Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cry, Beloved Country!

Israel Harel's 'take' on the State of the Country. So true, so true, so tragically true:

Bewitched nation
By Israel Harel

In the midst of the Jewish holiday of heroics, Hanukkah, we were once again warned of the Iranian bomb. One gets a creeping suspicion that sounding the bomb alert was meant to hide the government's shortcomings in view of the Qassam rockets and Katyushas.There is no doubt Iran would be happy if we disappeared from the face of the earth. But why should it mess with the Western world by dropping a nuclear bomb when the Jews are withdrawing from the Palestinians, who are attacking them at home, and displaying helplessness in face of Hezbollah, in Lebanon. When the Jews lose the will to fight, it's better to continue the war of attrition than use the bomb.

OC Northern Command Major General Udi Adam clearly expressed, on Tuesday, Israel's lack of desire to fight to win, which has become a national behavioral pattern in recent decades, especially against the terror organizations at home. Asked what needs to be done about the Katyusha fire, he responded: The Lebanese government must impose its authority. When Qassam rockets are simultaneously fired toward a training base in Zikim, a kindergarten in Kibbutz Sa'ad and strategic facilities on the outskirts of Ashkelon, one does not know whether to laugh or cry because we have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Here is a commander in the Israel Defense Forces saying it is the enemy's responsibility, not his own, to prevent fire in the region whose security he is in charge of.

The empty warnings Shaul Mofaz is making regarding the Qassam fire also prove Israel's decision makers, both civilian and military, have blinded themselves. When they don't utter a single true phrase about the severity of the situation - and about the reasons for it - we should be worried about another thing. How have the politicians, as well as some military men, managed to deceive a considerable part of the nation into giving up the right to think? These people have put the independence of their decisions in the hands of gamblers, who are willing to bet with the nation's fate, sometimes for merely personal reasons, such as the decision on the disengagement.

In Oslo the IDF was involved in the political debate when it knowingly helped advance the very controversial political moves. Recently, when the IDF hitched itself to Ariel Sharon's political wagon and applied force against Israeli civilians in Gush Katif, the borders separating army and politics were blurred even further. No wonder Major General Adam, instead of speaking in the only language the Katyusha launchers understand - the language of force - explained that there are "many reasons" for firing Katyushas. He analyzed the situation in Syria, Lebanon and the terror organizations. And, of course, he did not mention the single and main reason the rocket fire continues, despite Israel's "great capabilities": Israel's inaction has eroded its ability to deter Palestinian militants from firing missiles at its settlements.In the conformist Israeli discourse, in which the IDF heads play a major role, this reason does not exist at all.

The nocturnal flight from Lebanon, and even more so the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif after more than four years of terror war, caused inestimable damage to Israel's deterrence power. Even previously, in the intifada, this ability was revealed to be limited and hesitant, and this is exactly the point. Israel does have "great capabilities," but the systemic weakness - due to loss of confidence in the rightness of its way - leaves these paralyzed.

At the beginning of the week one of the commanders of the Islamic Jihad was interviewed by Shlomi Eldar of Channel 10 News. He analyzed, with sharp clarity, the process of Israeli deterioration. First, he said, we fought with stones, and you said with stones you can't beat an army. After you were worn out and did not respond to stones, we started shooting. Then you said you'd stop it within a few days. So apparently you couldn't, or didn't want to. Afterward we started the suicide bombings and you said they were not strategically dangerous. Then we began shooting the Qassams, and you said, what can Qassams do. And now, with improved Qassams we are already firing on Ashkelon.

There were Israelis who warned, at each of those stages, that fleeing from terror will lead to increased terror, that Oslo was not a peace initiative but derived from the army's and civilians' moral erosion in the stone war. So was the fence building, which was a surrender to frightened public opinion, manipulated by politicians and economic interest parties, and of course the unilateral pullout from Gush Katif.But an entire state has fallen under the spell of pullouts and defensive measures and does not want to listen to the voice of sanity. And now too, as the acceptance of the absurd reactions to the Qassams and Katyushas proves, the spell has not worn off.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sometimes, There's Good News....

Drum Roll, Please....

