Friday, July 29, 2005

Bury this creepy idea, please

Now that the stories about Rome's Jewish catacombs have died down (sorry), you can prepare to hear about Jerusalem's Jewish catacombs. Yes, that's right. J-m is running out of burial space and one of the proposals is to bury people in underground tunnels,
sort of like ancient catacombs but with modern ventilation, lighting, elevators, ramps and even tastefully decorated waiting areas. The tunnels, 15 meters wide and seven meters high, would be large enough not to be claustrophobic. They could be built in stages, starting with one story and then adding others as needed. There would be conventional burial in rows along the floors, similar to what is offered today, as well as burial in niches in the walls. Families would be able to choose the kind of burial they prefer.
Hmmm. Overground, I'd guess.
On the plus side for cohanim, flying over these catacombs won't be a problem...

Non-religious Zionism -- the future

OOSJ makes the good point that not only should we be asking where religious Zionism is going, but we should be asking where secular Zionism is going. His answer is that post-Zionism should be summararily dumped. Of-course, this was true before disengagement but I would say it becomes both even more urgent and even more of a duty now. It would be very easy for the secular public to see the withdrawal from Gaza as simply a vindication of their positions and lifestyle, but this would be a mistake and a missed opportunity. At this juncture in the country's history, when the nation is torn apart and has to figure out how to live together again, when the most vocal 'Zionists' -- the settlers -- are re-examining and questioning what Zionism even means, when it's very clear that the country is at a turning point and may have to gird itself for even harder decisions in the future, when the national-religious sector is threatening to turn away from the state and is wondering whether it has any values worth identifying with -- it's the nation as a whole which must take stock, and try and find a common way, a new meaning in their life together, with an agreed social framework of compatible, if not shared ideologies.
To get back to OOSJ:
The "post-Zionist" project was meant to purge any love of land, tradition and the Jewish people from the educational system, from the high culture and from the mass culture of the country. The secular elite must negate post-Zionism (as Amnon Rubenstien and others have already done) and declare themselves, unapologetic and unabashed Zionists.
That means sending their boys and girls back to the officer corps and the more dangerous units of the army. It means that when they establish their next start-up they move it to Mitzpe Rimon or Be'er Sheva, or Qiryat Shemona, or Afula. It means that they vacation in Arad and Nahariya instead of Malta and Crofu. It means that they go and teach in Michlelet Tel-Hai and Michlelet Ashkelon instead of Hebrew and Tel-Aviv Universities. It means that they start supporting their fellow countrymen and co-religionists when talking to foreign friends and colleagues. It means that when a foreign investor points out that the proposed investment road show is on Rosh Hashanah, they embarrassingly state, "oh, then we must postpone it" instead of "that doesn't bother me one bit".
Mostly, it means that the majority of the country needs to reclaim that aspect of Zionism that matters most – settlement. That means establishing settlements on the hilltops of the Galilee or the sand dunes of the Negev.
Now, I'm personally not sold on the last point -- I would rather see Israelis grapple with how to establish a meaningful society wherever they live, than take the land as a goal in itself. Nor do I think that Zionism = Michlelet Ashkelon as opposed to Hebrew U. However, I do agree returning to a state where Jewish history, Jewish values, Jewish culture and the Jewish people shape our way of life, and are sources of pride and inspiration, is of utmost importance.
Israelis -- who are always very trend-conscious -- might take some comfort from the fact that by returning to an ideology and a heritage, they would be in sync with the mood elsewhere.
What struck me most when reading OOSJ's piece was the similarity between the way OOSJ described post-Zionist society -- replete with self-hatred, questioning history, etc. -- and the way that British commentators have, over the past few days, described British society. There is a school of thought which sees post-Zionism in the context of a wider post-modernism, and his description reinforced that in my mind, at least.
Now that Britain is under social stress (as Israel, and in fact a wide chunk of Europe is), it is beginning to turn away from post-modernism -- realizing that it's hard to build a coherant, positive, stable society with relative philosophy. As they move towards taking renewed pride in their Britishness, let's hope that others in the Western world, including Israelis, tune into the Zeitgeist.

Spice down your life -- with the anti-Viagara for Orthodox men...

A reader has sent me a link to a website for NoniChai health products, made from a fruit that only grows on a few Pacific islands (apparently). It can be used (according to its distributors...) to give 'energy and vigor,' for menstrual pain relief, for nursing mothers to increase the quantity of milk they're producing -- and to reduce sexual desire in men.
And who is the last product aimed at? According to its website, at
Orthodox Jewish Males at one time or another.
1 By Jewish law the husband is not allowed to have marital relations with his wife when she is nida (having her period). This may take as long as 12 to 15 days
2 After giving birth the wife can be nida for many weeks.
3 Often men have to travel without their wives for extended periods of time.
4 Boys who are either students or not yet married are constantly bothered and their thoughts are distracted. They would definitely benefit and find their ability to study would be improved if they could temporarily reduce their desires and put their energies totally into learning Torah. Needless to say they could also concentrate better on their davening.
5 it is well understood that bachelors and divorced men would also greatly benefit by temporarily reducing their desires.
It reduces the excitement, physical pain and physical lust associated with a person
not having marital relations.
It is impossible to get rid of the yetzer hara completely. This is a task for Moshiach, may we merit his immediate arrival. But at least with Reduce Desire formula one can weaken the Yetzer hara so one is able to survive this golus and it’s turbulence.
Although in situations like those mentioned above, by nature it is almost impossible to get rid of unwanted thoughts completely, one will find that it is easier to control his mind and focus on the right thoughts. It is good to know that you can reverse the situation of reducing desire within 24 hours just by stopping to take the Herbal capsule.
Note: recommended age for this formula is boys and men 13 years and older.
In addition to noni, this herbal product also contains cinnamon and basil, herbs with well-known health benefits (especially if you throw them into a cake or soup).... Somewhat suspiciously, the main herb, noni, is also touted elsewhere on the website as an aphrodisiac -- can something be both an aphrodisiac and suppress desire?
The products -- which includes one aimed at orthodox women -- are certified by the Vaad Harabonim of Flatbush. So is this a joke (looking at the website overall, I actually don't think so)? Someone help me out here.....

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Setting new standards for self-hating Jews

A letter in the Guardian today:
What double standards from Jonathan Freedland (Comment, July 27). As British Jews, he and I have a choice of being citizens in Britain or Israel. Palestinians and especially refugees, are citizens of no country. But they are fighting for liberation with the only weapons they possess - tragically, sometimes that does mean literally turning themselves into human bombs.
Meanwhile, a British Jew can become an Israeli, join the armed services, and expect to be called upon to use the most sophisticated military equipment, supplied by the US, to crush the Palestinian uprising. We know, for sure, that means the possibility of killing thousands of innocent civilians. Jonathan, rather than pontificate on how the Muslim community in Britain should behave, shouldn't you and I turn our attention to the Jewish community here? Shouldn't we be raising questions about the morality of British Jews joining the Israeli miltary at this time?
John Rose
That little gem was clearly inspired by one Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, who last week attacked what he termed the double standards in which “a young Jewish boy in this country goes and joins the Israeli Army and ends up killing many Palestinians in operations and can come back; that is wholly legitimate. But for a young Muslim boy in this country, who might think ‘I want to defend my Palestinian brothers and sisters’ and goes and gets involved, he is branded as a terrorist.” Clearly, the comparison is abhorrent for reasons I don't have to explain to Bloghead readers. By implication, however, and by repeating this idea, they are beginning to form the impression that British Jews = IDF soldiers = guilty. I consider this incitement against the local Jewish community. Unfortunately it looks like this is the new line of attack.

In the spirit of the times...

Two political cartoons, courtesy of one of the bloghead brothers:

Posted by Picasa

"A Jew doesn't hit a Jewish soldier"

In the spirit of the times II

Posted by Picasa
Guy in blue: This time you've gone too far!
Guy in orange: Get off it, it's the phone number of that girl from the demonstration....

(Per OOSJ's observation...)

