitution forbids him to do).
It is ironic in a way that it is people who are religious themselves who have been most upfront about opposing the religious (Muslim) extremism of others. You would think secularists would have more to lose from people who seek to impose religion.
The answer is, I think, that religious people understand that the Jihad is religious in nature, and understand the extremists' strength of feeling, whereas secularists see it as more of a political issue, which can be more easily solved, or as more of a racial issue, which they are more afraid to touch. In addition, religious people understand that Muslim domination would not tolerate Christianity (or Judaism) -- and so know they will be first in the firing line.

Did Jewish women's lib peak in the twelfth century?

I am thoroughly enjoying Elisheva Baumgarten's Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe. In the chapter I just finished, for example, she discuses the medieval circumcision ceremony in Ashkenaz communities. Baumgarten, a lecturer at Bar Ilan, explains that in the twelfth and thirteenth century, the sandek -- then known as a ba'al brit -- was actually often a ba'alat brit, or a woman. She would wash the baby, bring him into the synagogue, and hold him on her lap in the synagogue (in the male section) while he was being circumcised.
After the thirteenth century, the woman becomes absent from the men's section during the ceremony, and the term 'ba'alat habrit' refers to the wife of the 'ba'al habrit,' whose role simply consists of bringing the baby to the synagogue door. This followed a ruling by the Maharam, R. Meir of Rothenburg, who objected to women adorned with jewels entering the men's section, and objected to women 'snatching' mitzvot from men.
To put things in context, Baumgarten explains that in general, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there is lots of evidence of women taking upon themselves 'obligations that were traditionally male... among them, the donning of tefillin and zizit' -- and even, perhaps, acting as the mohel(et) -- although clearly, women acting as ba'alat brit was by far the most common of these, probably the only one which really was common.
"During the course of the thirteenth century, the Hebrew sources begin to express discomfort with women's adoption of such practices, and the objections became more prevalent.... The objections to women performing a variety of ritual activities -- ba'alot brit, tefillin and zizit -- as well as the question of the kind of blessing they were allowed to make when performing the rituals, were all widely discussed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries."
Putting this in an even wider context, she explains that a similar process took place in the Christian world, where
"following a period of relative religious freedom for women, as is evident in the growth of lay piety and female orders in the twelfth century, church authorities of the thirteenth entury were determined to curb women's opportunities and especially their religious functions. Thus, for example, women who tried to preach were gravely reproached. Many of their religious practices, including fasting andother devotions, were criticized."
Could it be -- that in some spheres, the golden age for Jewish women was not the twentieth or twenty-first, but the twelfth century?

Arafat would be turning in his grave -- if he had one

This is just unbelievable. Remember the rumors at the end of the summer about Suha's boyfriend? Looks like there might be something to them:
French officials who have been following Yasser Arafat's treatment were astonished to discover that Suha Arafat's constant companion and financial adviser was none other than Pierre Rizk, who headed the intelligence service of the Phalanga during the Lebanese civil war and was in close personal contact with the guerrilla group responsible for the massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp in 1982. Rizk has been spotted in or near Percy Hospital in recent days. Since Rizk holds power of attorney for Suha Arafat, French and Palestinian officials have been in constant contact with him over Suha Arafat's financial demands, which she says are designed to ensure the financial future of her and her daughter. The outcome of these contacts is still not clear.
Let's get this clear, though. Suha cheats on Arafat with a man who once won $18m. from Arafat in a lawsuit, and almost toppled the PA -- and he's the one who will effectively determine when Suha feels financially secure enough to pull the plug?????? Jeez.
Incidentally, I'm not sure why French officials were 'astonished' about Rizk. Don't they read Bloghead (or The Jerusalem Post, for that matter)????