Jewish Agency: Immigration from West hits all-time record level
By Amiram Barkat

The number of immigrants from Western countries has hit a record high this year, although overall immigration is stabilizing, according to statistics for 2005 released Monday by the Jewish Agency.Some 23,000 people have moved to Israel this year, 4 percent more than in 2004. By contrast, immigration from North America has risen by 15 percent since last year and immigration from France has risen by 23 percent in the same period.

The number of immigrants has remained relatively stable, however, due to a 10-percent decrease in immigration from the former Soviet Union. The increase in immigration from the West is attributed to the activity of organizations in France and North America that provide grants to Jews who move to Israel.

There has also been an increase in the number of Israelis who had moved abroad but returned to Israel this year.Some 5,700 Israelis moved back here in 2005, an increase of about 13 percent since last year, according to statistics released Monday by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. The reason is thought to be linked to an improvement in the Israeli economy and a decrease in terror.Ministry officials say they think the number of returning Israelis is actually double what the official statistics show, because only about half report their return. The ministry is planning to expand its activities in areas in the United States where many Israelis live, and is to open a branch in Philadelphia.

This year has also seen a 37 percent increase in the amount of Jewish students from abroad who study in Israel under the Masa program. Some 5,500 students participated in the program in 2005, the Jewish Agency said.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hag Urim Sameach

Looking over my ;postings for Hanukkah from last year (here, here and here), I realized that there was one more point to be made. The revolt that erupted in 167 BCE was not (initially) political in character. It was religious and cultural. The question was whether Judaism had (or should have) a future in the brave, new world of Hellenistic humanism and universalism. The war was a kulturkampf among the Jews, themselves.

Most Jews, it appears, thought that such a future was possible, so long as the religious integrity of Traditional Judaism was maintained. They were, so to speak, a silent majority.

The upper classes, the power brokers and opinion makers, disagreed. They were devoted to the idea that Jewish parochialism was a disaster and that it should be replaced by Hellenistic, anthropocentric, progressive enlightenment. It is a principled position that the author of First Maccabees reports (1,11): "Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us." The Hellenists worked hard to advance and proselytize among their fellow Jews in order to rescue them from obscurantism.The price was not that high, in their opinion. All one had to do was to discard the Torah, in order to step into a wider world.

The Hassidim, on the other hand, agreed with the Hellenists that the encounter of Athens (or Antioch) and Jerusalem was a zero sum game. They, however, totally rejected Athens.

What tipped the scales toward the Hassidim? The extreme dedication of the Hellenists to dragging Judea into the new age. When they started to attack the Torah, and when political circumstances directly involved Antiochus in their plans, the overwhelming majority of Jews moved their support to the Hassidim. This was followed by the infamous edicts described in First Maccabees (1, 44-63), which led directly to Mattathias' call to revolt (Ibid. 2, -28).

Not a year goes by, that I don't think about how History repeats itself.

I'm Shocked....

Since so many others are doing it, I thought I"d take the Orthodoxy Test. The results? User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.
What a shock......I think I'll go compare the Nicomachaen Ethics with Shmoneh Peraqim.

Monday, December 19, 2005

This and That

I've removed the Visitor's map due to lack of response.

I've added the Headlines from Yoav Yitzhak's News First Class. He's one of the best investigative journalists in Israel.

Welcome to an exciting new blog, The Augean Stables, named after one of the feats of Hercules (Herakles, for the purists). It takes on the media and the world of the cognoscenti on its own terms.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Recquiescat in Pacem

I can't resist. The Times Literary Supplement has a great essay, and book review, on the subject of.....the Obituary!

(And I thought I"d hit Nirvanna when I found Anthony Grafton's history of the Footnote!)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

For Parshat VaYishlach

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
-Alexander Pope,An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

In this week's parsha, וישלח, Jacob returns home to face his inner and outer demons. He confronts both. In a nightly encounter, he finally subdues the Esau within him (as implied by the Rambam) and emerges with the victorious and majestic new name, Israel. He confronts the real Esau, the progenitor of his ultimate enemy (Rome), and manages to neutralize him through a combination, as Rashi says, of prayer, diplomacy (bribes) and a show of force.

What gives him the capacity to stand up to, and conquer, both?