RELATED: Orthomom on disengagement and the Holocaust

Pulsa Denura -- not what you think

The Pulsa Denura curse, which supposedly brings about the death of the person upon whom it is invoked within 30 days, has been rapidly gaining in popularity since it was invoked against Yitzchak Rabin in 1995, just a few days before he was murdered. Nowadays, you don't have to be pegged as a 'rodef' to get the curse -- any old political opponent will do, and the media will always turn up, because the ceremony is, after all, very visual and very dramatic. A couple of days week ago, the Pulsa Denura was very publicly invoked against one Ariel Sharon.
Now, no one's ever taken the modern Pulsa Denura particularly seriously, not when it's conducted by these people, at least. But does it have real kabbalistic credentials?
Shachar Ilan in Ha'aretz today cites an article that appeared in the Haredi Mishpacha magazine three months ago, arguing the whole concept is completely made up:

It is a ceremony that was invented in the early years of Israel's statehood by one of the then-leaders of the Haredi public, who made an especially dramatic adaptation of the good old excommunication ceremony.
Excommunication isn't such a scary matter, but pulsa denura sounds at least as mysterious as a voodoo rite. And all the rest is folklore. The two authors of the Mishpacha article, Dr. Dov Schwartz of Bar-Ilan University and the Haredi public figure Moshe Blau, spoke with three noted kabbalists, and received the answers: "I'm not familiar with it," "I've never heard of such a thing," and "There's no such curse in the Torah."
The researchers conclude: "Pulsa denura is not a kabbalistic ceremony, kabbalists do not participate in it, it is not conducted at midnight, but rather at noon, not after a three-day fast, and not to the light of black candles." The researchers say that those who claim they conducted a pulsa denura for Rabin are embellishing, because they don't understand what it's all about." Blau says that it is the same situation for the ceremony held for Sharon. The researchers don't miss the opportunity to poke fun at secular Jews, who "in spite of not believing in the Creator of the world and His Torah, believe oh so much in pulsa denura."
The observant reader has noticed an inherant contradiction -- if there's no such ceremony, what do they mean by, 'it is not conducted at midnight, but rather at noon'? **
An expanded version of Ilan's article which he published in May sheds some further light (although it doesn't really answer that question). Unfortunately I can only find it reproduced on JewishWhistleblower's site -- so apologies for sending you there. He explains:
The two writers have made a study of the places in which the term pulsa denura appears in the sources, and have found that it is usually a reference to divine punishment imposed by God on angels, and not a curse or banishment from the community... The two researchers reached the conclusion that the pulsa denura invoked today is merely a new and particularly frightening version of an excommunication edict, a ceremony that also incorporates extinguishing candles, blowing shofars in synagogue and reciting a curse...
The researchers did not identify who gave excommunication its new name. But so as not to hold the reader in suspense, we will note that use of the curse in the early days of the state was usually attributed to religious struggles in Jerusalem that involved the leader of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta movement, Amram Blau.
Noting that the author of the Mishpacha article is actually a relative of Amram Blau's, this blog adds:
As my friend [Moshe] Blau explained it to me, the content of the ceremony is the excommunication formula which was published in the Sefer Kolbo.... The scary name and mystical trappings were added by his great-uncle, Amram Blau, as a tool in his various political struggles.
All of which -- if this is true -- raises the question: if the Pulsa Denura in its current incarnation is not a version-lite of an ancient Kabbalistic curse at all, but is, rather, a jazzed-up excommunication ritual, why did it take two writers in Mishpacha magazine to point this out 10 years after the Pulsa Denura first burst into the public consciousness? Wasn't there a kabbalistic expert out there somewhere who had something to say about this? Why didn't knowledgeable religious people point out that it's basically a recent invention? And why is Ha'aretz's own report on the Pulsa Denura invoked against Sharon still calling it a 'halachic curse'?*
The only answer -- if Ilan is right -- is that people today, including religious people, know very little about real Kabbalah and any old mumbo-jumbo with 50 years of history will pass. I'd be happy to hear from anyone who can shed any more light on the Pulsa Denura's real origins, particularly the Blau connection.

*There does seem to have been a Limmud session on this in 2004.

** Shmarya points out they're talking about the excommunication ritual here.

UPDATE: Steven I. Weiss refers to a Forward article claiming the ritual first appeared in 1905 -- by anti-Zionists cursing David Yellin for opening a secular, Hebrew-speaking school.

Jewish community professionals -- what are they so happy about?

A new survey of Jewish communal workers (comprising of "rabbis, educators, agency executives, fundraisers and clerical workers employed at synagogues, day schools, federations and advocacy groups") has been released.
“The Jewish Sector’s Workforce,” ambitious in its breadth, showed that the larger the job’s Judaic component, the higher the level of employee satisfaction
Hardly surprising -- just means that workers in the field are happier than the fund-raisers and the desk-bound clerical workers.
Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis and a co-author of the study, said many respondents said they were “willing to give up money and mobility to do meaningful work” in the Jewish community.
In fact, this finding means nothing. Since most Jewish organisations pay so little, especially compared to other popular Jewish professions, those who go into communal work almost by definition are willing to give up money for meaning. So let's hope communal leaders don't latch on to this as the archetype of the Jewish communal professional -- or as an excuse to channel funds everywhere but towards salaries. Unfortunately, there are thousands of very worthy young people who most certainly would have gone into communal work were poor pay not such an important factor.
In fact, the most interesting thing to come out of this survey is simply how happy employees in community organisations seem to be:
aside from widespread dissatisfaction with pay and benefits, most Jewish communal employees say they are “very satisfied” with their jobs; and the overwhelming majority — 88 percent to 99 percent in various job categories — say they are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.”
This completely belies the popular image of Jewish organisations as particularly hard to work for.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Cool Jews. Who needs them?

Love this anecdote from SIW about the folks at the wildly over-rated Heeb, a magazine which is all puff, no substance, and whose smug editors seem to think they're so much cooler than the rest of us:
[O]ne time I tried to help out a Heeb editor by introducing him to [Forward news editor Ami] Eden, thinking that he could get some writing gigs at the Forward through the connection. The genius went on to deride the Forward for being irrelevant, and not covering the kinds of things he’d like to read. Eden, who has a pretty thick skin and is more open to hearing suggestions than he should be, honestly asked the guy what kind of stuff he’d like to see in the Forward. The schmuck’s answer? Really, this says it all: “Well, have you ever done a profile on Jonathan Safran Foer?”

For a change...

Interesting article in The Jerusalem Post about a group of religious (Ref, Con and Orth) voters for the secularist Shinui party -- although the article pointedly does not say how many members this group has, or how many of them are Orthodox.
I'd guess there are more than you might think, however -- I've met a few of these strange creatures, mostly people who think that separation of shul and state would be good for Judaism in Israel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Forget the Shabbos lamp. Next up: the Shabbos scooter

Bridgeport Township-based Amigo Mobility International Inc. has devised a scooter that will give Orthodox Jews, forbidden by faith from turning on electrical devices on the Sabbath, wheels on the holy day.
The "Shabbat" scooter — a name derived from the Hebrew word meaning Sabbath — is specially designed to keep users from switching circuits on or off.
Instead, the Amigo powers up and starts moving on its own when put into Sabbath mode.
Allan R. Thieme, president and founder of Amigo, said the scooter is the first of its kind in the Orthodox Jew market. Models already are selling in North America.
Within four months, Thieme plans to start selling them in the Holy Land. "If it's right, people are going to come," Thieme said. "This is so right. You can feel it."
The company developed the Shabbat scooter in partnership with the Zomet institute in Israel, which advocates doctrine-friendly technology for Orthodox Jews. The institute inspects and certifies every chair to ensure that it is kosher. Since producing its first Shabbat retail model in April 2004, Amigo International has sold about 10 scooters. Orders are in for 15 more. Officials estimate a market of about 800,000 Orthodox Jews in the United States and Israel.
Actually, I doubt there really is a market. For most people it would ruin the spirit of Shabbat and just look too suspicious. It's too slow for emergency services (see explanation of how it works at the end of the piece, which I don't fully understand). It'll probably be used by a limited number of people with physical disabilities -- and a small number of really rich show-offs with big back gardens...

