Monday, January 31, 2005

Hey, if Schwarzenegger can get elected Governor...

Kinky Friedman probably still can't. But he's trying, in Texas, under the slogans, "He's Not Kinky, He's My Governor" and "Kinky for Governor -- Why the Hell Not?"
Um, I can think of several reasons. But good luck...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqi elections -- a triumph

Not only has the Iraqi election passed in relative peace, it has been a massive success. In some areas, 80% or more of the electorate voted, many of them with great enthusiasm and pride, not to mention courage. Whilst the road to true peace and freedom for the Iraqis is still long, today's events are proof, to me, that the Arab people are interested in democracy, that the insurgents speak for a small minority of their people, and that the war to free them from the despot Saddam Hussein was justified. I can't wait to see how the Guardian, Observer, and the rest of the anti-war papers are going to cover this triumph tomorrow.
It would also, incidentally, be interesting to see some analysis of how the votes are expected to fall (did they take exit polls???), rather than simple analysis of how the day itself went. The fact that neither CNN nor the BBC -- as far as I can see -- offer any such in-depth reporting, at least at this stage, shows something about the paucity and lightweight nature of their coverage.

UPDATE: Danny says it better than I did.

Shabbat on Sunday

A reader travelling to Japan has told me he has received a specific psak saying he must keep Shabbat on Sunday, because of dateline issues (even though the few local Jews - including, I understand, Chabad -- keep it on Saturday). See here, point 1a and here for explanation. Anyone ever done this before?

The Observant Reader

Wendy Shalit writes an interesting piece in today's New York Times about the spurt, in recent years, of literature about the Haredi community. Her basic thesis is that some of the most successful books -- eg. Nathan Englander's For The Relief of Unbearable Urges , books by Tova Reich and Tova Mirvis -- are written by people who purport to be insiders, but have in fact left the fold or perhaps never even really belonged in it. As a result, they portray the community rather negatively, and without any really idealistic characters. She asks:
What is the market for this fiction? Does it simply satisfy our desire, as one of Mirvis's reviewers put it, to indulge in ''eavesdropping on a closed world''? Or is there a deeper urge: do some readers want to believe the ultra-Orthodox are crooked and hypocritical, and thus lacking any competing claim to the truth? Perhaps, on the other hand, readers are genuinely interested in traditional Judaism but don't know where to look for more nuanced portraits of this world.
Shalit contrasts this to Welcome to Heavenly Heights by Risa Miller and Seven Blessings by Ruchama King, both of which came out a couple of years ago. Writes Shalit:
Like Miller, King doesn't shy away from the problems that affect her world, but she also captures the subtlety and magic of its traditions. In particular, she convincingly describes the sublimated excitement that characterizes ultra-Orthodox dating as tiny gestures take on heightened meaning.
I think that Shalit is perhaps oversensitive here to the books being written by the Mirvises and Englanders of this world. I don't think you can read either of their books without gaining the impression that this is a world they both do -- in vastly different ways, and certainly vastly differently to the way Shalit does -- care about. (I can't comment about Tova Reich whom I've never read.)
In any case, the crux of Shalit's argument is that one portrayal is more 'real'/'authentic' than another. On this I disagree with her. As a Ba'alat Tshuva, she -- and Miller, and King -- see this community in a very different way to the way others who were either born and bred in it, or who grew up in close proximity see it. This does not mean one is 'wrong' and one is 'right.' People simply experience reality differently, and they're entitled to write about it as they see fit.
You could also ask to what extent any author portrays any community / experience 'realistically.' Does John LeCarre portray the spy world "realistically"?? Does Jilly Cooper portray the racing world "realistically"?? Did Bashevis Singer always portray the Shtetl world "realistically"?? I doubt it, and I'm not sure this is a valid criterion for measuring these books.
In any case, I should add that both Englander and Mirvis are, in my opinion, highly overrated, but Risa Miller and Ruchama King were downright awful. Their books had no real plot or tension; they were held together, barely, by the kind of 'atmosphere' which Shalit seems to laud them for. If you haven't heard of them, there's a reason for that. I'm sure there are many people out there who will happily buy more 'realistic' (and by that, Shalit means 'sympathetic') books about the Haredi world if only those which do come out were a little more gripping.

"They only pick up white trash"

The American Nazi party has volunteered to pick up trash alongside a rural Oregon road -- and received a plaque along the way crediting its good work:
"American Nazi Party" is written on the sign, which is part of the "Adopt-A-Road" program that encourages local groups to clean up road litter in exchange for recognition on small signs...
Marion County officials say there is nothing they can do about the Nazi litter pickup because barring the group from the program would violate its First Amendment free speech rights.
What interests me is why the Nazi party would volunteer to be part of the program in the first place. Do they really think that portraying themselves as good citizens will help them overcome the rather massive electoral liability of their party's name?

UPDATE: The signs have been vandalized and removed.

Havel Havelim no. 7

Welcome to the seventh edition of Havel Havalim, otherwise known as 'Ye Weekly Roundup of What's Been Going on in the Jewish Blogosphere.'

Top of the list, of course, is the JIB Awards, graciously hosted by Dave at Israellycool. After thousands of votes, the polls are now closed. With some sucking up to the people of Micronesia, hyperbole, demonizing the competition (literally) and some plain old begging, competition has been tough. And that was only the preliminary round!

Next, we have some family news. Naomi Chana has announced to the blogworld her engagement. From the description of the courtship, sounds like Birkat Hamazon will be a particularly special event at the wedding. Mazal Tov!

In the meanwhile, there is a new voice on Jewschool: Mobius's sister, Holy Terror. Kishma Ken Hi, as they say in Hebrew -- the name of this "Kachnik Metalhead" is rather indicative. Yikes; must make for interesting Friday night family dinners.

Last but not least, RenReb is recovering from the shock of having one of her children (known as 'Phillies') almost being hit by a car. We wish them both well.

In entertainment news, Shawn analyzes the Passion's Oscar nomination (putting it down bringing one source which attributes it to 'the export of Catholic guilt' to Hollywood), and points to a new movie about the Crusaders as the next potential hotspot for Jewish-Christian relations.

Jewlicious thinks the Mossad is behind that fake VW suicide-car-bomb ad (whose creators have mysteriously disappeared).

And according to Prodly, Matisyahu's latest concert was a success ('even some elderly folks turned up'); Psychotoddler says it was "the most unapologisingly [sic] goyishe shows I've ever seen a frum yid perform." In other words, also a success.

Onto Israel. As usual, Allison knows what people on the Israeli street are really talking about (hint: it ain't the upcoming Sharon-Abu Mazen summit). Oh, and she's launched a Challah recipe competition. When's "Doctor Bean" getting back to us about that Chocolate Chip Challah? We'll accept recipes from anyone.

Gilly is blogging from Miluim -- or at least was until "technical difficulties" -- I wonder if that's code for "My Commander" -- stopped him.

Harry blasts the Jewish Agency for creating competition for birthright, while Nushyman wonders whether birthright is all it's cracked up to be in the first place (although IMHO, her sister's question is by far the more reasonable). Andrew Silow-Carroll, on the other hand, defends Abe Foxman and the ADL against accusations they're too zealous in their fight against anti-Semitism.

I guess that puts us firmly back in the Diaspora,where we also have historian Deborah Lipstadt blogging from Air Force 2! Not too shabby.

In the religious controversy corner, we have Barefoot Jewess wondering whether the Mechitza is sexy (!), DovBear pondering the life of an Orthodox Jewish lesbian, and Gil Student bringing a number of examples of respected rabbis who, at the very least, do not object to the idea of evolution and do not consider it heresy. There's also PaleoJudaica on the neverending mystery of the Shroud of Turin, which is now assumed to be 'between 1,300 and 3,000 years old,' and not definitely medieval. He links to an interesting post about Judean burial rites, but doesn't clarify for me how the image on the shroud can possibly be the historical Jesus, seeing as (amongst other objections...) it looks like a 75-year old European saint, and not the much younger, olive-skinned man we know Jesus was.

Talking of mysteries, Ari has stopped writing about men, but is a little coy about why. And Lisa has left her readership hanging as she works on the fifth installment of her series on how she came to live in Israel. All we have is this teaser... Just hold on, folks!

And that concludes the seventh edition of Hevel Havelim. Next week at It's Almost Supernatural. Thanks, as usual, to SoccerDad for the organization and the idea.