The Torah says that Jacob was afraid. Obviously, though, he was facing two different types of fear.
The first, I believe, related to his anxiety about returning home, realizing his blessing, taking responsibility for his past actions and assuming responsibility for his role as the heir (both politically and spiritually) of Abraham and Isaac. In this context, I think of a comment I once heard in the name of Rav Kook (pere). He noted that in order to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Israelites had to first kill Og, the king of Heshbon. 'Heshbon,' aside from being the name of Og's capital city, also means a 'calculated consideration.' Rav Kook observed, that if one wishes to live here in Eretz Yisrael, one must overcome one's 'heshbonot,' which (Hamlet-like) can paralyze you. Living a life of Torah, no matter whether on is a BT or an FFB, requires a leap of faith. It also requires an inner struggle, in order to subdue the 'King of Heshbon.'

Like the real-life Esau, however, doing things 'in one's head' (as it were) is not sufficient. One really does have to confront the very real challenges presented by a Jewish Life, and a fortiori, one lived where Jews are supposed to live, here. Following Jacob's example, that requires reliance upon God, readiness to sacrifice economically and a willingness to fight.

It also requires conviction and recognition of what one does have. In his prayer to God, on the eve of his confrontation with Esau, Jacob says (Gen. 32, 11): 'I am not worthy of all the mercies (חסדים), and of all the truth, which You have shown to Your servant.' R. Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv), in is commentary to the Humash העמק דבר, observes that the gratitude and recognition both of God's gifts and of the absolute truth of the tradition passed on from Abraham, are the keys to being saved from Esau and for realizing one's goal in Eretz Yisrael. Modesty, Humility and Conviction are the keys to success.

Why start with Alexander Pope? Because achieving these requires an ongoing struggle. The demons are not destroyed. They are subdued. Notice what the angel tell Jacob, now Israel (v. 29):
For you have striven with God and with men, ותוכל.' The last word, technically means 'you have prevailed.' It can also mean 'you will prevail.' Life, as the Rov זצ"ל, used to say is a dialectic, dynamic struggle. Ultimate success, however, derives from within; from faith, gratitude, and determination.

Strikingly, it was Jacob, whose life was filled with difficulties, who really founded the Jewish people and set them on their historical path.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Proust Revisited: Recalling Things That Never Were

QED has an excellent post on the nostalgia for pre-67 Israel. He welcomes comments, and I think it's an opportunity to hash this one out.

Ya'ari's Article

Since the article to which I linked is not easily available, I"m placing it here (it's also here). Nothing's changed (except for the relevance of his conclusion).

The Jerusalem Report
19 September 2005
Theory & Practice
by Ehud Ya'ari

A NEW THESIS is spreading through the Arab world, according to which Israel is approaching old age and is battling a long, drawn- out terminal illness. Even if the Jewish state is still healthy enough to be able to suppress the symptoms, the theory goes, there will be no recovery. From being a dynamic society suffused with the ideals of Zionist revival and with the wind of history in its sails, the Israelis have turned into a torn nation, lost, confused and lacking spirit.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal infused this argument with colorful rhetoric during a "victory speech" in Beirut on August 17, the first day of the evacuation of the settlers of Gush Katif. Israel, he explained, a nation that was constantly committed to territorial expansion and the colonization of newly conquered land from the tip of the Sinai peninsula up to the peaks of Mount Lebanon, has sunk into a shrinking process, divesting itself of the assets it seized and erasing its settlements. According to Mashal, it's a one-way, irreversible trend. "It took time," he declared, "but that is now the direction."

Palestinian history professor Isam Adwan is already doing the calculations for the Islamic Jihad. The Soviet Union, he notes, rose and fell within a single lifetime (1917-1990) and he promises the same fate for Israel. Israel's power reached its peak in 1967 and has been on the wane ever since - a deterioration, Adwan believes, that will lead to its total withering no later than 2022, when the state will be 74 years old, more or less the same age as the Communist empire when it expired. Till then, he says, Israel will exist on vitamin supplements and with the help of its American caregivers.

This prediction elaborates the slogans that Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah often repeats about Israel being like a spider's web, which gets ever thinner the more it spreads, and echoes the prophecies of the late Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who forecast the year of Israel's demise as 2025.The implication is that there is no necessity for the Palestinians and their partners to storm Israel. They needn't go for an all-out, decisive confrontation. All they have to do is carry out a stubborn and grinding campaign of attrition.