Britain's self-loathing

The events of the past month have had one surprising effect on British society, by leading to a completely unexpected form of intraspection -- nothing to do with Iraq, our treatment of our ethnic minorities, etc., but real cheshbon nefesh over whether Britain, as a whole, is heading in the right direction. (I guess all those claims that our culture is decadent and disgusting have not fallen on deaf ears.)
Over the past few days I've seen several pieces, in the Spectator, the Telegraph (editorial) and the Times, all basically saying the same thing: Britain has lost its way. Britain today stands for little more than multi-culturalism. We're proud of all the peoples living amongst us and of their traditions and customs, but have been to be too dismissive of our own culture, our own history, our own values. As the Spectator put it:

Britain’s self-loathing is deep, pervasive and lethally dangerous. We get bombed, and we say it’s all our own fault. Schools refuse to teach history that risks making pupils proud, and use it instead as a means of instilling liberal guilt. The government and the BBC gush over ‘the other’, but recoil at the merest hint of British culture. The only thing we are licensed to be proud of is London’s internationalism — in other words, that there is little British left about it.
The result is that there is simply little for Muslims in the UK to identify with -- so why should they be loyal to this country? Not only that -- it gives "a class of alienated young men of foreign extraction" cause to "regard our civilisation as weak, decadent and despicable." (Telegraph)
In trying to fix this, I think Britain has much to learn from the US. America clearly stands in the minds of its residents for freedom, liberty, civil rights, democracy, the land of opportunity etc. -- people there believe in something and are united by a common vision. When we were in the US a few months ago, it really hit us that there were lots of American flags everywhere -- something you would never see in the UK; and how proud so many people, no matter what their political feelings, told us they were proud to be American -- a sentiment that would never be expressed in the UK in quite the same way.
The fact that Britain is different in this regard is partially a function of the fact it was never 'founded' in the way America was, it just evolved. There has also been a systematic attempt from the Left to undermine its values. However, at this turning point in its modern history, a look towards the other side of the pond would be useful.

Gefilte's here....

After every conceivable (no pun intended) problem possible, the most anticipated baby in the blogosphere, Chez Miscarriage's, is here -- and it's a boy. An enormous, enormous Mazal Tov!
On the other hand he's been taken to the NICU because of breathing problems and fever -- we wish him a complete and speedy recovery and some calm and happiness at last for the new mum who, as Ren Reb says, simply does not need any more pain or worry after all she's been through.

UPDATE: Baby seems to be doing better. Thank G-d.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Religious Zionism -- the future

Yair Sheleg in Ha'aretz makes a point that neatly follows up on my post on religious Zionism, and the mistakes of its past, yesterday:
[W]hen religious Zionist leaders say they will begin to fight the liberal elite not only on the Land of Israel front, but on other fronts as well - this is, in principle, a blessing. The liberal elite is indeed overly and exclusively dominant and shapes a policy that is not sufficiently balanced, at least insofar as the boundaries of the law and the image of the Israeli public domain (commerce on the Sabbath, and the advertising market, for example) are concerned. On the contrary: If the result of the destruction of Gush Katif will be the direction of energies of religious Zionism not only at the Land of Israel, but also at a struggle for the image of society, perhaps we will be able to say that this dark cloud has a silver lining. It is vital that religious Zionism take a position at the forefront of the struggle over the character of the judicial system, Sabbath, education, the advertising market, and social justice and human dignity - including the issue of trafficking in women - which the liberal elite has forsaken over the years.
Yes, and which the religious Zionists have forsaken as well.
However, Sheleg warns that they should not try and advance the 'hardal' -- national-ultra-Orthodox -- worldview, as "the outcome will be only hatred and failure, similar to the results of the struggle over the Land of Israel... The temptation to react to liberal extremism with counter-extremism is understandable and natural, but we must not submit to it."
I would add that the return to seeing these areas as the priority must also not be conceived as a 'fight' for dominance or be done in anger against the 'secular elites' -- it should be done in the spirit of goodwill, of trying to shape the country, in which we are all partners, in the best possible way for everyone. It should be seen as a return to religious Zionism's roots and core mission, rather than as revenge.

Desperation pays....

Interesting concept: a synagogue paying you to be a member rather than the other way round -- through long-term, very low-interest housing loans, and dayschool and summer camp scholarships.
Loan recipients are expected to participate as much as possible in weekday and Shabbat services and synagogue activities. The purpose of this program is to rebuild the neighborhood's Jewish community, and that will require everyone's active involvement.
The houses do look big and cheap (from London, disgustingly cheap) although it's unclear how many young couples they can attract without a dayschool in the 'hood -- one of very many disadvantages of living in such a small community. One other thing that's not clear to me: where do they think all this money (-- potentially -- no one's taken them up on it yet) is going to come from? This is supposedly a dwindling congregation and shul fees ain't gonna pay mortgages....

Double standards for Israel -- but then we knew that

The headline on Metro this morning: "[Scotland] Yard: more innocents could be shot dead."
One question: can you imagine the uproar in London and elsewhere throughout the Western world if that headline had been, "IDF: more innocents could be shot dead"?

Worth keeping an eye on...

this item up for sale on e-bay.

King Canute and DovBear

Our furry friend and colleague, Mr. D.Bear, is outraged at the infringement of civil liberties implicit in the announcement that random (or other) searches of bags may be instituted at entrances to the NY subway. King Canute was a Viking ruler of Britain way back who (for different reasons, according to different versions of the story) sat in a throne on the sea shore as the tide was coming in and commanded the sea to recede. They rescued him just as the water reached his chin. Moral: You cannot stop the inevitable. Every western country is likely to become like Israel, where such searches are totally routine - not only at transport installations, but at supermarkets, cafes and every public gatherings. As I posted on DB's comments, today's London 'Times' carries a report about how such measures are suddenly widespread all over London.
Personally, I can't see the legal/moral difference between subways and airports. No-one nowadays would dream of getting on an international flight where there was no security.

Subway security II

Dear DovBear:
I was interested to read your two posts objecting to the NYPD's plan to check bags at NY subway stations, on the grounds that "He who trades liberty for security deserves neither and will lose both."
You have neglected, however, to answer the question posted twice in your comments section: Have you in the past ever refused a request to open your bags to policemen or security guards in Israel?
Didn't think so -- which makes me think your position is simply reflexive liberalism that doesn't even hold up to your own patterns of behavior -- and perhaps has as much to do with your dislike of one particular administration than a truly principled stance.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Rav Lichtenstein: obey orders

In this article from Haaretz last week (which somehow doesn't seem to have been noticed), Rav Aharon Lichtenstein argues that soldiers have to obey their orders. In a closely argued and impassioned piece, he concludes:
"I hope that it is clear that my stand does not stem from any lack of feeling when it comes to the problem of the disengagement and its difficulties. We face a painful phenomenon, to which there are three sources of pain. The Holy Land is apt to lose one of its bodily organs; the people are being torn to shreds; and several thousand citizens, who are faithful to their heritage and devoted to their homeland, are liable to suffer a heavy blow to their spiritual world and lose their homes and communities alike. Clearly, all of these considerations have to be weighed by the decision-makers, and I hope that was the case. But once the die is cast and the order is given, unless the government changes its mind, a soldier who has the privilege of serving in the Israel Defense Forces must do his duty, contribute his part and pray that the Holy One blessed be He will not abandon His people and not leave His land and will arrange events for the best."

Harry Potter and the War against Terror

Both Slate and the Miami Herald wonder whether the latest Harry Potter is intended as a negative/anti-American commentary on the War against Terror:
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort takes up terrorism. The Dark Lord and his Death Eaters—who had gained strength in the earlier installments and have finally arrived in force—use their newfound power to spread fear in familiar ways. They destroy bridges. They murder innocents. They compel children to kill their elders....The response of the wizarding world also rings a few bells. The Ministry of Magic issues pamphlets on "Protecting Your Home and Family Against Dark Forces." Fred and George Weasley's shop makes a mint selling Shield Cloaks, which protect their wearers from harm. The new Minister of Magic jails an innocent man, hoping to stave off panic and create the impression that he's taking action. And Harry, Hermione, and Ron greet the morning paper with a familiar sense of dread: "Anyone we know dead?"
Slate, at least, concludes JK Rowling is just using all this as a plot device -- relying on elements familiar to contemporary readers to advance the story. But even if she's not, and there is an anti-Bush element here (with the ineffectual ministry of magic also urging Harry to cooperate with them to give the false impression they're actually succeeding in the war), at least she's also making clear that the enemy has a grudge against the rest of society which is not provoked by anything the society has done, which is real, and which they can't be talked or appeased out of.

'The biggest social event of the decade'

I love it. OOSJ, briefed by a colonel, no less, reports on an unexpected side-benefit of the disengagement -- Shidduchim:
At Kfar Miamon last week, many phone numbers were apparently exchanged on both sides of the fence. The boy combat soldiers who suffer through bad accommodations and combat rations finally got to meet the girl soldiers as they sat for days waiting for some action. And action they got – phone numbers, dates. Marriage proposals? Not so quick. And, as we stated this happened on both sides of the fence. This was the biggest social event of the decade here in Israel and will go a long way in solving the demographic problem here in the Holy Land. Special thanks to Ariel Sharon and R. Avraham Shapiro for setting this up.
Indeed... The question is, however, whether any phone numbers were exchanged across the fence...