Isaiah Berlin and the tendency to totalitarianism in the Chareidi world

In a posting about a review of Isaiah Berlin's diaries, DovBear provides a link to Leon Wieseltier's obituary of SIr Isaiah Berlin from 1997. It contains a masterly and elegaic summary of the ideas that drove this outstanding thinker (during his lifetime regarded as the UK's 'wisest man'). Some folks commenting on the Rabbi Slifkin controversy should read it. Chareidi society is showing more and more features of classic totalitarian regimes - and the reactions of its 'citizens' demonstrate it day by day- see some of the comments on this blog recently, and perhaps more clearly the 'discussion' on fear of speaking out in the comments to this posting on DovBear .
As Leon Wieseltier notes, Isaiah Berlin was a Schneersohn (on his maternal side). I once sat next to him on a shabbat morning in Oxford shul (1972-ish), at which he was an infrequent attender. (This occasion was a bar mitzvah.) He told me that he, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Yehudi Menuhin were all equal cousins to each other. I could only speculate on what genes their common progenitor must have possessed! Isaiah Berlin had inherited the tefillin of the Alter Rebbe, and now and again Chabadniks would trek out to Oxford, knock on his door and ask to hold the precious articles for a few seconds. His mother, who lived to a grand old age, lived in London, and was a close friend of the Chayya Mushke, the late Lubavitcher Rebbetzin, who used to come to London frquently to visit her, where they would go to art galleries and the theatre together ..... (personal information from a leading Chabadnik in London).

Friday, January 28, 2005

I respond to 'Zev''s challenge ....

Hidden away in some 'Comments' posted on a completely different issue (go to the link and click on comments) "Zev" takes me to task for not acknowledging recent postings on Cross-currents about 'la'affaire Slifkin' after I had commented (along with others) on their silence.
a) I'm going to be brief (probably a mistake) because it's erev Shabbat b) the day job has its time demands and c) I'm trying to cut down on the length of postings.
b) I tend to agree with Shmarya's comment
c) I'm not impressed with the postings. None of them come out and say what needs to be said. Rabbi Adlerstein's 'defence' was extremely even-handed, and doesn't give any view on the actual ban. Toby Katz is clearly troubled by the issue, especially at the level of the human consequences for Rabbi Slifkin, (and herself acknowledges the "conspicuous silence" of C-C), but "can see why the ban was necessary" etc etc. I find her second posting absurd (and I'm using strong language for reasons that I will explain below). Rabbi Feldman's post, if it is meant to be indirectly about the Slifkin affair, is -well, indirect! Dr. Schick's post (and I have a great deal of respect for Marvin Schick) seems to imply that the reason why the 'Cherem' should not have happened is because of image.
There are issues of process: A person's life and career have been ruined; Rabbis whose religious and moral authority is meant to be exemplary have apparently signed documents without any semblance of fair process; and our community is being dragged another step into witch-hunts, heresy-hunts, the persecution of individuals and massively powerful 'thought control'. There is a moral issue here on which all of the Cross-Currents posters to date are silent.
There are issues of content: Rabbi Slifkin's view is not non-Orthodox. Most people agree with that. Too many people are now scared stiff to simply say it out loud, on the record.
In his weekly email, Rabbi Jeremy Rosen is the most recent to say what we are all thinking, and as usual he says it well:

If the Judaism that survives is one that insists on banning ideas it finds challenging, if it insists on claiming that any view to which it has not yet accommodated itself is automatically heretical, then, frankly, we will have two Orthodox Judaisms--the Judaism that keeps halacha and thinks, and the Judaism that keeps halacha and does not think. The Orthodoxy that allows people to enquire and examine other ideas, and that which is running scared of the unknown, like Medieval popes.

===== and, by the way, rather than regarding Rabbi Slifkin's responses on his own website as "overly long" (Dr. Schick) , I think that they are models of restraint, derech eretz, and patience. He shines - morally and intellectually -- compared to 99% of the other comments on this issue. He is clearly a gentleman, and a true "Gadol".
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

BBC bias broadens

Even the BBC has as much as admitted, through its appointment of a Middle East ombudsman, that its coverage of the Middle East leaves much to be desired. Many Brits are convinced the channel -- which, do not forget, is publicly owned and is supposed to stay strictly impartial -- tilts systematically to the Left in its coverage of Britain itself. Now, an independent report ordered by the corporation concludes that

The BBC's coverage of the European Union is not deliberately biased, but "needs to be improved and to be made more demonstrably impartial"... It blamed ignorance of the EU among journalists, a tendency to polarise and oversimplify issues and the corporation's institutional mindset for "cultural and unintentional bias" in BBC news.

The panel's report confirmed that the BBC is systematically in favour of the EU and excludes anti-EU voices.
Clearly, the BBC has a particular problem with political bias which pervades all areas of its reporting, not just Israel. Activists who wish to change its Middle Eastern coverage might be better off getting together with other 'victims' of its bias to push for a more wholesale reform, and seeing the problem in its wider context.

Analyze this!

The New Jersey Jewish News describes a 3-year old Israeli technology being imported to at least one US mall, in which security video cameras themselves analyze and can alert guards to unusual behavior:
“We are training the video through the computer system to recognize abnormal behaviors, like somebody going the wrong way in an escalator, or a package that becomes stationary in an area where nothing is stationary. When we set the software to recognize that, a camera lights up. If you go into an area where people are not supposed to be, a camera lights up. If you go into a door that is not usually open, a camera lights up. Even if you have the code for it, we get to see who goes in. A human being watching that camera can dispatch one of his human assets, a security guard or a maintenance person, to find out who is in that room.”
Sounds similar to a technology I recently read is being used in British underground (subway) stations to alert guards to potential suicides. The video can 'tell' through movement patterns if someone is likely to jump onto the track. I wonder if it's the same, Israeli system?

UPDATE: More innovative Israeli technology.

Self-centred, selfish, petty worldview

Now that he's settled the issue of singing in the shower, Mordechai Eliyahu has turned to matters of slightly greater theological import: the Tsunami. Apparently, he has written that the G-d caused the Tsunami because the nations of the world supported disengagement. Yes, that's right, Israeli disengagement:
"The [Babylonian] Talmud [the tractate of Berachot] says that when God is angry at the nations of the world for not aiding Israel - they want to evacuate, to disengage, to interfere in our affairs, He claps his hands, causing an earthquake."
Aaah, I too was disappointed when the people of Phuket didn't come out against disengagement. I was really relying on them.
My only comfort: Rav Eliyahu, the former chief rabbi, was marginally more offensive than Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the current chief rabbi. That's progress for you!

Could/should Auschwitz have been bombed?

Sir Martin Gilbert discusses the issue in today's 'Times'.

Au revoir, Kiddish clubs

The OU has announced it's launching a campaign against that great evil of Synagogue life, the Kiddish Club, which 'desecrate[s] Saturday morning prayers and set[s] a bad example to the community's youth.'
Interestingly, the article says that KCs are usually frequented by young/middle aged people. In all the shuls I've ever belonged to, Kiddish Clubs have always been the preserve of the older members of the community, the machers, and were usually invitation-only, creating a third problem: their exclusive nature. Not that I'm advocating they should be open to everyone -- I am firmly against Kiddish Clubs for the same reasons as the OU -- but they also served, very publicly, to promote the unwelcome idea that some members of the shuls were more equal, shall we say, than others.
In short, even if this is just an opening shot (no pun intended) in a long, hard war against the Kiddish Clubs, it is an important one. Good luck to the OU, and good riddance to the Clubs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ho hum....

Chumra of the week: You can no longer sing in the shower in Hebrew. But don't worry: you can still hum. For now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Blog business

  • Thanks to everyone who has already voted for Bloghead in the JIB Awards preliminary round. Don't forget, you can vote once a day -- and we don't mind if you vote for us!
  • People of the Book is off to a nice start... Please drop in.
  • Has Bibi put on some weight? Has Sharon suddenly developed an American accent?

    Looks like there was at least one surprise Israeli rep at Donald Trump's star-studded wedding: none other than Bibi bichvodo u'beatzmo. At least, I'm pretty sure it was Bibi, who was definitely in the US this week. The guests at the wedding thought it might be Sharon, and apparently couldn't tell the difference between the two -- something I'm sure the arch-enemies would be thrilled to hear...

    UPDATE: Confirmed: it was Bibi.