A new booklet on the "Strategy of Palestinian Resistance," published by the armed faction known as the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, under the leadership of Jamal Abu-Samhadana, describes how this kind of warfare requires constant changes in tactics and pace. And that's exactly what the heads of the terror organizations are now saying: There is nothing wrong with a pause in fighting or periods of cease-fire, so long as the dimensions of the struggle and the friction are preserved, with no promise of a solution. "The flames must keep burning, even when they are not scorching," they say.

This line of thought, which is not, of course, followed by all the Arabs, has nevertheless claimed some supposedly moderate personalities, such as Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), the Palestinian prime minister, who has openly sworn that the Palestinians will never agree to a state in provisional borders, as called for in the U.S.- backed peace plan known as the Road Map, which the Palestinians have ostensibly accepted. As Dr. Mahmud Zahar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, puts it: "Administration - Yes! A state - No!"

No spin master and no amount of words will ever be able to convince our neighbors that the disengagement was not an act of retreat, a sign of weakness, an invitation for more vigorous attack. Whatever we make of the new thesis produced by the problematic environment that surrounds us, it is not only the Israelis who need persuading about the effectiveness of the Gaza withdrawal, but the enemy as well. And in this, Prime Minister Sharon has failed miserably. The conclusion drawn by the other side is that maybe in the short term it will be difficult for them to resume the terror assault, but that is the prescription for the longer run.

Ironically, though, the spreading theory of Israel's "aging" could yet turn out to serve as a tool of restraint on the Palestinian side. After all, if Israel is getting weaker and its epitaph is already written on the wall, then the Arabs' advantage of patience comes into play. All they have to do, they may believe, is to wait; to act as a constant annoyance, to create a kind of siege - but there is no reason to invest valuable resources in an effort to shorten the "Zionist entity's" life. The "resistance" organizations, such as Hamas, could then feel no more obligation than to let nature take its course. And so, paradoxically, the belief the Palestinians are trying to instill in themselves, about their great "victory" in Gaza and the "routing" and "flight" of the Israelis, could yet serve as a justification for a time out.

In the final analysis, what matters is not what they want to believe or how they aspire to present things, but how they will actually behave. The rest is just words.

A Posting in Time...

Just as I finished the previous posting, I received this article by Daniel Pipes. It speaks for itself. What interests me is the reference he makes to a very incisive observation by Dr. Yoram Hazony, the founder of the Shalem Center. As Pipes cites his book, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul:
Since 1993, Israelis have shown themselves, in the words of the philosopher Yoram Hazony, to be "an exhausted people, confused and without direction," willing and even eager to be duped by their enemies. All they need are some overtures, however unconvincing, that they will be freed from war, and they barely can restrain themselves from making concessions to mortal enemies.
That, Dave, is why people are flocking to Kadima. Caveat Emptor, Viri Kadimae.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (Sorry, Hunter)

The comments on my last post have been very thought-provoking, so I thought I'd upgrade my response to here.

One person

MK's are flocking to Kadima because it represents a broad emerging centrist consensus among the populace. Put differently, the country does not want what you want. This is not to sweep under the rug any abuses of democracy that have occurred under Sharon's watch. But it does mean, and this is something that you have to start to be able to hear, my friend - that the large majority of Israelis fear religious Zionists a lot more than they fear Sharon. And it also means that beyond a certain point there is a falseness to all the cries about crimes against democracy. It is one thing to demand that civil rights and minority rights be respected (a cause, by the way, which Religious Zionism utterly ignored until things started to not go its way, which is part of why many of its spokespeople sound so hypocritical now.) But to live in a democracy means to acknowledge that the majority rules. And the majority does not want to send its children to defend small yishuvim in the midst of a million Arabs. It does not want to fight wars for Eretz Yisrael haShlemah, and it does not want to be held hostage to policies which mean that neither we or our descendants will ever see peace unless all the Arabs miraculously disappear.

So, let's see:

1) I agree that democracy is the rule of the majority, which must be upheld. That's why I opposed disobeying orders during the so-called 'Disengagement.'

2) The civil rights abuses that have built up over the past few months are eloquently laid out
here and here. [The swipe at Religious Zionist ignoring of prior Civil Rights abuses is gratuitous.]

3) I am sure he is right that 'the large majority of Israelis fear religious Zionists a lot more than they fear Sharon. ...the majority does not want to send its children to defend small yishuvim in the midst of a million Arabs. It does not want to fight wars for Eretz Yisrael haShlemah, and it does not want to be held hostage to policies which mean that neither we or our descendants will ever see peace unless all the Arabs miraculously disappear.'