The OTHER religious Zionists......

Today's NYT magazine has a great article on Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein by Zev Chafets, chronicling his work among Evangelical Christians. Some of the complications of his 'calling' come through loud and clear.

'Breaking religious Zionism is the goal'

I read the Ha'aretz interview with Rav Meidan, one of the next heads of Gush, with real sorrow and concern. It showed a man -- and by extension, segment of society -- whose entire world view was in tremendous upheaval, and who is in extreme distress. The money quotes:

Do you truly believe the secular elite has risen up against you in order to destroy you?
So from your point of view the disengagement is not a strategic move - justified or not - but a deliberate attempt to break the religious Zionist movement?
"I must be accurate: for part of the secular elites breaking religious Zionism is the goal. For others, breaking us is not the goal, but a price they are willing to pay. And to pay easily. When someone rises up against you, it is a pain of a particular kind. When someone does not care at all whether you are broken and does not care where you will wallow after being broken, that is pain of a different kind."........
Did you draw operative conclusions?
"Yes. In order to forge an alliance with the secular elites, we neglected our more natural alliance with the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] public. Today I think that was a mistake. In the future we will behave differently. In the past, with all the disagreements, I thought there was also something we could learn from the secular elite. After I saw the secular elite stick a knife in my back and turn away from its own values - democracy and human rights - I have no more to learn from them. After all, from the standpoint of democracy, what happened here is a disgrace; and what happened here from the viewpoint of the judicial system's protection of human rights is a shame. The courts, the press, the research institutes - no one heard us. No one heard our outcry. But it is not just us. The democratic elite did not remain loyal to the values in the name of which it spoke all these years. Therefore there are no positive values I can get from them. I have a serious problem with them."
Rav Meidan is not the only national religious leader to be voicing a desire to turn away from the secular world, but if he's saying it, there is true cause for concern. The national religious sector's openness towards and integration with the secular state is one of its defining characteristics -- the 'national' part of 'national religious' -- and to lose this would be a true tragedy for both parties. I hope the secular 'elites,' as R. Meidan calls them -- who do have something to answer for in this regard -- are listening and will do what they can to salvage this relationship; I also hope the national religious realize that what's happening over disengagement does not signal that they must close themselves off from the world.
Because to a certain extent, I'm afraid to say, this is a crisis of their own making. The fact is that the majority of the national religious rabbis made a fatal error by allowing themselves to be overtaken by a messianic dream that was futile from the beginning. They allowed one idea and one goal, that of keeping the shtachim, to dominate their movement entirely, to the extent that it came to define them, neglecting completely other values (such as social justice) which should have been at the top of their concerns.
This one idea became so central, so crucial to the national-religious identity that now the dream is collapsing, the national-religious camp is in a serious existential crisis -- according to R. Meidan, the destruction of this particular dream is perceived as the attempted destruction of their community. The idea of settling the territories has also become so essential to the idea of Zionism that without it, according to this school of thought, Zionism collapses: "The alternative is not to protest the destruction of the major tenets of Zionism," says R. Meidan. "That is impossible from our point of view. It would mean a donkey's burial for Zionism."
But the national religious managed to live perfectly well without this dream before 1967 and no one ever suggested they weren't Zionists or good Jews; the modern orthodox community in the Diaspora doesn't have this as its central tenet, and yet no one is suggesting they're not good Jews or Zionists either; does anyone really believe that secular (or for that matter, religious) Israelis who don't support keeping the territories are not Zionists???????
There was, in short, another way.
I don't really fault the national leaders for following their beliefs and supporting building up the shtachim. Where I do fault them is for letting it reach a situation where their identity rose or fell on this idea; and for not beginning to prepare their followers once it became clear that the dream was going to fail. I see no beginning of cheshbon nefesh here in R. Meidan's words, or in the words of most national-religious rabbis (there are a couple of exceptions), at all. I think some is in order.

Friday, July 22, 2005

For the greater good

I love Aidel Maidel, but here's an attitude I just can't sympathize with:
The NYPD has announced random bag checks on the subway system and those who refuse who are not allowed to ride the subway. Are there any lawyers out there who can tell me if this is legal? I should be able to refuse illegal search (and seizure, although I don't have anything to seize), at least to my understanding of the law, & consititution. But can they refuse me access to mass transit because of it? But maybe this is something that was thrown out the window with the Patriot Act?
Unless you have something to hide, why would you on principle want to refuse a search which is there for your own safety? It's annoying, but I'd rather go through that inconvenience than get killed in an attack. Yes, you know you have nothing to hide -- but if everyone took that attitude, the police will never be able to search anyone. You might argue (wrongly, in my opinion) that a random search is ineffective -- but again, unless you have something to hide, it can't do any harm.

Sharon behaving himself

Posted by Picasa

Ha'aretz has published some pictures of PM Ariel Sharon showing Condi around his ranch. Glad he's managing to concentrate on something other than her legs. Pervert.

The man to watch

Avishai Braverman has announced he's retiring after 15 years as president of Ben Gurion University.
Braverman, as he himself, I believe, freely confesses, is one of the most arrogant people in the country. He's also intensely charismatic, idealistic, energetic and ambitious, is a visionary, and (on the couple of occasions I've interviewed him) is actually rather pleasant. Trained as an economist, he is widely credited with turning around BGU and putting the Negev on the map, as it were, and a few years ago was touted as a potential leader of the Labour party (he didn't stand).
I'm sure that whatever he does next will be in the public arena and will be worth following. I'm basically writing this post so that in a few months time, I'll be able to say, 'you read it here first.'

Chabad's dirty little secret... now documented?


Documents have recently come to light proving that the youngest son of the founder of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Russia, converted to Catholicism. For 180 years, the conversion of Moshe Zalmanovitch (son of Zalman) has been difficult for Chabad hassidim and the hassidic world in general to accept. Now, it will be difficult to ignore.
Rumors of the conversion of Moshe and conversions in other Hassidic families were rife in the 19th century, fueled by members of the Enlightenment who, in spite of their world view, nevertheless excoriated such moves. Chabad denied the rumors vehemently over the years, presenting alternative versions of the life of the rabbi's youngest son, a married father of four. But documents, copies of which are in Jerusalem, prove the rumors true. The original documents are located in the national historical archives in Minsk, the capital of Belarussia...
One of the most important documents is a letter written by Moshe on July 1, 1820. It was addressed to a Polish priest named Siodlovsky, in the Polish city of Ulla, where Moshe lived after his marriage.
The 36-year-old Moshe wrote he had long sought to become Roman Catholic.
He said the Jews had tried to prevent him from doing so by watching him constantly, beating him and threatening him. However, he wrote: "I have remained steadfast in my desire to take upon myself the true faith of Jesus Christ, to which the holy books and all the prophets testify."
The declaration was made before Christian witnesses, officers and clerks, whose names and occupations are noted in the document. They signed, certifying that the writer of the declaration was "of sound mind."
Thus, Moshe son of Zalman became Leon Yoleivitch.
Moshe, btw, was always and genuinely known to be mentally unstable.
The truth is that his conversion is only embarrassing / something to be ashamed of / something that can harm your movement if that's how you treat it. The best strategy here for Lubavitchers would be to acknowledge it, shrug, and move on. Still, Lubavitchers are, not surprisingly, claiming the documents are fake (although I would like to hear an answer to point number one). Ha'aretz wrote a long and interesting article about all this last year if you want to read more.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Anti-beardist society

I'm amused to read that Senator Joe Lieberman's Shiva beard has attracted bemused media attention:
At least three Connecticut dailies have published articles about the senator's beard, explaining the religious significance behind it, and news broadcasts in the state have also mentioned it. The first paper to carry the story, the New Haven Register, reported that observers at one event "were surprised to see the usually clean-shaven" Connecticut Democrat "sporting a full beard"... Several days later, a reporter for the Waterbury Republican-American wrote that Lieberman's appearance at a press conference in Washington was "scruffy enough" to elicit "a few raised eyebrows and whispers in the crowd." But the comments came from people who didn't know about "a deep-rooted Jewish custom," the article continued.
Strangest of all:
Rabbi David Walk of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, one of two rabbis quoted in the Republican-American story, told the Jewish Ledger he thought it was "extremely impressive" for someone in Lieberman's position to observe the stricture against haircuts or shaving.
The article mentions that similar media attention was heaped on Al Gore's beard, which he grew after 'losing,' as it were, the 2000 election, "because he was no longer vying for office and could afford to relax."
The surprising thing here is not that Lieberman has grown a beard -- but that this received any serious attention at all. Why are beards so strange, comment-worthy and daring (!) to these people? As has been noted before, it's almost as if having a beard -- which once used to be a sign of wisdom and respectability -- is now a moral vice.