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Fear factor: change

So far, the media has speculated that the announcement of Arafat's death -- or perhaps, pulling the plug on him -- has been delayed by the need to organize a burial place, sort out the finances, and settle on a new leadership. I'd like to add another reason: I think the men lined up to replace Arafat are probably scared. Not just scared of what the future will bring, but scared of the fact that for the first time in decades, they will be responsible for making decisions about the future of the Palestinian people themselves. As long as the dictator is kept alive, either literally or in the people's minds, they are absolved of this rather awesome responsibility.
Indeed, the ongoing debate over whether Arafat is dead, alive, or somewhere in between, is beginning to resemble not so much a soap opera as the old Soviet Union, in which, for example, the terminal illnesses of both Yuri Andropov and Constantin Chernenko were shrouded in secrecy, and they both died 'of a cold.' Being totalitarian regimes, both societies, of course, have in common a terrible fear of change, and do everything possible to ensure that no opportunity for natural change ever arises. That is why there will be no announcement of Arafat's death until all the details of succession are settled. It would be nice if the media acknowledged that what we are seeing is not (just) a circus, but a totalitarian regime hard at work preserving itself.
My husband, incidentally, suggests that perhaps in the interim the Palestinians can get an actor to play Arafat, a la Richard Dreyfuss in Moon over Parador. But will they be able to find anyone hideous enough????

She doesn't look so happy...

Zahwa. Posted by Hello

Apparently, I'm not the only one who wants to know what Arafat's daughter, Zahwa, looks like. Since I posted her picture, I've been getting literally hundreds of hits from people googling for one. And now, a reader has sent me another pic -- Zahwa with Daddy. Not that they could have had much to talk about: According to this Daily Telegraph article, Arafat, who has not seen his daughter in 3 years, "is unable to converse with his daughter in French, but can sing the song Frère Jacques."

Rabbis nowdays are so oversensitive

"An Argentine rabbi reportedly was insulted during a lecture last week"
-- Headline, JTA breaking news

Attn., Star Wars fans

Natalie Portman has apparently enrolled in the Hebrew U's graduate school and overseas student program.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Each unhappy family

The murder of Theo Van Gogh reminded me of this article, published in the Toronto Star while I was in Canada for Succot. It gives some fascinating background on how Holland, to some extent, brought its immigrant problems on itself:
[A]s the country's economy boomed during the early 1970s, it went in search of temporary guest workers willing to labour in factories, on farms and dockyards. Men from poor, rural areas of Turkey and Morocco flooded into Holland.
The Dutch government was a generous host, extending unemployment benefits, welfare, health care and housing subsidies to its guest workers. Hundreds of immigrant associations were financed by the state to help them maintain their cultural identities. It was thought that this would make it easier for the workers to return home.
The assumption that guest workers would leave Holland persisted even when their families began to arrive. Their children were encouraged to attend primary schools in their first languages with Dutch authorities believing this would make their eventual re-integration that much smoother.
It wasn't until the 1980s that the government came to understand that most migrant workers had no intention of leaving.... [In the early 1990s] "doubts began to develop about the effectiveness of facilitating immigrant cultures and of creating separate provisions for them."
Those doubts, however, were not discussed in public until 2000 when Paul Scheffer, an author and historian, published an essay, `The Multicultural Tragedy,' in one of Holland's major newspapers.
For Scheffer, the multicultural tragedy involved the rise of an "ethnic underclass" detached from Dutch culture and society. He argued that the insularity of immigrants, particularly Muslims, would eventually undermine Holland's liberalism and social cohesion.
I guess it's important to remember that while people talk about the problems integrating 'Europe's Muslims,' each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This is why they say you shouldn't judge someone until you're in their shoes

Dr. Ruth reveals:
"My legs were almost ripped off on my 20th birthday in 1948 in Jerusalem from cannon ball shrapnel which exploded in the student's residence where I was living... Three other students were killed instantly and many more were wounded. The metal pierced both my legs and there was blood everywhere. A cannon ball from Jordan had smashed through the window. I was thrown 20 feet . . . The strangest thing was that all I could think about was whether there might be some blood on the brand-new shoes I had just gotten for my birthday, and amazingly there wasn't even a drop on them, which was all I cared about in some kind of strange denial."