The majority fear Religious Zionists, because we have been diabolized in a way that is truly incredible. The media and politicians have taken a page out of Trachtenberg's
The Devil and the Jews, and applied it to every knitted kippah in the world, and everything for which it stands. In this, they had the help of our lunatic element. But, hey, if a few coin clippers can get the entire Jewish community thrown out of England (1291), think of what a larger group can do for the rest of us.

For everyone's information, Eretz Yisrael ha-Shlema stopped being a real program in 1993. So, I don't really understand why it keeps getting thrown up in the faces of the Right. The question now is, will Israel undertake a terrtorial realignment or will it run a liquidation sale. Every time this comes up, it's liquidation sale hands down. Furthermore, since most Israelis don't know the difference between an outpost and a city of 12,000 like Betar Illit, they really don't want their sons to protect anything. (Difficult situation for those of us in Yosh who have children defending the Northern or Southern borders.)

This is a recipe for disaster, because (and how many times do I need to say this?) the Arabs are playing a zero-sum game. You can't play compromise when the other side says all or nothing. This is the principled position of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Period. Anything less is blasphemy against the Divinely ordained order of things, as set by the Qur'an, the Hadith and the Shari'ah. So let's deal with it. There will be, can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs (or any other Arabs) until an alternative Muslim conception develops. [Please, don't retort that we have peace with Egypt and Jordan. Yes, the governments are in a state of non-active belligerancy. However, states that you can't visit lest you be killed because you're Israeli or a Jew are not states where peace reigns.] Furthermore, as Bernard Lewis and Ehud Yaari keep pointing out, the Arabs see ANY concession as a sign of weakness and imminent implosion of the Zionist entity.

So, yes it's true that the Israeli majority doesn't want what some things that I want. OTOH, maybe it does.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Democracy in Israel

Independent f my opinion of Ariel Sharon and his new party, I am concerned by something deeper. I am really concerned by the sight of so many polticisns handing their mandates to Sharon, in violation of their obligations to their voters. Where is accountability? There isn't any. Moreover, the polls show (as the press cheers) an ever growing number of seats in the Knesset for the new conglomeration.

Of course, other parties have swept elections before and sent the opposition into the single digits. I happened in Britain and Canada. The difference is that here, as
Maariv reports, Sharon is trying to destroy all of the other parties. With no opposition, with a one party system, there will be no demcracy and no checks and balances on Sharon's power. The Knesset will be in his thrall and the Supreme Court is tailoring its decisions to his new political agenda, anyway. [My son, Avi, pointed out that Freedom House only declared Israel a democracy in 1977, when Begin defeated labor. Previously, it had termed Israel a one party system.]

Gotta go read 1984 again. Orwell was too perspiciacious.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Rabbis in Blue

The latest scandal to involve the Chief Rabbinate (and rabbis in general) broke in yesteday's Haaretz (of course). Just when you think things couldn't look worse, just when we need to rehabilitate the beating that Judaism's image has taken (both self imposed and otherwise), this happens.

I'm not going to waste time agonizing, whoever did this deserves to be defrocked. Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, the Army Chief Rabbi, deserves a medal for integrity.

However, I have one thought that I posted here.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Life on Campus

QED has a few salient points about life at Israeli universities, from the student's point of view. And yes, they're all too too true.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Confessio Pro Vita Sua: Modern Orthodoxy

Gil Student has a very nuanced, and moving post about importance of Modern Orthodoxy (and the absolute necessity for a broad education) as part of an integrated Orthodox worldview. His remarks has made me reconsider my position that the major challenge to Tradition comes from the relativism of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The (so-called) Exact Sciences are still no less of a challenge, thanks to the people of the type who crucify Slifkin.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Orwell, Finkielkraut and Haaretz

For those of you following crucifixion of Alain Finkielkraut in the French and Israeli Press, here is anaccount of how he was bushwacked by two Israeli 'journalists' and their agents du mal. Once again, Haaretz shows that it is 99% ideological organ, 1% newspaper.

It reminds me of something my wife's mother, who attended Stalin's Talmud Torah (as she puts it), once commented. There were two newspapers of record in Soviet Russia: Izvestia ('The News') and Pravda ('The Truth').