Where's the rage?

Getting home from central London today was a two-hour nightmare -- although less painful than it might have been because a few of us working in the same area left work early and made our rather convoluted way to North London together. At one point, the thought of getting on a train after two terror attacks on the tube in two weeks made one of my companions burst out crying. Afterwards, she kept on apologizing (...Brit), but what occured to me was this: her reaction was so much more normal and healthy than the reaction of everyone else on the platform, who seemed surprisingly indifferent.
Yes, people are more jumpy than usual, but all this talk of 'not letting it get to us' is going too far. A certain amount of anger (not to mention other emotions like fear) is merited. Indeed, I think it's both healthy and necessary, provided it's channeled in the right direction -- towards deciding to do everything necessary to stop more attacks. At the moment, people's energy is all being directed toward 'carrying on as usual' and being 'resilient' and stoic. Those are both important. But I want to see people moved to vow to root out the terrorists from our midst, swearing they won't let this happen again. And that's just not the public mood I'm picking up.

Live from London, take II

Another 'incident' involving the London tube and a bus. At the moment it's unclear whether the bombs were nail bombs / just detonators / suicide bombers etc. -- but it looks like injuries were minimal.
Alarm, however....
My guess is that this is a copy-cat incident -- every major crime gives others ideas, and this one does not seem 'efficient' or well-planned enough for an al-Qaida type cell. Not that that makes much difference. People thought that at least if they travelled on the underground outside of rush hour they were safe, but people are now getting the idea they are not really safe anywhere, anytime. The question is whether a string of events, as opposed to just one, will change in any way the British resolve not to let terrorists dictate their foreign policy.
In the meanwhile, the tube lines back to North London (the major Jewish area) are closed, so here's hoping we can get home this evening.....

UPDATE: Consensus emerging: We are not afraid -- just a little jumpy...

C'mon Sacha, make us a simcha....

In its most important item this week, the Forward says that Ms. Ali G., Isla Fisher, is considering converting to Judaism before the pair get married:

The sexy redhead, who was born in Oman to Scottish parents who later relocated to Australia, told Britain's "This Morning" television show that, not having grown up with much in the way of religion, she finds Cohen's faith fascinating. "I'm constantly asking him questions about it," she said. "It's really beautiful and complex."
Hmmm. Deep.
I suppose we should be glad she's at least mulling the option over. However, I may be naive, but Sacha Baron Cohen is the one, probably the only, Jewish celeb around I would have expected to either marry 'in' or insist that his wife convert. He grew up in a very traditional home in a very Jewish suburb, had at least some Jewish education, invented the character of Ali G to amuse his friends in his Jewish youth group, regularly visits Israel (although perhaps he doesn't have such great memories...) and still attends his parents' seder (reportedly with Madonna in tow). He is certainly the most 'Jewish' of the younger generation of Jewish stars -- much more 'Jewish' than Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, etc. So -- on behalf of Jewish busybodies everywhere -- I'm disappointed.

Creepy catacombs

Jewish catacomb in Rome Posted by Picasa

I was suprised to read that new research shows that the Jewish catecombs in Rome were older than the Christian catacombs in the city (showing perhaps that the Christians got the idea from the Jews rather than the other way round) -- suprised mostly because I had no idea that there were Jewish catacombs in Rome at all.
Apparently, they were discovered in 1961-62. The best source I've found is this site, which explains,
The Jewish community in the Roman Diaspora dates back to the second century BCE and was comparatively large. Several synagogues and catacombs are known. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the community remained at some distance from the new, rabbinical Judaism of Judaeae, maintaining several archaic traits......
Three factors seem to have influenced the idea to bury people underground. In the first place, the Jews believed in resurrection, a belief that made it impossible to cremate bodies. Secondly, the use of catacombs was a lot cheaper than the purchase of ground for individual burials (which, by the way, are not unknown). In the last place, in Judaea, people were sometimes buried in artificial caves (e.g., at Qumran)...
Most of the 534 names on the inscriptions [in the Jewish catacombs] are Greek: 405 (76%). 123 people (23%) had a Latin name, whereas the remaining 5 inscriptions show Hebrew, Aramaean and hybrid names. This confirms that most Roman Jews were culturally Greek, not Latins...
The use of the Greek language is interesting too. It is grammatically correct, but contains remarkable spelling mistakes.... This suggests that most literate Jews were unable to pay for further education; it more or less corroborates the statement of Juvenal (above) that the Jews were poor...
One inscription mentions a benefactor who married his sister-in-law after his brother had died, a practice that had become obsolete in mainstream Judaism.)... Although one inscription mentions a 'teacher of the Law' the 'new' title of rabbi or Greek/Latin equivalents are not attested in the catacomb inscriptions...
In conclusion, we may probably state that in the first centuries CE, the Jewish community of Rome still retained several traits from a Jewish faith that antedated rabbinical Judaism: no rabbis (at least not in the age of the catacombs)... the custom to marry a sister-in-law still existed.
The Jewish Encyclopedia adds:
The oldest inscription met with in the catacombs is of the second pre-Christian century. Besides individual tombs there were family vaults, and the great age of these may be surmised from the family names which appear on them, as Julii, Claudii, Flavii. To a certain extent the inscriptions reveal the callings which the Jews pursued. The greater part were engaged in business; several were money-brokers; the handicrafts were well represented, and there appear to have been many artists and mechanics among them. There were also Jewish actors, of whom Antyros, during the reign of Nero, and Faustina, in the time of Marcus Aurelius, are known, as well as several contemporaries of Martial.
There is also a vast complex of catacombs at Beth She'arim: See the official MFA site for this.


SIW calls my jokey post about the 'Living Biblically' book "audacious."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

These guys are just not letting go

The group of Russian nationalists who originally got the Russian state prosecutor to look into whether the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch was a racist document have now taken their case to court. Although Putin has dismissed the official inquiry following an intervention by Ehud Olmert, the group behind the move is clearly not feeling under any pressure.....
Incidentally, Anshel Pfeffer had some interesting comments on the way the Israeli media covered this whole affair.

Problems we need like a hole in the head....

The NYT reports that
A new technology being used by produce distributors employs lasers to tattoo fruits and vegetables with their names, identifying numbers, countries of origin and other information that helps speed distribution. The marks are burned onto the outer layer of the skin and are visible to discerning consumers and befuddled cashiers alike.
Shanna* surmises that there might be a problem with cutting/peeling through these letters on Shabbat -- but is there really a halachic problem here? As far as I understand it, the writing is simply engraved onto the fruit (in fact, removing the outer layer of skin) and there is no other substance involved here -- unless I misunderstand the way a laser works. Anyone?
(Not that a negative answer to this question will necessarily prevent someone, someday, banning fruit on Shabbos, as Shanna worries. On the "plus" side for the Kashrut authorities: now there's an easy excuse to issue hechsherim for fruit and veggies!)

*Who got the story via noted the story was also mentioned by Dovbear

Hesder gets away with it -- for now

The Hesder programme has managed to escape being dismantled -- for the moment, at least. Clearly, dismantling it in the current climate, and when so much else is going on, would have proved too problematic, and some rabbis are getting a little cocky about it:
Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of a hesder yeshiva in the Samaria settlement of Elon Moreh, called [IDF Chief of Staff Dan] Halutz a "weak man" while declaring the army would never dare dismantle the hesder program even if the religious soldiers refused evacuation orders.
Personally I wouldn't breathe too easy. In the long-term, in what's a great tragedy for the national religious community, I find it hard to believe that the army will allow the programme to continue as we know it. Perhaps they will no longer allow Hesder boys to serve together in separate units. Perhaps they'll come to some other solution. But the fact remains that some Hesder rabbis have forgotten that the arrangement the national-religious community has come to with the army is a privilege, not a right, and have shown that they are prepared to use their power to undermine the army from within. What army in its right mind, in the long-term, is going to let this slide?

Would you disown a child who intermarried?