    As we predicted…

    The Army has announced that it is disbanding units consisting only of Hesder boys. And while Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, himself a knitted-Kippa wearer, protests (and protests and protests) that this move has nothing to do with the threats coming from the national religious camp that its boys will be instructed to disobey orders in the event of disengagement from Gaza, it is hard to believe him. The army does not reverse a 30+ - year policy which is integral to the Hesder program against the wishes of the Hesder rabbis and with almost no consultation with the Hesder public (Stern claims, laughably, that he asked for a show of hands in meetings with some Hesder boys) at such a sensitive time for the community on what amounts to a multicultural whim (as Stern has claimed).
    This, of course, is a terrible blow for the national religious community and for many boys who feel more comfortable serving in the army because they are part of these units (at least for some time). It is hard, however, to avoid the conclusion that the national religious rabbis brought this disaster on themselves with their irresponsible and dangerous pronouncements. This was entirely predictable; Indeed, this is what I wrote on Bloghead in October in a post entitled, ‘Goodbye Hesder?’:
    If I were a senior figure in the army or a politician, here's what I'd be thinking: "More than 35 years ago, we agreed to set up a hesder system so that the religious nationalist sector in Israel could combine its army service with religious study. The hesder framework was supposed to reinforce the sector's commitment to the army, by making it easier for them to serve, and create a true partnership.
    "In the past months, many of the yeshivot have become enemies of the army, which utterly depends on the obedience of its soldiers. Hesder rabbis are encouraging their students to disobey orders; we don't know whether students are more loyal, in this context, to their rabbis or to their commanders. It is a matter of utmost urgency that the Hesder framework be dismantled immediately."
    The rabbis are now reaping what they have sown, all too casually and taking for granted what the army granted to them as a privilege.

    The roots of Tu Bishvat

    A few weeks ago we talked about the amazing malleability of Channukah, which meant something different to each generation. Today we celebrate Tu Bishvat which is, if possible, even more malleable than Channukah!
    Two nice explanations of this idea can be found here and here. In short, Tu Bishvat can be roughly divided into four historical periods:

    • Rabbinic/Economic: Tu Bishvat was first mentioned in the Mishnah (Tractate Rosh Hashanah) as the New Year for Trees – one of several new years to do with tithes. The fifteenth of the month of Shvat was, quite simply, a tax day which marked “the end of the arboreal fiscal year: tithes on fruit after this date belonged to the next year,” fruit from before this date belonged to the previous one. As a side note, Shammai wanted the New Year for Trees to fall on the first of the month. Would the festival of Aleph Shvat have caught on as well??
    • Mystical – After Israel’s exile tithing was no longer relevant and so the festival was neglected for a good 1,000 years. It only bloomed again (ahem) in sixteenth century Tzfat, where the Kabbalists, and in particular the AriZal (Rabbi Yitzhak Luria), resurrected it and gave it a new, cosmic face. The Ari was responsible for inventing the Tu Bishvat Seder and for initiating the custom of eating fruit on this day. The ceremony was imbued with Kabbalistic meaning – each fruit, each cup of wine etc. symbolised a Kabbalistic idea. In 1753 the Kabbalists produced a Tu Bishvat Haggadah called "Pri Etz Hadar" or "Fruit of the Goodly Tree."
    • Zionist/National: Tu Bishvat received another boost in the late nineteenth century when the Zionists connected it to the ideas of reforestation of the land of Israel and to the reblooming of the people of Israel in their land. To this day, Israeli school children plant trees on Tu Bishvat – a more recent phenomenon than they may realize. Incidentally, the Knesset held its first ever meeting on Tu Bishvat (1949), at the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem.
    • Ecological – In the 1960s, environmental activists began to use Tu Bishvat as a day to remember and promote universal ecological issues. This is more of a Diaspora/American face of Tu Bishvat, however….

    Wishing you a multi-layered Tu Bishvat!

    Conrad Black and the Hollinger thieves suddenly look good by comparison...

    Looks like The Jerusalem Post's ownership troubles are not over. One of the paper's buyers, CanWest, is now suing the other buyer, Eli Azur, for reneging on its part of the joint-owndership agreement -- which only came into effect a few weeks ago -- and basically trying to push CanWest out. They've also taken out a temporary restraining order stopping Azur from touching the paper's assets or staff.
    Won't these guys ever get a break?

    (Via Nushworld)

    Still no sign of any Sabras caring....

    Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel's deputy Education Minister, has vowed to overturn by the end of the month (!) the ministry's policy of not recognizing undergraduate diplomas issued by U.S. universities that accept a year of yeshiva study in Israel as degree credits.
    Not that he's done it yet -- but of-course it took an immigrant to feel strongly about this injustice and take up the case.

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    Finally, a Jewish community where everyone agrees with each other

    One of the longest, deepest and most famous Jewish feuds of the modern era is over. Yitzhak Levy, one of Afghanistan's only two remaining Jews, is dead. Zebulun Simentov, Kabul's last Jew, now has the city's famous synagogue to himself. I'm guessing that a part of him will miss his old foe.

    Protocols of the Elders of Zion -- alive and well in Moscow

    There have been several alarming reports over the last few days about the rise in anti-Semitism in Russia, but none more alarming than this one, which reads like it was lifted directly from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Whilst it comes from real extremists, the fact that there are politicians on the spectrum who can spout such shocking anti-Semitic vitriol -- as Russia's chief rabbi says, openly appealing to people's basest instincts, and to one of Russia's primordial prejudices -- and get away without even an official condemnation, shows something frightening about Putin's Russia and just how far removed it is from a Western-style democracy. Nationalism is the name of the game -- and the Jews appear to be the scapegoats, yet again. Depressing.

    Suddenly I'm off my food

    Report: Israeli enemies to be microwaved. Ouch!
    PS. Note that the "weapon" -- quotation marks because I'm sure it doesn't exist, at least not in the format reported here -- was developed in the territories -- making it (not to mention the settlements) extra evil....

    VOTING OPENS ... it's fun, but support your favourite blog!

    In the Israellycool JIB ("Jewish and Israeli Blog') Awards, Bloghead has been nominated in the following categories:

    • Best Overall blog
    • Best New blog
    • Best Politics, Current Affairs and Academia blog
    • Best Jewish Religion blog
    • Best Jewish Culture blog

    (unfortunately, there is no 'Best daughter and father blog' category!)

    So .... friends of Bloghead -- please go to this link and vote! (Easiest to click on the 'View all polls' link at the bottom of the list.)


    PS: Dear Dov Bear -- we collegially wish you luck, and will refrain from responding to your snarky comment!!

    What's in a name?

    Perhaps Rabbi Shergill should change his name to something less confusing -- like Moshe, or Yankel?

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    A 'middle-of-the-road Anglican' Jew gives mussar to the Jewish people

    Whoever it was who accused me of being a hopeless liberal (the mysterious "hmmmm") will be glad to hear that my liberalism is being sorely tested by this bizarre article in the otherwise excellent UK political/cultural weekly, the 'Spectator'. I want to respond, but I don't even know where to begin ... any (sensible) suggestions gratefully received. I shall think about it over Shabbat.

    UPDATE: See this post by Melanie Phillips on the same subject. And Elder of Ziyon writes The Spectator a letter.

    Canadian Jewish School Funding - now you see it, now you don't

    In another instalment of the long saga of public funding for Jewish schools in Canada, the Charest government in Quebec has done a hasty about-turn . Actually, Quebec Jewish schools do already receive some direct funding from the provincial government. Premier Charest announced recently that by allowing Jewish schools in Montreal to 'affiliate' with public school boards that funding could be increased without needing new legislation(I think I have that right).
    He just neglected to tell anyone (eg his Cabinet) about this idea, announced it straight after a major fund-raising dinner held under Jewish auspices for his party, and has had to simply cancel the deal ....... Embarrassing.
    This comes after a differently-structured tax break for parents whose children attend 'faith-based schools' in neighbouring Ontario was cancelled (retroactively!) after a change of government.
    Is Canada SO antisemitic???? Well, I think that the two Provinces are actually different cases. In Ontario, there is a huge political bias against private schools altogether, and the cancellation of the tax-credit (although it mainly affected Jewish schools) also affected many other, smaller denominational schools. (Let me make it clear that I believe that Ontario IS discriminatory in its policy -- but see below...)
    In Quebec, a) there was an issue of process -- the deal had an unfortunate impression of secrecy and dealing behind closed doors; b) Quebec has a fierce secular sensitivity, as a result of the overthrow of Catholic domination of public life some decades ago (the 'Quiet Revolution') and c) the Jewish community, for better or worse, and despite the growing Francophone Sephardi community is still identified with the Anglophone minority in a fiercely Francophone province.