The joke in Stalin's Talmud Torah was: There's no Izvestia in Pravda and no Pravda in Isvestia.

I Agree

As happens not infrequently, Rivqa Yaffa says it as it is:
רוצה מדינה יהודית
רבקה יפה שחר דורשת מאותן המפלגות שרוצות במדינה יהודית להתאחד ולהכריז על מפלגה אחת

הם נערכים לבחירות, נלחמים על כיסאות, תרים אחר כותרות, מנסים לנחש מה רוצה הבוחר. אני הבוחר, ואני רוצה מדינה יהודית. זו גזענות? אז זהו, שאני רוצה להצביע למפלגה שאין לה בעיה עם המילה יהודי ועם זכויותיהם וערכיהם של יהודים. מפלגה שחבריה מתרשמים מהמוסר היהודי יותר מאשר מהתרבות הפוסט-המערבית, וזוכרים למה מדינת ישראל הוקמה, ולמי. יש כמה מפלגות כאלה? על זה אני מדברת, שהגיע הזמן שיתאחדו וינהיגו את המדינה.
יהדות התורה, ש"ס, המפד"ל, מימד, האיחוד הלאומי וחלק מהליכוד צריכים להתאחד למפלגה אחת גדולה, שחבריה עונים על שאלת זכותנו על הארץ במילה אחת: ככה. בלי הסברים, בלי התנצלויות ובלי קשקושי נרטיב. מפלגה שתדאג לחינוך יהודי כזה, שילדים ישראלים יהיו גאים בשייכותם לעם הכי משכיל, הכי תרבותי והכי הומני בעולם, ושיזכרו מה זו אנטישמיות. מפלגה שתגיד בקול רם, שתרבות יהודית אינה גחמה מגזרית, ושתרבות זה לא רק ספורט ותיאטרון, אלא גם לימוד תורה, מצדי תקראו לזה תנ"ך. תשומת הלב שלנו מוסטת היום לביטחון, לגבולות ולדמוגרפיה, אבל על הפרק עומדת בחירה בין יהודי לישראלי, בין חופה יהודית לברית הזוגיות, בין חברון לתל-אביב. ויתרנו על חבל קטיף, מחר מערת המכפלה והר הבית, ושאיש לא יעז לשוב ולדקלם בשאננות: "היה לא תהיה". אני רואה את המריבות הקטנוניות בין ליצמן לרביץ, בין המפד"ל לאיחוד הלאומי, בין ש"ס לאריה דרעי, ותוהה האם אינם רואים שבלב מדינת ישראל כבר רוחשת האש, שעומדת לאכל את הערכים הכי בסיסיים של העם
היהודי: חינוך, משפט עברי, שבת, גיור, כשרות ונישואין.
הרוב רוצים מדינה בעלת צביון יהודי

אני מסתכלת בקנאה ביכולת של המפלגות החילוניות הגדולות להושיב יחד אנשים בעלי מגוון דעות, להניח בצד ניואנסים
ולהילחם על הנהגת המדינה. המפה הפוליטית בישראל משתנה ונערכת מחדש, החילוניות האידיאולוגית מתפשטת לפריפריה, ורק הדתיים תקועים בקבוצות אנכרוניסטיות קטנות וקטנוניות, במקום להתעלות ולהתאחד למען המשותף לרובנו: יהודיותנו. אישה חרדית צעירה שגרה מספר שנים באמסטרדם, סיפרה לי איך מהר מאוד למדה לוותר על הלוקסוס הישראלי לקטלג חברים לפי פרמטרים פוליטיים ודתיים, ולהבין שכל יהודייה ששולחת את בנה לבית הספר היהודי, היא חברה שלה. "רק כאן הבנתי מהי תחושת שותפות יהודית, ומה חשוב באמת". היא למדה את השיעור שחברי הכנסת שלנו טרם למדו. רוב הישראלים רוצים מדינה בעלת צביון יהודי, ובגלל זה "ביבי טוב ליהודים" הביס את פרס, ובגלל זה ש"ס קיבלה 17 מנדטים. להיות יהודי זה לא קשור לדתי, תשאלו את עוזי לנדאו, וגם לא לימני, תשאלו את הרב אלישיב. ועוד משהו, מפלגות דתיות חייבות להיגמל מרגשי הנחיתות שלהן, ולשאוף להנהגה. גם חרדים יכולים לעמוד בראש פירמידה ממלכתית. עובדה שאורי לופליאנסקי מצליח כראש עיריית ירושלים, ועוד מעט הרב לאו כנשיא המדינה.