OOSJ 'admits' that if a child of his intermarried, he would not disown them, and asks:
What does that mean about our commitment to Judaism? What does that mean about our relationship with our children? Does this statement send a wrong message to our children? Does it, so to speak, take the pressure off of them? Should we condemn Mirty's parent's actions … or our own views?
My husband and I have discussed this and agree that (although the children in question are, at the moment, wholly theoretical...) we too would not disown a child who intermarried, although we would clearly be devestated by their action. The comments at OOSJ are fairly straightforward and everyone seems to agree that in the modern world, disowning a child would simply do more harm than good. I would also add that maintaining ties with a child in no way signals that you approve or endorse their choice -- and our children are (I would assume...) intelligent enough to know this. I would also assume that even if you are not cutting ties with your child, your relationship will still, at certain points at least, be strained.
Maintaining ties also does not 'mean' anything for our relationship with Judaism; we're simply choosing a different strategy to previous generations who thought that disowning a child (often for social rather than religious reasons) was the best way to dissuade them from marrying out.
And now, a question: does anyone actually know anyone in today's day and age who's sat Shiva for, or completely, irretrievably cut off contact with a child who's intermarried? Not heard of, but actually known? Or is it a big urban myth?

Discovery of fragment of ancient Biblical mss

Today's JTA reports:
Scroll from the sand
An Israeli archeologist claims to have made the most important biblical find in the Judean Desert in 40 years. Professor Chanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University announced this month that he had discovered two fragments of a nearly 2,000-year-old parchment scroll in the Dead Sea area. If authenticated, it would be the first such find in the area since 1965. The two small pieces of animal skin, which carried Hebrew verses from Leviticus, have been passed to Israel’s Antiquities Authority for authentication.
1. A Google news search tells me that this news is several days old, and is in fact not "Breaking news" at all

2. Hopefully more uncontroversially authentic than other recent finds - the Jesus Ossuary, the Pomegranate, the Yoash inscription etc etc .....

3. And - it is not clear that he 'discovered' the fragments himself. They surfaced via a local Bedouin, which increases the suspicion. On the other hand ......

Monday, July 18, 2005

I won the Maccabiah and all I got was this lousy fake medal

This is just too hilarious. According to the Jerusalem Post,
Apparently you don't have to be Jewish (or even an Israeli Arab) to win at the Maccabiah. Even natives of countries at war with Israel can win the gold – almost.
Mohammad Babulfath went undefeated on his way to taking first place in the 84-kg weight class of the Maccabiah's Greco-Roman wrestling competition at Hadar Yosef on Sunday. But nobody seems to know how he got into the competition in the first place.
The Iranian-born Muslim, who represents Sweden at international competitions, came to the Maccabiah, the "Jewish Olympics," with his teammate Jimmy Samuellson and coach Richard Swierad, neither of whom are Jewish either. The three had no idea that the Maccabiah is only open to Jews and Israelis, and came to participate as a result of a long line of irresponsible mix-ups."I don't know exactly how," said Swierad, laughing, "but we are here."
The sad thing is that although Babulfath won his category (-- not his usual one; the weighing-in time on his "invitation" was wrong, what a surprise), he didn't get a proper Maccabiah medal but one simply recognizing his participation. Aren't the Maccabiah organizers taking themselves a little seriously here? These games are not about winning and half the categories are full of amateurs -- at least one has a team member who hasn't played the sport he's competing in for forty years. Finally, an Iranian who doesn't refuse to compete against Israelis! C'mon, show a little more sportsmanship in return....

The life of living biblically....

Page 6 reports:
AFTER spending a year of his life reading the encyclopedia — and getting paid for it — peripatetic Esquire scribe A.J. Jacobs has landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster to follow all the rules in the Bible. "It's not just the 10 Commandments — that's easy," Jacobs told The Post's Gersh Kuntzman. "There are 700 rules in the Good Book." Jacobs's tome, tentatively titled, "The Year of Living Biblically," will follow his efforts to be fruitful and multiply, sacrifice large animals, follow dietary restrictions and stone adulterers. "The stoning will be the toughest thing, what with the pesky assault laws in the United States," Jacobs quipped. "My wife is also very upset about the requirement that I wear a 3-foot-long beard."
Not sure which bible he's following (700 rules?), but here's some good news for Simon & Schuster: You don't need to wait a year. I live biblically -- more or less -- and will write the book for you right now. I simply cannot believe someone's getting a big fat paycheck for writing about my everyday life!

(Via Jewschool)

When yellow light means stop

A Kansas shul has come up with an original idea to indicate they need a Minyan....

Kudos to Tony Blair...

for telling it like it is:
The prime minister told Labour party members it would be a "misunderstanding of a catastrophic order" to think extremists would act differently if the developed world changed its behaviour.
"If it is the plight of the Palestinians that drives them, why, every time it looks as if Israel and Palestine are making progress, does the same ideology perpetrate an outrage that turns hope back into despair?
"If it is Afghanistan that motivates them, why blow up innocent Afghans on their way to their first-ever election?
"If it is Iraq that motivates them, why is the same ideology killing Iraqis by terror in defiance of an elected Iraqi government?
"What was 11 September 2001 the reprisal for?"
Just to strengthen the PM's point about Iraq, the claim has repeatedly come up over the past few days that Muslim youth have become 'enraged' by the killings in Iraq. The majority of these killings, however, are Muslims killing other Muslims.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bin Laden in Saudi Arabia?

Radar reports:
Ever since CIA chief Porter Goss admitted to Time magazine three weeks ago that he has “an excellent idea” where the top terrorist is hiding, but can’t go after him because of “sanctuaries in sovereign states and fair play,” the chatter among Capitol Hill Democrats is that Osama Bin Laden remains at large because he’s hiding in Bush’s blind spot: Saudi Arabia.
“Sanctuaries in sovereign nations and fair play? These have never been things that this administration has been concerned about,” one Democratic congressman tells
Radar, requesting anonymity. “There is a lot of evidence from what Goss has said publicly, and our President’s relationship with the Saudi Royal family, that warrants an investigation into where he’s actually hiding, including Saudi Arabia. The Democrats don’t want to appear too hysterical with this, so we’re taking our time to find out the facts.”
Interesting speculation -- if true, this would be a twist on the concept of 'the butler did it.' But I couldn't imagine that the Saudis would let bin Laden, who is their arch-enemy, hide out in their country, or allow anyone to get away with hiding him.

When more isn't necessarily merrier.....

The Jerusalem Post is running an article on polygamy in the Muslim world which includes the following assertion:

Immigrants from Mali, Egypt, Mauritania, Pakistan and other countries who come to live in Europe often bring along their extended families, which may contain two, three and even four wives, and all of their offspring.
There are no official statistics, but some sources claim there are up to 10,000 polygamist families in France. The average size of such a family is up to 15 people, which means that about half a million French are living in polygamous families. There are also hundreds of polygamous families in England, Germany and Norway...
To make matters worse, Britain at one point floated the option of 'recognizing polygamy for tax purposes.'
Now, things might have changed after last Thursday. But what's the use of laws if even the government is prepared to consider endorsing people who break them?

London's silence

At 12 pm, exactly, Londoners were asked to keep 2 minutes of silence in memory of the victims of the bombings last week. Rather than just stand by their desks or stop what they were doing, people streamed out into the main streets, and stood there together. Near my workplace, in Chancery Lane, there were thousands; so many people that hundreds overflowed into the side streets. It was amazing to watch the usually bustling central London coming to a complete, utter standstill. Because there was no siren, the silence was particularly sharp. As someone pointed out, there was a strong sense of 'there but for the grace of G-d' -- almost everyone there uses the tube daily to get to work. But there was also genuine grief and shock, with people visibly emotional. At the end, in a strange moment, people started clapping -- I think people wanted to say something, not just be silent, but didn't know how.
I've stood through many silences in Israel, but something about this one, with thousands of people streaming down the streets and crowding together, was very powerful.
You know what? I'm actually beginning to like the (sometimes strange...) people of this city.

'An established culture of giving'

The story of the Argentinian Jewish community (and Argentinians in general), which was impoverished in one fell swoop a few years ago and thousands of members, including from the middle classes, driven to shanty towns and true poverty, is one of the saddest in recent years. Lets hope that this is an indication the community is beginning to find its financial feet again, even if the signs are still faint.
One thing that's interesting is the comment that
Considering the obstacles to attracting substantial charitable donations in Argentina, [director of the Tzedakah Foundation, Jorge] Schulman cites the small number of Jewish families with large fortunes and stresses that there simply is no established culture of giving in the community. But Schulman says the country’s recent financial crisis motivated Argentine Jews across the religious spectrum to help each other.
I know that North American communities are often surprised to discover that Russian Jews do not have an 'established culture' of financial giving -- in their case, it's because for so many decades there were simply no Jewish institutions or organisations to give to. Not clear why this would be the case in Argentina. Still, it's interesting how things which are taken for granted as cornerstones of some Jewish communities are completely unknown elsewhere.