    However, there may be a common sub-text to both, and to some noises heard elsewhere recently about the wisdom or otherwise of government support for religious schools. And that is the increasing Government awareness in Canada, and certainly in Europe, (see the link for the UK and the widely-reported French debate) that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander -- ie - increased support for religious schools of any denomination will bring demands for funding of Moslem schools. And, for the time being, no Government wants that, even though they won't say so out loud.

    Come to Israel, we want you, we need you -- and we'll resent you when you get here

    Bad news for graduates of many US universities, including YU:
    The Ministry of Education is refusing to recognize undergraduate diplomas issued by U.S. universities that accept a year of yeshiva study in Israel as degree credits... North American immigrant with an undergraduate degree from Yeshiva University and a subsequent masters from Columbia, for example, is viewed by the ministry as holding only a high school diploma - since once the undergraduate degree is deemed invalid, any subsequent postgraduate degrees are not accepted either. For those working in the public sector, this means reduced income, since pay scales shift significantly depending on a person's academic standing.
    The rule is that the Ministry of Education will not recognize degrees which include credits from 'non Academic institions.' This is supposedly a measure to combat the increasing number of Israelis who use fraudulent degrees to get higher up on the pay scale (people convicted of this include senior members of the police force, MKs and teachers).
    Conveniently for the state, immigrants can still use the degrees to show they are qualified for jobs -- but not to demand appropriate salaries. As one of the olim interviewed remarks, this leads to the absurd situation where the state will use immigrants' expertise -- but not pay them for it.
    The worst bit is that according to Ha'aretz, the Ministry knows about the situation, yet has no plans to change the rules because it "only" affects people's salaries! But surely, if the government really wants to combat fraudulent degrees, it would not be difficult to create a more subtle and flexible policy which will weed out those who are really trying to dupe them, and not discriminate against well-educated, enthusiastic Olim who genuinely want to contribute?
    Unfortunately, the unhappy truth is not that they can't, but that they won't. This is another chapter in a long history of Israel telling (what it perceives as) rich, successful immigrants it wants them and needs them -- but once they get there, showing no interest whatsoever in their personal welfare, and even making things unnecessarily difficult for them. Anyone looking for an explanation need look no further than Minister Avraham Poraz's resentful comments last week. He effectively told Stanley Fischer, who was appointed governer of the Bank of Israel: "You're not a real Israeli, and you don't deserve any perks in this country, until you've suffered like the rest of us."
    So if our rules mean you are going to earn significantly less than your Israeli peers, although you might have equal or better qualifications than them, why should we go to the bother of changing them? Suffer, and then get back to us.

    Shabbat Shalom

    Ha'aretz has an encouraging report about a rise in Israel in the numbers of secular Jews celebrating Friday night with 'a mix of traditional prayer and modern Hebrew poetry.'
    Many of the participants found their inspiration in NY's Bnei Yeshurun Synagogue -- yet another proof that Israelis, if only they are willing to be open to it, have something positive to learn from American / Diaspora Jewish life and that just in the same way as we encourage Diaspora youth to visit Israel, there is merit in encouraging Israeli youth to visit and experience Diaspora Jewish communities.
    The article also shows that, contrary to popular perception, there is a demand for community life in Israel as well, and that there is a spiritual thirst in some corners of secular Israel which can be quenched within Jewish (and not, say, Indian) culture. One of the participants explicitly tells Ha'aretz that the specifically did not want to join a Reform congregation because they were not interested in its ideological or political agenda; are these communities the tiny buds, perhaps, of some new, uniquely Israeli religious stream?

    Thursday, January 20, 2005

    'Good to be'

    You have to feel sorry for the Hindus, whose second most sacred symbol, the swastika, was hijacked by Hitler and has been taboo in Western culture ever since. According to the BBC, they are going to launch a campaign to prevent the ‘good luck charm’ being banned across Europe, as some have proposed in the wake of Harry’s Nazi gaffe. I wouldn’t worry too much if I were them; the scandal has almost died out and all plans to ban the swastika will most likely be forgotten in a day or two -- at least until the next scandal. Still, you have to wonder how much good luck a charm that was adopted by the Nazis can possibly bring. (Any thoughts on that, Harry?).
    The BBC does, however, include an interesting history of the swastika, which was selected by the Nazis precisely because of its Indian origin:
    The word is derived from the Sanskrit "svastika" and means "good to be". In Indo-European culture it was a mark made on people or objects to give them good luck.
    It has been around for thousands of years, particularly as a Hindu symbol in the holy texts, to mean luck, Brahma or samsara (rebirth). It can be clockwise or anti-clockwise and the way it points in all four directions suggests stability. Sometimes it features a dot between each arm...
    But it is its association with the National Socialist German Workers Party in the 1930s which is etched on the minds of Western society. Before Hitler, it was used in about 1870 by the Austrian Pan-German followers of Schoenerer, an Austrian anti-Semitic politician.
    Its Nazi use was linked to the belief in the Aryan cultural descent of the German people. They considered the early Aryans of India to be the prototypical white invaders and hijacked the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race.
    More here.

    The beginning of the end for the Kabbalah Center?

    Madonna -- possibly -- is showing signs of independent thought.

    How did the Orthodox Jew cross the road? Not so carefully, it seems

    There's now scientific proof for one persistant complaint about the frum velt:
    A new study in Israel suggests devout Orthodox Jews are three times as likely to be risk-taking pedestrians as their neighbours in secular communities.
    Tova Rosenbloom of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan suspected religious beliefs might play a role after hearing complaints about pedestrian behaviour in the ultra-Orthodox community of Bnei-Brak. "Drivers who get to Bnei-Brak complain that they need seven eyes," she says. "People walk on the roads as if they were footpaths."
    To find out more, Rosenbloom and her colleagues watched more than 1000 pedestrians at two busy junctions, one in Bnei-Brak and the other in Ramat-Gan, a largely secular city. They totted up the number of times a pedestrian either jaywalked, walked on the road rather than the footpath, crossed without looking for traffic, or crossed without holding an accompanying child's hand. The ultra-Orthodox inhabitants of Bnei-Brak were three times as likely to break these rules as people in Ramat-Gan, the team found.
    The truth is, I never thought there was a problem with the pedestrians. I always thought it was the drivers. When's Rosenbloom going to study that?

    Hajj and Chag

    With the world's media giving extensive and, I think, unprecedented, film coverage to the Moslem 'Hajj' (the pilgrimage to Mecca), it is worth noticing that the Arabic word 'hajj' is of course our well-known word 'chag', as featured extensively in recent Torah readings. (The 'gimel' without a dagesh used to be pronounced 'j', and still is in some Hebrew dialects.) 'Hajj' still has the connotation of 'journey / travel / pilgrimage', although the Hebrew has lost it. That is, presumably, why Moses asked Pharoah for permission to take the Israelites on 'hajj' in the desert,and why the 'Chagim' are the pilgrimage festivals to Jerusalem .... (The 'regel' in 'regalim' probably, but confusingly, doesn't have anything to do with 'feet', BTW.)

    My reputation in ruins ...

    Just as I was enjoying my reputation as a hopeless liberal , the Jewish Press picks up a book review that I wrote recently for the Jerusalem Post. How can I be liberal if I am published in the Jewish Press???

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    Questioning demographics

    This is nothing more than a transparent (and rather desperate) political ploy to convince people that disengagement is not necessary (because the figures are not against us after all). Not to be taken seriously.

    Improving on the original -- in one respect at least

    The NY Jewish Week has a long report from the NY Limmud, and the difference between it and and the British Limmud (which I'm sure everyone will forget pretty quickly was the original) is apparent in the first paragraph:
    For all the questions asked during the hundreds of classes and learning sessions at a four-day interdenominational conference of Jewish learning last weekend, perhaps the only one scoffed at was that concerning a participant’s affiliation.
    In the UK, as you will recall, Limmud is still off-limits for many Orthodox rabbis who are not allowed (by the Orthodox United Synagogue) to share a platform with their Reform or Conservative colleagues, and is still regarded as 'controversial' in many Orthodox circles.
    The NY Limmud sounds like a success. Reports from the front, anyone?

    Man of the Century wasn't enough?

    Einstein takes 2005 as well.

    Good questions from former Protocols members

  • Luke Ford: Why has the usually vibrant Cross-Currents suddenly ground to a near-halt?
  • Steven I. Weiss: If, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Augustus Gloop was a glutton, Mike TeeVee was slothful and Veruca Salt was spoiled and self-centered, what was Violet Beauregard's sin?
  • German in the Knesset?