Experientially Challenged

For a very long time, I've been fascinated by the ways that medievals and moderns have perceived time and space. The way that medievals organized the way that they viewed their chronological and geographic existence was, in my opinion, incredibly rich a subtle. They were able to live on several levels of reality-perception at once, without losing their grounding in the here and now. A Jewish case and point is the Pesach Seder. The operative statement there is 'In every generation, one is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.' This is not pablum. It is an existential directive, aimed at the celebrant, to transcend the limits of time and space and to transform himself into a liberated slave on the morning of the 15th of Nisan c.1200 BCE.
Furthermore, it was an eminently doable charge, because of this multi-level type of time-awareness that is endemic to traditional societies in general, and to Judaism in particular. [There is, I am well aware, an irony in the fact that this represents a point of agreement between Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל and mutatis mutandis Mircea Eliade. Perhaps that makes it all the more credible.] The ability to connect so intimately to the past was critical to Jewish continuity in general and to the success of the Zionist message, in particular.

Post-modernity, together with the so-called 'Information Highway,' have seriously wounded (and in some cases destroyed) this rich, nuanced human capacity. A life based upon sound-bites and instant images cannot sustain critical thought and leads, inevitably, to far-reaching, all-encompassing, superficiality. Such superficiality, which is the hallmark of contemporary culture, retards the capacity of the individual to think 'out of the box' and to feel 'out of the box.'

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that contemporary Israel (and Diaspora) Jews, find it extremely difficult to 'connect' (the widespread Hebrew word is להתחבר) to the same vital experiences that sustained their forefathers for two millenia. The thirst for just this type of deeper awareness is the challenge of the contemporary Jewish Leadership, which too often denies its existence.

[The above is, in a sense, a continuation of this posting.]

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Realistic Religious Zionism

I will admit that I don't know very much about this group (though I do know a number of its members). However, if the very problematic musings of Haggai Efrati are any indication, I think I'll pass. Too much anger. Too much rage. Too many slogans. Too much pyrotechnics and no light or warmth.

Until they emancipate themselves from their frustrations, there won't be anything to discuss. It's too bad. We've got enough dialogues of the deaf cooking in this country, especially within the religious community (geselleschaft or gemeinschaft, that is the question). There really is no need for even one more.

On Tekhelet, Massoret and Autonomy

Mayvin Yavin has a series of very thoughtful postings concerning the wearing of Tekhelet. His most recent post prompted me to weigh in on the subject.

I waited a long time, and spent a lot of time learning, investigating and mulling over this issue, before I finally decided to add murex dyed tzitzit to my Tallitot. My quandry was

Monday, December 05, 2005

Of Homesteads and Home

In 1881, Yisrael and Rebecca Lappin gathered their family and trekked by wagon, foot, and boat from Volkovisk, Poland to Eretz Yisrael. Part of the First Aliyah, they settled first in Petach Tikva. After a number of years, during which they tried to succeed in agriculture (and Yisrael lost a thumb, as a result of the lack of proper tools), they moved to Jerusalem where the Lappins opened a dry good store. In order to house his family (two sons and a daughter), he erected a grand house at 91 Me’ah She’arim Street, the (relatively) new, upscale neighborhood standing outside the walls of the Old City. The house contained four apartments and stood above three street level stores. It was, by all accounts, a very impressive edifice.
     For me the house always had special significance. It had significance because I am a great-great-grandson of Yisrael and Rebecca Lappin. I  am also (to the best of my knowledge) the only one of their descendants to return to live in Eretz Yisrael, together with my wife and children. I used to feel that this edifice of stones was the binding tie between them and me. Whenever I would pass by it, I would pause and just stare at it, trying to visualize what life was like for them. I used to feel very intensely a special sense of loss at not having known them. Having made the trip here, I would have liked to compare notes on what drove us to come to this most difficult and rivetting place.
I would also speculate about their reaction to the fate that befell their family. True, they left Europe before Hitler’s minions murdered their extended families. However, once they were forced to leave Palestine by the Ottoman authorities, assimilation and intermarriage exacted a bitter toll from among those children and grandchildren whose physical future their foresight guaranteed, but whose spiritual survival was nigh on obliterated. What would have happened, even historians ask, if they had stayed with their children? It’s a bitter-sweet act of speculation.
Recently, it became academic. The building, long ago donated to the Hevron Yeshiva by their pious daughter who had little faith in the capacity of the Torah to resettle in the hearts of her progeny, was torn down to make way for a large dormitory complex for the radical, anti-Zionist Reb Aryele Hassidim. Ironic that this homestead of one of the earliest Religious Zionist pioneers should be levelled by a group that despises all they stood for.
My first reaction was a mixture of loss and melancholy. My wife, who is much wiser than I, pointed out that (like the Bet ha-Miqdash, according to Hazal in Eika Rabba, parsha 4 s.v. va-yatzet ) the building was really nothing more than ‘sticks and stones.’ What made it special was the spirit it embodied and the vision it represented. The building may be demolished (right now it’s a big hole in the ground). The spirit it embodied has (hopefully) been transferred and dwells in our (more modest) home in the Hills of Hebron. That same spirit, that deeply rooted attraction to qedushah, moved Yisrael and Rebecca to defy reason and move to a place that did not approach the word civilized. The inner strength that they manifested is stunning to contemplate.
It is something to pray for, to cultivate, to hang on to dear life for; especially on days like today.  