In favor of fringes

Now here's an op-ed sure to get people going.
Aaron Hamburger, author of an acclaimed book of short stories, argues in the Forward that
In an age when religious activists frequently lament that their faith is under constant attack by secularism, gays could prove to be religion's last best hope.
He reasons that unlike most stuffy, uninspiring 'mainstream' shuls, the gay synagogues he's been to have been much more spiritual, joyful and inspiring:
I'd almost given up on Judaism when, at the age of 22, I walked into a gay synagogue for the first time, mostly out of curiosity. It was on a Friday night, and I was surrounded by gays and lesbians chanting the prayers I'd learned as a kid — but with a striking warmth and fervor, the kind I'd dreamed of finding in shul as a young prophet-in-training. Instead of lecturing from the pulpit, the beaming rabbi walked down the aisle of a small, bright room and encouraged us to wish the people around us a good Shabbat.
In the middle of the service, I began crying — at first because I still couldn't get over the idea of a gay synagogue, but mostly because I was moved by these people's mere presence. Sure, a few congregants may have been hunting for dates, yet most seemed genuinely interested in the service itself. Why? What drew these people to spend their Friday nights praying instead of going out to the bars?
He suggests that religious leaders should study the gay community to see why so many people are voluntarily religious, although they are "if anything... encouraged in the opposite direction by party promoters, alcohol manufacturers, and queer culture -- or by misguided clergy," in order to understand better how to attract and retain others as well.
There is actually something to his argument, but I don't think what he's talking about specifically pertains to gay people or gay communities. Very often, the most important and inspiring religious innovations and practices happen on the fringes, by people who don't quite fit (or want to fit? or are excluded from?) into the mainstream and who, by virtue of being on the fringe, have less constraints from the 'establishment' and less pressure to conform. Very often these innovations / practices later move into the mainstream and in effect contribute to the religion's perpetuation and renewal (Think of Carlebach and his followers, for example). In addition, the 'warmer, friendlier, more welcoming' service syndrome is another fringe characteristic, and one some people have learned from. So here's to fringes of all kinds...

Harry Potter and the Narrow-Minded Vatican

I can't believe everyone buys the argument the Pope (in his Cardinal Ratzinger days) disapproves of Harry Potter because of witchcraft. I'm sure it's really because Harry's Jewish. Anti-Semite!

Jewish Russian-Canadians outnumber Jewish French-Canadians

The Canadian Jewish News reports:
Russian has surpassed French as the second most spoken language among Canadian Jews, according to an analysis based on the 2001 census.
The report on immigration and language among Canadian Jews, the fifth in an ngoing series by UIA Federations Canada on the community’s composition, shows that Russian is the mother tongue of just over seven per cent of Jews in this country, or 26,500 people, and is spoken at home by a little more than 20,000 individuals.
By contrast, French is the mother tongue of 22,125 Jewish Canadians and is spoken at home by nearly 18,000.
I'm actually surprised the survey shows so few Russian speakers; when I wrote about the Russian community in Toronto several years ago, I was told there were between 50-70,000 Russian Jews in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) alone, and many if not most of them arrived in the last 15 years or so. The sad thing, however, is that that 7% or more is almost completely off the radar of the mainstream community. Toronto isn't the only North American city with this problem -- and responsibility's equally shared by both parties, who have radically different ideas of what belonging to a 'community,' and what being 'Jewish,' means. However, it is remarkable that the makeup of the community has completely changed in the past decade, but no one seems to have noticed. I really worry about that 7%+ dropping right off the Jewish map, within a generation.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Weird halachic ruling of the week

According to the NY Jewish News, women are now permitted to breast-feed in the sanctuaries of Conservative synagogues.
For a variety of reasons, I strongly believe women should be able to be comfortable nursing in public places (eg. planes) if they want to, however, there are limits, and this is one of them. It is both completely inappropriate for women to expose themselves in any way in such a setting, and in any case, people who are in synagogue should be praying, not doing anything else at the same time. Political correctness gone mad.
Other notable quotes in the article:
“The issue hasn’t come up,” said [Orthodox] Rabbi Basil Herring. “In the Orthodox world there would be a general understanding that it would be best for the mother and baby to be following the traditional role of staying home. If she does come to synagogue, it would not be in the pews where she would be breast-feeding.”
It's comments like that that make me want to support women breast-feeding in shul.
Synagogue sanctuaries are hardly immune from social challenges. Some Orthodox congregations recently began banning most alcohol consumption; one Orthodox synagogue on Long Island has prohibited talking during religious services.
Do they mean, one synagogue has succeeded in enforcing this? If so, as a member of several of the noisiest shuls on the planet (both in London and in Toronto), I'd like to know how?

Less talk, more action?

A JTA article that's actually original! The Messiah must have arrived.
In any case, someone has noticed that there seem to have been an unusually large number of conferences in recent weeks on the future of Jews and Judaism (the Israeli president's bash, the Wye River conference, the upcoming Jewish Week conference, etc.), and is analyzing the zeitgeist. The general theory: that this signals a move away from the established Jewish organizations, who are now recognized as lacking the creativity, relevance and ability to actually tackle our major problems.
One problem with that: most of the conferences might have been under new auspices, but they were jam-packed with leaders of said organizations. If that's the way you're going to go, it's not enough to have new organizations or forums; you need new thinkers.

From shock to acceptance, no rage and grief

Allison Pearson, author of the chick-lit bestseller 'I Don't Know How She Does It,' has a fabulous column in the Evening Standard about London's slightly strange reaction to last Thursday's events. It includes interesting insights, but unfortunately I can't find it online, so here's the money quote:
London had suffered horribly, but that suffering mainly went on underground.
In New York and Madrid, the agony was in plain sight. No wonder thousands took to their streets in lamentation. In our city they say proudly that it's Business As Usual. But what kind of people move from shock to acceptance without an intervening period of rage and grief?
Kind of backs up my initial observation, just hours after the event, about the lack of pictures from the scenes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

'I acted purely in the name of my religion'

I've just watched a totally depressing television interview with Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain (knighted on the same day as Jonathan Sacks), and a Baroness affiliated with the Liberal Democrats, whose name I didn't catch. Both argued that the bombers were not motivated by religion but rather were marginal 'criminals' and that we have to figure out what we did to 'alienate' them from our society. The interviewer fed them lines about the bombers being possibly motivated by the Iraq war.
In the meanwhile,
The man accused of killing Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh confessed to a Dutch court that he acted out of his religious beliefs, saying he would do "exactly the same" if he were ever set free.
"I take complete responsibility for my actions. I acted purely in the name of my religion," 27-year-old Dutch-Moroccan national Mohammed Bouyeri told the court in Amsterdam on the final day of his trial.
How much clearer could he be? When are people going to listen?

Secular Bar Mitzvahs -- on Mondays and Thursdays only

YNet reports that, in Israel,
The 14-member rabbinical council... by a majority vote, has decided they would encourage secular families to celebrate their children's bar-mitzvahs on Monday and Thursday (when the Torah is also read) instead of on Shabbat.
(According to the JPost, it's an outright ban -- hard to believe.) The reason is because of a plethora of rabbis complaining of
"guests arriving in cars, sometimes right up to the entrance of the synagogue, videotaping the bar-mitzvah boy's reading of the Torah, and leaving cell phones on during prayers."
Some points (partially covered in The Jerusalem Post's very sensible response):
First, the 'ruling' shows a certain chauvinism in the Chief Rabbinate -- as if some Jews 'belong' in a synagogue / the Western Wall (also included in this) more than others and as if some groups own them more than others. It's extremely unpleasant to see the secular public being treated disdainfully as the enemy, or an undesirable interloper in the religious sphere.
Second, by turning the secular public away on the one occasion when they actually might experience a Shabbat service, they are missing a vital and unique opportunity to make them feel closer to their heritage, and frankly be mekarev them. It's true that all the habits mentioned by the rabbis are disturbing, disrespectful and annoying. However, a slightly different attitude here -- making an effort to bring these people closer, rather than pushing them away -- would make a world of difference. (I'm thinking, for example, of the way Aish or Lubavitch or most Modern Orthodox rabbis might handle / diffuse such situations, and a completely different scenario comes to mind.)
Third, the rabbis' attitude here is a symptom of a larger problem which is partially the reason the secular public behave this way in shuls in the first place. The religious establishment does not understand the public, does not know how to deal with them, does not sympathise with them or have any patience with them and treats them accordingly. Hence, secular alienation from, and hostility to, religion. If the relationship between the religious establishment and the public was not so fraught to begin with, the secular public might be more familiar with shul etiquette, and more respectful, and the problem would never have arisen.