    Since we clearly are mentioning the War, here's another one. The German press has begun to pick up on an Israeli disagreement over whether the German president should use the German language when he speaks from the podium of the Knesset next month. The protesters want to ask him to speak in English.
    I understand that the language may provoke difficult feelings in individuals. But especially considering we've already had one German president speak to the Knesset in German, with little reaction from survivors, this hysteria seems to be an easy -- but diplomatically offensive and dangerous -- attempt to score points on the part of a bunch of MKs who are not themselves even survivors or descendents of Holocaust victims.
    The president of Germany is a symbol and figurehead for Germany today, including, rather centrally, its German language. As a state, once you have invited the president into your parliament, you have potentially invited the German language in as well. If, sixty years on, you're not ready to accept the latter, you're not ready to invite the former. Simple as that.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2005

    The Nazis -- 'good for a laugh'

    Esther has asked why the British public (unlike, I should add, British public figures) seemed so willing to forgive Prince Harry's little Nazi faux pas. Looking beyond obvious explanations about Harry's age and sympathy to him as his mother's son, Mark Steyn and NRO's Andrew Stattaford today both offer the same insight into how the British see the Nazis:
    Critical to understanding this incident... [is that] for many Brits, the Nazis have long been good for a laugh. Harry is not, by most accounts, much of an intellectual, so to claim that his brown-shirted burlesque was somehow a deliberate Producers-style satire is a stretch too far. At the same time, his dreadful choice of costume, however dimly, however unconsciously, reflected a national fondness for making a mockery of the pretensions of the Third Reich. On occasion this can be tasteless, but ridicule is not a bad way to strip the swastika of some of its malign power. The failure of neo-fascists ever to make much progress in the U.K. (unlike in some other European countries) can at least partly be put down to the fact that voters have been too busy laughing to take them very seriously.
    You need look no further than Basil Fawlty's ridiculous goose-step in Fawlty Towers. Just don't mention the War! And if this doesn't totally explain Harry's action, perhaps it goes some way to explaining British reaction.

    UPDATE: DovBear helps the Fawlty Towers impaired.

    Not quite 'eradication'

    The news that Tay Sachs disease has been 'almost eradicated' from the Jewish people is, of course, terrific; it looks like not one Jewish baby was born in 2004 with the disease. But I would like to hear from a doctor or a geneticist (any Bloghead readers?) what it means to 'eradicate' a genetic disease for the first time. As far as I understand it, thousands of people still carry the defective gene -- and this will be true for many generations, as carriers have a 50% chance of passing it on to their children even if it remains dormant. Surely it's a little premature to talk about 'eradication' when the disease could come back at full force the second people stop checking if they are carriers, and talking about 'getting it under control' or some such would be more appropriate? There's a risk that by talking about 'eradication,' people will be mislead into thinking they no longer have to check.

    I'm excited to announce...

    The launch of the world's first Jewish book blog!
    'People of the Book' is a joint effort between a number of established bloggers and other bibliophiles new to the blog world. Contributors cover an entire spectrum religiously, geographically, in terms of age and interests, and many are authors / publishers in their own right. They are:

    As you will see from the website, I've been toying with the idea for a while. I hope the new group blog will become an interesting forum for discussion of Jewish books, Jewish authors, Jewish publishing, Jewish literary trends etc. Please feel free to send me (or any of the bloggers) links to interesting entries on other blogs which might be suitable to link to. Happy reading!

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    Raoul Wallenberg -- Chassid Umot Ha'Olam

    Please spare a thought tonight for Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved, at the very least, 100,000 Jews in the Second World War. Today is the 60th anniversary of this Righteous Gentile's arrest by the Soviets (probably because they suspected he was an American spy and because they were suspicious of his contacts with the Germans). He disappeared without trace.
    Most people know about the fake passes he produced, have heard the stories about Wallenberg climbing onto the roofs of trains while the Germans were shooting at him. The Chicago Sun Times tells a less well known story which epitomises the extraordinary lengths to which he was prepared to go to save human -- Jewish -- lives. It comes from his then-assistant, Agnes, today in her mid-80's:
    Toward the end of 1944, Nazis decided an efficient way to murder Hungarian Jews was to take them to the shore of the icy Danube River, tie three together, shoot the middle one, and toss them in.
    Two weeks before Christmas 1944, Wallenberg walked into his offices at the Swedish Legation in Budapest and asked who among his aides could swim. Agnes, then 26, raised her hand. (She had been the best swimmer in her high school class.)
    What happened next is nothing short of superhuman.
    "Raoul said, 'Let's go!' Two diplomats and myself, we went down to the Danube with the Swedish Red Cross, we turned off the lights and we synchronized with the shooting. And the three of us jumped in fully clothed. I was in a fur coat," Agnes was telling me the other day, recounting her amazing tale with the enthusiasm of, well, a 26-year-old.
    Agnes, who was Wallenberg's assistant, and the two diplomats dived into the freezing river, over and over again, untied the ropes, and swam the victims to safety.
    "Anyhow, we saved about 80 people," she said, nonchalantly.
    Will we ever find out what happened to this extraordinary man?

    The Vatican and 'terrorism'

    Jeff Jarvis asks, and answers, the first question that occured to me after reading about the kidnapping of the Catholic Archbishop of Mosul.

    The real root of the Shidduch problem

    The head of the Be'er Sheva rabbinical court has ruled that men do not have to grow long peot (sidelocks). The impetus: receiving 'many* calls' from Haredi parents worried their sons weren't finding shidduchim because the prospective brides found the length of their peot unattractive.
    So, sorry, girls. I guess you're going to have to find a new shorthand for, 'my gut just says no...'

    *Remember, in Ma'ariv speak, 'many' can equal as little as 2

    Market forces labor pains

    Some bright spark has come up with the idea of creating a computer programming center which employs only Haredi women. It's conveniently located in a Haredi town and provides the women with a special room where they can pump breast milk for their babies, seperate kitchens, a seperate area for male supervisors, some training, shorter hours and challenging work. In return, they are paid the minimum wage -- a small fraction of what they could be earning elsewhere. The women don't seem to care that they are being exploited:
    "Career is not a goal in the Haredi community, it's just a living," explains one of the Haredim training the students for work. "The Haredi community is used to living on nothing, so making a little means a lot to them."
    Just wait til they're used to living on a little. They might just discover unions...

    In Borat's country, there is no problem

    I'm beginning to feel quite sorry for Kazakhstan, which is still smarting, months later, over the way Sacha Baron Cohen / Borat portrayed it internationally as anti-Semitic. As it turns out, in Borat's country, there is no problem -- in fact, according to the State Dept.'s recently released report on global anti-Semitism, it has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to religious tolerance. Until Borat came along, that is - now there's at least one Jew they'd love to throw down a well.

    UPDATE: Is there an Ali G movie in the works?
    (Via The Yada Blog)

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Iran as a nuclear power -- not inevitable after all?

    Was Douglas Davis correct about Iran -- are US and Israeli forces trying to sabotage its nuclear facilities from the ground? An article in the new issue of the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh apparently claims
    The United States has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets...
    The article... said the secret missions have been going on at least since last summer with the goal of identifying target information for three dozen or more suspected sites.
    Hersh quotes one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon as saying, "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible."
    Ah, nothing like secret missions the entire world knows about....

    Cross-currents - a note to Rabbi Adlerstein, more in sorrow than anger

    Rabbi Adlerstein's posting on "Cross-Currents" - 'L'affaire Slifkin' - is, I am afraid, highly problematic. I started to do a phrase-by-phrase commentary/analysis; but a blog is a blog, and it is a place for short postings, not long essays.
    In any case, a few comments:
    1. Rabbi Adlerstein's Orwellian piece reads like Pravda or the China Daily in their classic times, including clear allusions to his own fear and the fear of those associated with him those that they may be 'next in line for execution' (or oblivion, or exile to Siberia, or cherem) if they say too much.
    2. Rabbi Adlerstein -- the issue is not 'Torah and Science' - the issue is the 'cherem'.
    3. The split in the Orthodox world is not between those who believe x or y about science, Torah or any other subject - it is between those who ban books and people, and those who profoundly reject that sort of primitive, medieval witch-hunting. It is between those who believe in treating others with respect, and those who will ruthlessly quash anyone who deviates from the supposed 'party line'. And as I have written elsewhere, that 'party line' covers conformity in a whole range of things. Don't expect to be considered Orthodox if you (are male and) wear blue shirts. It is also about increasing thought-control in the Orthodox community.
    4. the refusal to allow comments on Rabbi Adlerstein's posting, and the pronouncement that no further postings on the issue will take place is profoundly insulting to readers of 'Cross-currents', and disqualifies it from future serious consideration as a forum about anything. It is a sociological curiosity, but it is no longer a 'blog'.
    5. I would like to hear the views of other "Cross-currents" editors - particularly Emmanuel Feldman - on the ban.
    6. Rabbi Adlerstein (and I call him Rabbi Adlerstein, although he conspicuously drops the 'Rabbi' when talking of Rabbi Slifkin - step one in the Newspeak) piously says that the blog is not the place for the debate - there are other forums. Perhaps he will post here the name of any Orthodox forum - in print or any other medium - where a respectful, uncensored, open debate on 'laffaire Slifkin' can take place?