A wartime love story

The NYT wedding section this week includes the marriage of a producer for CNN's Wolf Blitzer who was sent to cover the war in Iraq, and the lead special operations for the First Marine Expeditionary Force:
"It was in a combat zone, and I saw this young woman who was dirty and tired, dressed in a T-shirt and a flak jacket and some khaki pants, and she was maintaining her bearing and presence of mind," recalled this 39-year-old marine, who grew up on Long Island and whose career included a tour in the first Gulf War and at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank. "There was something about her that I was attracted to, this very confident person."
Ms. Roth is as "tough as an old boot," said Lucy Spiegel, a CNN colleague. "She's not a gushy, gushy girl."
Ms. Roth, 38, recalled sitting next to the major in the Humvee on the long ride toward Baghdad, chatting about their similar interests in world affairs and travel. (Sensing a possible wartime love connection, one of her cameramen did a little reconnaissance work on him and passed her a note that read, "Single, Harvard, Goldman Sachs.")
Sixty miles outside the capital, the producer and the major exchanged business cards and said goodbye. At that point, Ms. Roth said, she thought "that was it." But she looked up from her desk at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad a few days later, and there he was: dirty, loaded with weapons, and grinning because he had found her.
Mr. Blitzer said: "The first time she called me from Baghdad, she said, `Wolf, I've met the man I'm going to marry.' And I said, `He's Jewish? In Baghdad?' You can't make this stuff up."
Full report here.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Southern trees, strange fruit -- remembered

Cornell Hillel, plus 'several university departments,' have launched a week-long series of events in honor of Leo Frank, who graduated from the institution in 1906. Frank, as you will recall, was convicted of the murder of Mary Phagan in 1913 in a trial clouded by anti-Semitism and hanged by a lynch mob after his death sentence was commuted to life two years later. His entire case -- which marked the revival of the KKK, the establishment of the ADL and which still haunts parts of Georgia -- was thrown back into the limelight last year with the publication of Steve Oney's absolutely fascinating book, And the Dead Shall Rise. Oney gives an exhaustive account of the murder, trial and its aftermath, and exposes for the first time some of the extremely prominent names behind the lynch mob. He does not prove beyond doubt who actually did commit the murder, but provides a more-than-likely alternative. If you haven't read it yet, do.

The BBC apologizes -- kind of

The BBC has apparently acknowledged that correspondent Barbara Plett was guilty of a "misjudgement"; The Sunday Telegraph runs an important editorial in which it writes:
Ms Plett's flood of feeling is just the most overt and recent manifestation of a pro-Palestinian bias endemic within the BBC. As a publicly-funded organisation, it should remember that it is not paid to take sides. As things stand, however, we might conclude that Mr Arafat's culpable "ambivalence towards violence" is echoed by our national broadcaster.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

'Mitpallelot haNashim'

I'm reading Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe by Elisheva Baumgarten, and came across the following passage:
"Midwifery was one of the most highly regarded female occupations. Consequently, it earns special mention in several different sources. It is one of only two female occupations noted on gravestones, along with women who served as prayer leaders (Mitpallelot haNashim)."
Does anyone know anything about these women?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Loose ends

Some developments in issues which have been discussed recently on this blog:

  • Barak and Concordia -- The University has just announced that it has reversed its decision not to allow Barak to speak on campus, and will be refurbishing an existing building to make sure it is 'defendable against any attack.' A tremendous achievement for all those who have fought for free speech and against the increasing victimization of Jews on campus over the past few weeks.
  • Biased BBC -- According to the top story in today's Jewish Chronicle, Barbara Plett's article in which she confessed she wept when Arafat left Ramallah has caused quite a storm. The Beeb has been overwhelmed by hundreds of emails on the subject -- the majority of which came through HonestReporting.
    As a side note, I am proud to say that this blog played its part in this turn of events -- after learning about the Plett piece on Imshin and posting it here, I also tipped off Backspin, HonestReporting's blog, which is where they first heard of it.
    In any case, publicly, the BBC is not backing down -- they are insisting that Plett did not breach “traditional BBC strictures about fairness, accuracy and balance,” because "her analysis of the Arafat legacy… clearly lists his shortcomings as well as his achievements."
    This, of course, is rubbish -- two lines towards the bottom do not cancel out the overwhelming pro-Arafat sentiment of the piece. The JC adds: "internally, it is understood, it is a different story, with a view among senior editors that Ms Plett should not have expressed her personal feelings." Unfortunately, rather than worrying about the propriety of Ms Plett expressing her feelings, perhaps they should be worried about whether a reporter who so strongly identifies with one of the sides should be reporting at all. Not to mention -- if she shouldn't have been expressing these feelings, how come the BBC published them?????? By their own admission, “scripts of all items designed for ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ are examined in great detail before they are recorded and transmitted.”
  • Women-Only Disco: A rather cheery article in Ha'aretz this week, as promised.

Shabbat Shalom!

The rabbinic courts don't get it

Yad L’Isha, an organization which uses female advocates to represent women who are denied gets by their husbands in rabbinical courts, and runs under the auspices of Rabbi Riskin’s Ohr Torah Stone, recently celebrated 7 years since inception. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the director general of Israel’s rabbinical courts, interrupted an event marking the anniversary in order to deliver the following message:
“Recently Yad L’Isha has positioned itself as a fist/punch to the husband and a fist to the rabbinical courts... The day isn’t far when the rabbinical courts will boycott the organization. If Yad L’Isha turns Eli Ben-Dahan and the Dayanim into their great enemies – you will have wasted your work....”
In other words – 'you’re making life too difficult for us, it’s no longer as easy as it was to settle these cases by sacrificing the wives. We’re beginning to feel threatened – time to get rid of these feminists before they really start getting uppity.'
Unfortunately, some of these husbands have been denying their wives gets for 10 years or more, others are blackmailing them for thousands of shekels before they’ll produce the get – all with the rabbinical courts’ collusion. These husbands need a good metaphorical punch – and so do the rabbinical courts, which are notoriously bad for women. Rabbi Ben Dahan’s disgraceful threat to the women’s champions just goes to show one more time how arrogant and out of touch the dayanim are. Rather than representing justice and Torah, they represent... men. The Rabbinic Courts can boycott Yad L'Isha if they insist -- but if they don't wake up soon, the day isn’t far when the people of Israel will boycott the rabbinical courts as well.

Back -- by popular demand

Mindy, a 28-year old Hassidish woman from NY, writes about her life – and infertility.

(Via Heimishtown)

Losing their religion

Consider this:
"President George W Bush built his election win on a coalition of older, white, church-goers in a race where voters were more likely to cite "morality" as their top concern rather than war or terror, analysis of the vote showed..."
And then consider this, from an article in today’s London Times (unfortunately, they link to the wrong story on their website):
Study after study appears to prove that people [in the UK] are increasingly losing faith in the Church and the Bible and turning instead to mysticism in guises ranging from astrology to reiki and holistic healing... More and more people describe themselves as ‘spiritual,’ fewer as ‘religious’ and, as they do so, they are turning away from the Christian church, with its rules and ‘self last’ philosophy, and looking inwards for the meaning of life....
Only 7.9 percent of the population now attends church, down from 11 percent 20 years ago....
So what does meditation have that conventional worship does not?
Neutrality, suggests Elizabeth Forder, who runs [a spiritual meditation centre in a building which used to belong to a church]. “We are not affiliated to any religion and there is no belief system imposed on anyone here”...
If disaffected churchgoers are seeking neutrality, they are also in flight from judgment. “I don’t want to be preached at any more;” “I’m sick of being made to feel guilty” or “I don’t need to be told how to live my life,” people will say when asked why they stopped attending Church.
That goes quite a long way to explain why so many Europeans hate the Republicans so much. It’s not just different politics; the culture gap between the two continents is getting as wide as the ocean between them.