UPDATE: See My Obiter Dicter on the same subject. (Link via Mentalblog, which I am glad to see is back on track).

An Israeli hero

The story of an Israeli doctor on holiday who heard one of the explosions in London, left his family and disappeared into the train tunnel for hours, helping and healing. No comment necessary. I am in awe of the man, and the values he represents.

Sorry to be so depressing.....

Ha'aretz reports on a report tracking the increased anti-Semitism in Russia:
The report's authors state that the increased hatred of Jews in Russia stems from several social processes, first and foremost among them being the growing nationalist and anti-American sentiment in Russian society. Jews are increasingly perceived as proteges of the United States and as partners in the looting of national treasures. According to the report's authors, the authorities in Russia and its neighbors refrain from taking action to stamp out anti-Semitism because of the popularity of anti-Semitic views. That attitude is characteristic of large parts of the bureaucracy and security services in Russia and finds greater expression at the local government level, which is unconcerned about Russia's international image.
'Partners in the looting of national treasures' -- presumably this is a reference, at least in part, to the Jewish Oligarchs, which is interesting seeing as the Khodorkovsky trial was widely not seen to be motivated by anti-Semitism.
The Jerusalem Report, btw, has what looks like an interesting cover story about Israel-based oligarch Leonid Nevzlin, but it's not readable online. Anyone read it?

(Photo) blogging the Maccabiah

See OOSJ for some first-hand reports and photos.

But is it good for the Jews?

Ha'aretz reports:
The status of the French Jewish community has declined in recent years in direct proportion to the rise in status of the Muslim community, the JPPPI report maintains.
The authors say the outbreak of the 2001 intifada accelerated a process by which Islam was absolved by the media and political elites, while the Jewish community was stigmatized for supporting Israel. This process, begun under former president Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s, is ascribed to post-colonial guilt. Criticism of Islam became politically incorrect and was redirected at Jews, who were accused of tribalism.
The story of British and French Muslims are not exactly the same; the Muslims are not from the same places, and in some ways Muslims have integrated much better into British society than into French. But I think you can expect a similar process here to be accelerated in the long-term aftermath of the bombing. I don't think the Jews are being accused of 'tribalism,' but again, with lack of any real political power, our interests, which are very often different to Muslim interests (eg. over Israel) become less relevant to those in power.


Shayndi Raice, a student at Y.U.’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and a 2004 graduate of Stern College, says the Orthodox community needs to focus more on psychological issues surrounding sex and dating.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of guilt associated with sexuality for men,” she says.
“And it affects their relationships.”
Why stop at the men? The same is true for many women, who are educated to be completely Shomer Negiah, and when they are still single in their mid 20s and later, merely touching a man, let alone sleeping with one, can cause enormous guilt and anxiety. You only have to look back at the Never Been Kissed blog to see what they're talking about. And after all that, who says the feelings are resolved with marriage?

The Brits begin to react

-- characteristic straight talk from Mark Steyn (who, BTW, is not Jewish), and, as usual, a series of outstanding comments from Melanie Phillips.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Questions on 7/7... stream of consciousness

  • How come the Dutch were thrown into a crisis they've never recovered from after the stabbing of one man -- whereas the Brits have bombs in their underground and 50+ dead and are carrying on pretty much as usual?
  • How is the fallout from 7/7 different to the fallout from 9/11? This should be analyzed somewhere. The first thing I can think of is that the Americans strongly translated the attacks on the Twin Towers as assaults on their way of life and values, whereas the Brits -- or a large segment of them, at least -- haven't really read that into the assaults, or at least not articulated this as loudly or clearly or with as much passion. Too many people have tried to marginalize the attackers as 'criminals' or people on the fringe who can be controlled merely by employing better intelligence. As we've previously noted, there is a resistance to the idea this has anything to do with religion or ideology. There's no real discussion going on here (as it did in Holland) about the fabric of our society. This is partially because the attacks here were not on the same magnitude as the attacks on the US. But paradoxically, I also see this as a partial result of the much larger Muslim presence in Europe than in the US. Admitting that we are in an existential war and figuring out how to defend ourselves is much more sensitive and complex when the threat exists partially within and when fragile multi-cultural relations hang in the balance. This is also an additional partial answer to why the 7/7 attacks have not really translated into identification with Israel and Israelis -- in the US Israel was suddenly, in some circles at least, more important as an ally in the fight for democracy and Western values. The events here haven't been put in those terms to the same extent.
  • How will these events affect the Jews? Theoretically there's no real Jewish connection. But if the British government tries to calm and control the Muslim population by appeasing them, as seems likely, the British Jews -- who have no political power -- and Israel, cannot possibly gain. On the other hand, any conflict between the government and the Muslim community will lead to a rise in ethnic tensions and unhappiness in the Muslim community and this cannot possibly benefit the Jews either.

Recent Google searches which led people to Bloghead

Some of these searches give a certain disturbing insight into modern Jewish living:

The inevitable result of Slifkin?

As Ben Chorin asks: Is this for real?
And if not, does it matter? Because it could be, and I'm sure this dilemma is being played out and will be played out over the long-term in different ways, to different extents, in many Haredi minds.

Lotsa de crapa

NY Post:
MADONNA says she wrote the Kabbalah-themed children's books "Mr. Peabody's Apples," "Yakov and the Seven Thieves" and her latest, "Lotsa de Casha" — but our inside source says otherwise. "All of Madonna's books are written by the Kabbalah Center's official ghostwriter, Eitan Yardeni," we're told. "Eitan also writes all of Yehuda and Phillip Berg's books and the Kabbalah Books for the Center. Last summer, he flew to London to help Madonna write the last book, but she didn't really do anything." A rep for the Material Mom didn't return calls.
It's all beginning to make sense now...

Wedding customs

Just came back from a lovely wedding, in which the following customs, none of which I'd seen before although they may be well known elsewhere, took place:
  • Under the Chuppah, female friends of the bride read the Sheva Brachot in English; male friends of the groom read them in Hebrew
  • The mothers' names were on the Ketubah
  • The bride accepted the ring with the words, 'Hareini Mekabalet Taba'at Zo Mirtzoni, Kedat Moshe VeYisrael' -- 'I receive this ring from my own free will, according to the law of Moses and Israel' (to the best of my recollection -- I'm actually not 100% sure that 'Mirtzoni' was used)
  • At the end of the meal, women recited at least some of the Sheva Brachot (-- Not sure how many as unfortunately we had to leave early).

It was lovely to see so many female guests able to participate and to see the bride -- who, unusually, also got up to speak -- so active and empowered at her own wedding.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I see dead people II

Remember a couple of weeks ago the NY Jewish Week interviewed a young Chabadnik who claimed that "he has met people who have seen the rebbe in person since he died"?
Well, I actually got in contact with him and asked him for details, together with some follow up questions.
Unfortunately I won't be able to publish them here -- I promised not to publish the transcript without his approval, and he never got back to me. Shame, because it was all very interesting, as you can imagine. In any case, he did send me this link to one such story, from a Chabad site for kids. Just in case you're interested in what's being said in the weird and wonderful world of Lubavitch....

Good terrorists, bad terrorists

The Sun doesn't include Israel in a map of countries recently affected by Islamic terror (although it does, incidentally, include the Kenya attack and the attacks on Turkish synagogues). Tony Blair connects the London bombings to 'critical issues in the Middle East.' Numerous newspaper reports compare Londoners' experiences to those of the people of Madrid and New York -- but not of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
Hold on. Weren't these attacks going to make Londoners feel closer to Israelis -- for once, make them understand a bit about what Israelis have been through for the past 4 years?
Ha'aretz's sobering explanation:
A senior Economist writer... said, "The British simply don't want to see themselves like Israelis." [Writer Jonathan] Friedland agrees: Many Britons simply feel that "Israel is not like us."
In other words, for some people at least, there are still good terrorists and bad terrorists, people who 'deserve' to be hit by terror and others who are innocents. Israel -- like Russia with the Chechnians -- is still perceived as the aggressor, and therefore terrorism against it is 'forgiven,' much as Irish Americans forgave the IRA for so many years because they were perceived as 'victims.' Israel clearly has still not got the idea across yet that the struggle against it is not just over the Palestinian question, but over its very existance.