    .... I could go on (and on and on). The point is clear. Decide on which side of the court you're playing. The stakes are high. Comments welcome - especially from "Cross-currents" editors and others who cannot access their own site on this issue. Weep for the generation, and weep for Yiddishkeit.

    UPDATE: See also 'Daas Hedyot' for similar comments. Shmarya shows that Aish Hatorah has decided where it stands ...
    MORE UPDATES: and Chakira has a perceptive posting which is worth reading on this issue -- as I 've said, conformity is the name of the game ...

    Saturday, January 15, 2005

    I'll miss you... Sniff

    My family seems to have defected to DovBear's blog.

    Cross-Currents and Rabbi Slifkin

    I received an email from a reader tonight claiming they were in contact with one of the members of the Cross Currents blog, who they appear to know personally, regarding the question of Rabbi Slifkin. I have no way of authenticating this, but the reader writes:
    [The CC member] wrote R. Slifkin privately supporting him, and has no problem posting to cross currents, just that it can't be posted off the cuff. [The CC member] also laughed at the idea that they are under orders not to talk about it.
    1. I, certainly, never intimated they 'were under orders' not to talk about it.
    2. Can't be posted 'off the cuff'? Why, how many rabbeim need to look at the wording before they can go public?

    When Harry met Sacks

    According to today's 'Times', Prince Harry is to meet Chief Rabbi Sacks, as a "Day of Atonement' (their headline). Anyone who has ever read any 'insider' accounts of life in the innermost sancta of the Royal family - especially the treatment of those who are perceived to have overstepped the mark (Diana and Fergie come to mind) -- will know the icy blasts that have presumably already been sent in young Harry's direction. He is unlikely to be attending any fancy-dress parties for some time. I am sure that Rabbi Sacks will be kind and gentle with the young man (he might delegate the task to his very charming Rebbetzin.)
    I remain very uncomfortable at how this has become a "Jewish" issue.

    It's not just us

    So often, discussion of media bias against Israel is couched in terms of 'anti-Semitism,' 'Arabism,' and other elements specific to the situation in the Middle East.
    It is useful, I think, to remind ourselves of the way the media mistreats or misrepresents other conflicts, in order to learn larger lessons about the way the media functions. A few months back I wrote on Protocols about the way the media consciously misrepresented the situation in Kosovo, deciding on the story and then ignoring evidence to the contrary, failing to backtrack when reports were exposed as fiction, and allowing itself to be manipulated at will by the side they had chosen to support.
    Now Steven Glover, the Spectator's media critic, writes a cogent piece about the way the British media is deliberately and systematically avoiding writing anything that threatens the perception that the peace process in Northern Ireland is "anything but a rip-roaring success."
    Most recently, the press overwhelmingly ignored evidence that the largest bank robbery in British history, which took place in Belfast last month, was committed by the IRA in order to provide pensions for their members. The Irish Times actually pulled a column by its star columnist claiming this was the case (two weeks later the IRA was publicly named by the Irish chief constable and the paper had to admit it had been wrong). The rest of the British press paid the scandal scant attention -- just as they have paid scant attention to numerous other IRA crimes and misdemeanors over the past few months, including spying on the unionists, large involvement in crime across Belfast, and refusing to decomission their weapons. Writes Glover:
    Newspapers are either so determined that the peace process will succeed that they suppress or ignore bad news; or they do not bother to notice what is going on. We can be pretty certain that the IRA’s involvement in this bank robbery will be quickly forgiven and forgotten by the British and Irish governments, and that compliant newspapers will continue to fulfil their traditional function of supporting the peace process whatever the IRA gets up to.
    Sound familiar?

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    Poland appoints Jewish foreign minister

    Do you think someone should tell JTA (see link on right) that the name of the new Polish foreign minister, who is Jewish, is not Daniel Rotfeld, but Adam Rotfeld? (Strictly speaking he is occasionally referred to as Adam Daniel Rotfeld, but never as Daniel Rotfeld). There's some brief biographical info here; Expect profiles of this interesting-sounding man to start appearing in the Jewish press anon.

    Not bad for a kid who dropped out of highschool

    We seem to have a new 'World's Richest Jew':
    Sheldon Adelson, 71, is worth an estimated $15 billion, most of it invested in shares in Las Vegas Sands, after the company's red hot December initial public offering. Las Vegas Sands owns and operates a number of hotels, casinos and exposition halls in Las Vegas and on China's Macau Island.
    Adelson, an observant Jew and a major contributor to the Las Vegas Jewish Federation and Habad, is the chairman of LVS and its major shareholder. The company raised $690 million in the IPO, issuing shares at $29 that skyrocketed to $46.5 on their first day on the NYSE floor.
    If the figures are true -- earlier this year he was worth a paltry $3b. -- that would make him the eighth richest person in the world.
    And, in related news, several planeloads of meshulochim from around the world have landed in Las Vegas and were seen heading directly towards Adelson's home.
    Shabbat Shalom.

    The entire Middle East is going nuclear -- and nobody cares

    A couple of months ago I linked to two articles explaining why the world essentially has no military options in the race to stop Iran going nuclear. But, writes Douglas Davis, the JPost's London correspondent, in the Spectator,
    According to some reports, covert action by American and Israeli special forces may already be underway to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities from the ground. It is a long shot, but long shots are the last resort of desperate nations.
    Of-course, they wouldn't be so desperate if Europe, which has been in charge of the effort to get Iran to climb down the tree, actually cared about the problem and was doing something more than simply wagging its finger vaguely in the direction of Iran.
    To make matters worse, Davis explains that while the world is focused on Iran, there is strong reason to suspect that three other Middle Eastern countries have serious nuclear ambitions: Syria (which is possibly cooperating with Iran), Egypt (where the IAEA recently found evidence of secret nuclear experiments, though when they took place is unclear), and most importantly, Saudi Arabia (which recently bought $3b. worth of missiles which are best suited to carry nuclear warheads, and is reportedly helping fund Pakistan's nuclear programme). And they can rest assured, after watching what's happening with Iran, that no one will do a thing to stop them until it's too late.

    The virgin Mary toast is toast

    Next up on the auction block: the Oyster (a "work of nature.... It is neither grilled nor cooked") which looks like Jesus.
    Or at least that's what the owner says. I personally think it's a dead-ringer for Maimonides. I might just put in a bid....

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    Where's their courage?

    You can read all about the rather sad situation surrounding the ban on Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's books here, here, here, here and here. All the relevant emails for expressions of support/disgust here.
    The point that stands out for me in this whole thing is just how strong the fear comes across of being seen as 'independent' or as -- G-d forbid -- less frum than your frummest neighbor. And I'm not just talking about the way certain rabbis have shown themselves to be scared of what's in Slifkin's books. There's also the rabbis who do support Slifkin's books in private being afraid to speak up in public (Gil claims there's been one brave, anonymous scholar in Brooklyn who did...); and, again according to Gil, a rabbi who originally supported his books and wanted to continue doing so retracting his haskama -- "only" because of the political heat. ("Only?" Gil, that's the worst reason of the lot). And who knows how many of the people who actually signed the ban did so due to similar pressure or because that was the way the winds were blowing (it certainly appears that many of them have not actually read the books.)
    Where is these people's courage? Where is their integrity? And these are the leaders!
    A despressing comment on the state of Ultra-Orthodoxy today.

    And where, incidentally, are the good people of Cross-Currents on this controversy? If they are going to duck an issue like this which is all theirs, what's the point of being on a forum like the blogosphere????? (In answer to the first question, either coordinating their positions or sitting at home worrying their blog will be banned next, I daresay.)

    Ha'aretz has to pay people to read it...

    In order to attract new, younger subscribers to its new financial supplement, Ha'aretz is paying university students NIS 20/hour to be seen reading it in popular coffee shops. And they get NIS 60/day for coffee and cakes!
    Maybe someone should pay Ha'aretz to read the writing on the wall? There are no far-Left readers left in Israel. If you want more readers, change your politics!

    Rumor: A sense of proportion breaks out in the Middle East

    An interesting piece of anecdotal evidence from NPR's ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin:
    Can it be that some journalists, along with some listeners, just wish this story [the Arab-Israeli conflict -- MS] would go away?
    Anecdotally, I am told that some news organizations are now so battered that they tend to avoid the story as much as possible. Some of my colleagues at other news organizations say they report the story only when the outrages from one side or the other are too appalling to ignore.
    At the same time, listeners and readers complain that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict gets too much coverage. They admit to "compassion fatigue" from weighing the claims and counter-claims of the two sides, and from following the reports of journalists who generally are unable or unwilling to determine which side has the high moral ground....
    I sense in myself an occasional instinct to avoid the Middle East story, since it tends to fall under the category of "no good journalism goes unpunished (eventually)."
    Haven't noticed any evidence of this myself, but if it is true, it would be good news for a country with one of the highest ratios of reporters to square miles in the world.

    Prince Harry and the armband, take II

    Not a Nazi, just an idiot Posted by Hello

    Prince Harry's little outing in Nazi regalia shows nothing more than what an air-headed, irresponsible young man he is -- in other words, nothing we didn't know already. My question is, was there not one person at that party (which was attended, by the way, by his older bro and heir-to-the-throne William) with enough to sense to tell him to change clothes?

    UPDATE: My report in the JPost.

    Prince Harry and the armband

    Tasteless? offensive? ignorant? etc etc -- definitely, plus more. But once again we have the "Jewish groups", led by the Wiesenthal Center, who are not even UK citizens, wading in with pompous and censorious comments about the juvenile antics of a not-very-bright 20 year old. Let his parents deal with him. Let British war veterans make their feelings clear, if they wish to. But I think it's a mistake to make every WW2 / Nazi issue an exclusively or mainly "Jewish" issue. It isn't, and it isn't in our interests to make it so.

    Cleaning up Israel's mess

    Eight years after the Yarkon river killed 4 and made dozens of others violently ill in the Maccabiah fiasco, Israel still hasn't got round to cleaning it up. It's been left to little Australian Jewry to take the initiative and get everyone's act together. How embarrasing for Israel.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Payback time

    Like an increasing number of people, I've long believed that rather than donating money to Israel, Diaspora Jews should give more to their own communities, which, frankly, need the money more. Now Abe Foxman is proposing that Israel donate all the money Diaspora Jews raise for it over the next five years back to the Diaspora.
    I don't question that $300 million are important to Israel, but not as important as what they can do to the next generation. Because if we don't have a next generation in the Diaspora who relates, who cares, who feels, you are going to be India. You know there are a lot of Indians out there - there is no United India Appeal. And India is okay, and maybe there shouldn't be a United Jewish Appeal.
    I think that should be our hope and our goal - Israel self-dependence, etc. To me, to say to the American Jews, `You know what? It's more important for you than for us' is the beginning of that independence. The fact is, Russia is looking out for its diaspora, the Turks are looking out for their diaspora, the Greeks are looking out for their diaspora.
    Thinking about it, it's only a matter of time before you begin hearing requests for Israel not just to return to the Diaspora the money it raised -- but for Israel to donate to the Diaspora its own money. And why not? 'They can't afford it' is no excuse. The Diaspora couldn't afford it either, and it's been giving away money it needed to Israel for 50+ years. Maybe it's time to for the money to start flowing the other way? At least some token projects -- eg. an Israeli community/organization supporting a Diaspora old age home or a Jewish education project -- would be a symbol of both Hakarat Hatov and mutual responsibility and respect.

    Resistance is futile

    The 73rd and final volume of the Artscroll Gemara will be published next month, after 15 years and $20m. (investment, that is).

    Super Jews no longer

    Holland's Ajax football club has long attracted attention because of the way its fans have branded themselves as 'Super-Jews,' although the club has few real Jewish connections. So has the reaction of its opponents, who "have adopted a string of vile counter-chants. 'Hamas, Hamas - Jews to the gas' is a regular cry... So is hissing in unison a 'joke' about gas chambers - and shouting "Trains for Auschwitz leave in five minutes."
    This week, it has been widely reported that the team's management has decided to launch a campaign to stop its fans identifying themselves as Jews, because the response from the rival fans has become so harsh it is making it difficult for real Jews to attend matches (in fact, as you can see from the JReport article linked to above, this has been true for a long time, but I guess the political climate has changed).
    The only good article I've seen on the subject appears in today's London Times. The club's identification as Jews, the article explains, did not evolve naturally from some long-forgotten, tenuous historical connection, as most people claim, but was a response to other teams who adopted fascist symbols after the war:
    The problem, of course, is that if every club’s hooligans run around calling themselves Nazis, there isn’t much to fight about. So Ajax fans, faced with far-right opposing supporters, went to the opposite extreme, adopting Jewish symbols and referring to themselves as the “SuperJews”.
    For this reason, it is unlikely that the campaign to stop the fans identifying as Jews will have much success:
    For what drives these supporters to affect a Jewish identity for 90 minutes every weekend is the same thing that drives some Ultras Sur to right-wing symbols: a desire to be shockingly different.
    Which, I suppose, answers a question which has been nagging at me ever since I first read of the team's campaign, namely, why, instead of stopping the fans identifying as Jewish, don't the politically correct Dutch get the opposing fans to stop shouting racial slurs? (I seem to recall there have been some attempts in Israel, for example, to stop some of the ethnic and racial slurs coming from the stands, I'm not sure how successfully. Anyone?)
    At the end of the day, European football culture is a yobbish, violent culture. Ajax's adoption of a Jewish persona is neither quirky, historical nor endearing, but in a sense, malicious. I wish the campaign good luck.

    Galloping am-haaratzus, and .. what am I doing in this shul??

    I went to check something in our shul calendar, and to my horror found that it announced we were in the month of "SHEVAS"! Is it better to be regarded by the 416'ers* as am-haaratzim or as 'tsiyoinim' ....... ????

    *Commentary: Torontonians, or, as our shul might now have it, Soronsonians, are split north-south. Southern Torontonians, who have 416- telephone numbers, regard north (Thornhill) Torontonians/Soronsonians, who have 905- telephone numbers, as arriviste BT's, of highly suspect Yiddishkeit. 905'ers are reputed to have televisions etc. Some 905'ers feel that our main neighbourhood shul spends too much energy looking over its right shoulder and trying to convince the 416'ers that, yes, we are just as frum and yeshivish as you are. The 'Shevas' calendar entry ..... proves the point exactly. Ve'ha-mavin yavin.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005

    It's a little early for Pesach, but anyway

    Dov Bear links to a dispute on over whether men and women ate the Korban Pessach seperately, or not.
    How this rather bizarre question came up I have no idea, but it does remind me of a very interesting Dvar Torah I once read. I'm not sure if I remember it all, but this was the gist:
    The original fourth question on Seder night ('Bein yoshvin uvein mesubin') was nothing to do with reclining, but rather, "On all other nights we eat meat which has been roasted, stewed, or boiled, but on this night we eat only roasted meat" -- ie. the Korban Pesach. Clearly, it was dropped once we no longer really ate the Pascal lamb, but the question about reclining only came later -- at a time when reclining while eating was no longer the practice.
    If 'Kulanu Mesubin' probably does not mean, 'we are all reclining,' then, what does it mean?
    The answer I read claims the words 'Kulanu Mesubin' mean, 'we are all gathered together,' from the same root as 'mesibah' (party). The clincher, of course, is that the word is used in that sense (according to many translations) just a little bit further on in the Haggadah -- 'Ma'aseh beRabbi Eliezer VeRabbi Yehoshua.... shehayu mesubin BiBnei Brak' -- 'It is told of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua... who were gathered in Bnei Brak.' Interestingly, I see also that my Hebrew-English dictionary (which I don't think I've ever used before...) translates 'Mesubin' as 'Diners at a table.'
    One thing that's always bothered me about this idea is that it depends on translating the word 'yoshvin' as 'sitting alone' -- which I'm not quite sure how you can. Nevertheless, I'd rather not let the facts get in the way of a really neat theory. Can anyone make it work????

    Alon! Don't do it!

    Now that Alon Pinkas's bid to become the CEO of the AJCongress has been officially blocked by the Israelis, Pinkas is apparently contemplating running for that lion's den which is the Knesset as part of that political graveyard which is the Labor party. Or at least, that's his line while he's waiting for an offer he can't refuse from some big hi-tech company. I hope.

    UPDATE: I just noticed that the JTA story I linked to, which appeared on their site today, is stolen from the Forward at the end of December. Really, they're just getting worse and worse. It's not even yesterday's news tomorrow, any more; it's last month's news next year.

    Wave Rat

    Some Toronto kid conned an American woman into selling him the domain name, put it up for auction on eBay for $50,000, and finally, after a blast from the New York Post -- who branded him a 'Wave Rat' -- and a helluva lot of bad publicity, let it go for $10,000 and donated the money to charity.
    Not just any charity, incidentally, but Chabad of Thailand. (In other words, he might be a Wave Rat, but he's our Wave Rat).
    His mother, of course, claims that he 'always' intended donating the money to charity and that this was all a big misunderstanding.
    Anyone else smell a rat? A Wave Rat?

    Bloghead asks, Ha'aretz delivers

    Just last week, Bloghead asked, 'Who is Rav Shagar?' Today, Ha'aretz has a full-blown feature on the man they call "the most prominent theologian of the religious-Zionist 'New Age':
    In contrast to the aversion generally expressed by the religious world for postmodernism, Shagar's point of departure is that the shattering of human ideologies expressed by postmodernism enables greater freedom, from which it is possible to attain a higher religious sublimity, even mysticism.
    "Postmodernism releases us from the mechanical regularity of human reality, and mysticism also views this human regularity as a restriction from which one must free oneself. On the other hand, the postmodernist freedom itself can become a stumbling block, what Sartre calls the `prison of freedom,' when it leads to nihilism. This is where mystical freedom comes in by giving meaning even within a postmodern world. In this state, faith is free of the ordinary distress that obstructs people from attaining faith, the distress of lack of freedom that is associated with religion."
    While it holds to elitist academic standards, his Yeshiva, apparently, encourages students to discuss how the Gemara makes them 'feel,' runs workshops in 'movement,' meditation and creative writing, and holds sessions every Thursday night where student speak, sing and dance. I find it amusing that Rav Shagar feels the need to add, "This is not a bunch of confused and deluded individuals. These are responsible people"!

    Monday, January 10, 2005

    Paris Syndrome

    In Jerusalem Syndrome, sufferers are famously overwhelmed by the spirituality of the city and go temporarily insane (although Dr Moshe Kalian, the district psychiatrist of Jerusalem, argues in the Scotsman today that sufferers are mad before they get to Jerusalem). But did you know that there was also a Paris Syndrome, where young Japanese women are overwhelmed by the rudeness of the French locals, and commit suicide?

    Lower and lower

    Eliyahu Yardeni, leader of the Kabbalah Center in London (and older brother of Madonna's guru Eitan Yardeni), told an undercover BBC reporter:
    "Just to tell you another thing about the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust: the question was that the Light was blocked. They didn't use Kabbalah."
    Is comment really necessary???

    Sunday, January 09, 2005

    Abbas -- a short chance to prove himself

    Says The Economist:
    "Mahmoud Abbas could do great things, provided he doesn't mean everything he says... During his election campaign, Mr. Abbas said some foolish things -- refering to Israel as 'the Zionist enemy,' equivocating on terrorism and suggesting that the refugees of 1948 would one day return to their vanished homes in Israel proper. Presumably, this was mere electioneering. If he meant it all, you can forget about peace for another decade."
    I actually doubt he did mean it -- but whether he did or didn't isn't the important factor here. He said it. And the fact that he said these things suggests that even if he personally were the dove of doves, he is not the leader the Palestinians (and Israelis) are waiting for, the leader who will be brave enough not to pander to the armed gunmen but to lead, to tell his people the truth about what it really takes to make the peace of the brave. Here we have another leader who is scared of his own people.
    Of-course, I could be wrong; perhaps, like Sharon, he will find that actually being in office changes one's perspective and gives one courage. I hope so. In the meanwhile, now his electioneering is over, he better change his tune pretty quickly. No second chances. No suspension of disbelief. We've been down that road before.


    Claims of abuse at Guantanamo, which are now being given more credence than before, include the prisoners being
    strapped to the floor in an interrogations center known as the Hell Room, wrapped in Israeli flags, taunted by female interrogators who rubbed their bodies against them in sexually suggestive ways, and left alone in refrigerated cells for hours with deafening music blaring in their ears... Many of the FBI accounts came from conscience-stricken agents troubled by what they had witnessed. One agent reported seeing a detainee sitting on the floor of an interrogation cell with an Israeli flag draped around him while he was bombarded by loud music and a strobe light—almost exactly what Al Qosi had alleged.
    I am as much offended on behalf of the Israeli flag as they are on behalf of the prisoners.

    The Limits of Orthodox Theology

    My review of Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology appears in the new edition of the Jewish Quarterly:
    Have Orthodox Jews today abandoned theology as a mainstream pursuit, and imposed instead a simplified, simplistic conformity of thinking virtually unknown to their spiritual ancestors? This is the hypothesis which forms the background to Marc Shapiro’s ground-breaking study of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of faith.
    For several centuries, the Principles have been identified by traditional scholars and Orthodox Jews with the fundamental beliefs of Judaism. Indeed, for most Orthodox Jews, they have become widely accepted as the last word in Jewish theology, and to deny them is heretical.
    Shapiro, a Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and himself an Orthodox Jew, sets out to show that this attitude is completely modern, and that historically – both before and after Maimonides – his Principles were widely discussed, disputed and even dismissed by mainstream Orthodox authorities. Maimonides himself did not accept several of his own Principles, and certainly did not think that to deny them was heretical.
    The startling implication is that most Orthodox Jews today, even Orthodox leaders, are ignorant of their own theological heritage, and that by today’s standards, many of Orthodoxy’s most important historical figures would have been condemned as heretics....

    See, it's not a nuclear facility at all! It's a summer camp!

    As promised, the first-ever video and pictures of the Dimona nuclear reactor site (other than the ones taken by Vanunu....). Doesn't it look idyllic?

    More here.

    Friday, January 07, 2005

    Shabbat Shalom

    The Forward features a 900-year old Shabbat Zemer, 'Mah Yofit' (How beautiful), which used to be popular in Eastern Europe but which is today virtually unknown:
    In Poland and Russia, the tune had become so widely known that even non-Jews learned of it — tragically. According to Birnbaum and other writers, wealthy Polish landowners adopted the practice of forcing Jews to sing or dance to Jewish liturgical tunes in a humiliating way and, because "Mah Yofith" was known as a stereotypical Jewish song, it was singled out by name. The drunken landowner would demand of a Jew who worked for him, or who did business with him, "Sing for me Mahyufes!" A refusal could be met with being struck on the back with rods prepared for the occasion.
    This treatment became so common that the song's title formed the core of pejorative expressions in Yiddish — a "mahyofis-yid" or "mahyofis-nik" — to describe a cowardly Jew who would submit or bend to non-Jews in a servile, degrading manner, or who would make fun of Jewish culture or Judaism before non-Jews (akin to an "Uncle Tom" among American blacks).
    The degrading experiences associated with the tune left such a bad taste in the mouths of Polish and Russian Jewry that the song lost its place at the Sabbath table and nearly was forgotten.
    Which makes me wonder -- why do we have so few songs for the Shabbat table? You would have thought that over the years many more would have been written, and if more were written (the Forward does mention a compilation of 127 appearing in the early 20th century,though I assume that includes many Seudah Shlishit one-liners), that more would have survived / stayed popular.

    Any pictorial evidence of this???

    Not only is everyone getting in on the Kabbalah act, there's now a competition as to who got in on it first. And we're not just talking about Hollywood stars. Philadelphia's mayor, John Street, for example, is claiming he's been wearing a red string since 1999, and (kind of implying) that it's helped him win two elections.
    Didn't help him win the Jewish vote, though...

    Quite a coup for Amos Gitai

    According to Natalie Portman in the Guardian, "living in Israel is really beautiful. One of the most shocking things is how peaceful it feels."
    That's the first nice thing I've read about Israel in the paper in at least four years, or at least the first nice thing which hasn't been followed by three negative Palestinian quotes. It's buried at the bottom of the article, but hey, it's a start!
    In any case, the profile reveals that Portman (real name: Natalie Hershlag) is just starting work on a movie with Israeli Director Amos Gitai ('Kadosh'), which, rumor has it, is called 'Free Zone.' As Harry, to whom I tip my hat, says, this is good news for Israeli cinema. Portman will play "a Jewish-American girl" -- not that much of a stretch -- although I assume she'll have to do at least some acting in Hebrew (which can be difficult although she speaks it fluently)?