And Now for Something Completely Different

I've got two articles, two books and dissertation reviews to work on, but I can't sign off without one of the lighter posts....

This is my (phtoo, phtoo, phtoo) thirteenth year teaching at Bar Ilan University. I thought I knew all about the place. I know about the courses, the politics, the library, the book store, and the food. Everything there is to know. Right?


Saturday Night, on the weekly dosi program on Channel I, I caught a ten minute report by Ravital Vitelson-Jacobs about the mating, sorry, dating geography at (you guessed it) Bar Ilan. [Actually, Maariv had a sneak peak on this.]

Go know that the Hilonim sit on the Hill in the center of the campus. The MO's congregate in the triangle formed by Katz-Nagel-DeHahn. The frummier types hang out in the sector between the Midrasha and the Koylel (aka 'the window of opportunity', because the central window of the Bet Midrash overlooks the area. More Orthodox sexism, I guess). So now I know why certain of my students hang out in one place, and not the other. (At least I know my MA and PhD students hang out in the library.)

What else do I know? My wife and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary. After a quarter century and five kids, Thank God I know that I can file this information away under 'interesting but irrelevant.'

I Wonder...

I keep wanting to post something light, but life keeps getting in the way....

Haaretz reports that the proposed closing of the Gaza Crossings will constitute a violation of our recently signed accords with the PA, the ones that were brokered by Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleeza Rice. In other words, Dr. Rice will be very ticked if we do that.

I wonder...

I wonder if Dr. Rice ever had to start off a class the way that I had to today, twice. Quietly, I asked if anyone lived in the Netanya area. If so, they should know that there was
a homicide bombing at the Sharon Mall and that if they wish, they are welcome to leave class to call home to make sure everyone is alright.

I wonder if she had to start off a lecture that way (one on Judaism and Christianity and the other on German Pietism) whether she would so blithely reject measures that will save lives, like preventing terrorists from infiltrating from Gaza or stopping the rocket and mortar fire on pre-1967 Israel.

I wonder whether Dr. Rice would reevaluate the sincerity of the Palestinian people, were she to watch
this bit of PA Programming. She's an historian, after all. She knows that the hokhmas spouted by this little tyke reflect mainstream Muslim thinking and established Muslim tradition, not the prattle of some fanatic. Dr. Rice is a noted scholar. She knows that one can't argue beliefs (just as one can't argue with a Christian over Jesus' divinity or humanity).

I wonder if Dr. Rice would sacrifice American lives so blithely. After all, the American Army is in Iraq in order to defend the equivalent lives in the continental US.

I can't help but return to an old refrain.

There's nothing to wonder about. After all, it's only Jews.

[As Tom Gross wrote: Dead Jews Aren't News. Hattip: Maria]

Is All of Gush Etzion on the Chopping Block?

If anything was required to further undermine my faith in the Israeli government, this letter was it. You see, the minute we are cut off from the so-called Green Line, the point is made that we are expendable. In addition, the surrounding of Yishuvim with concrete fences and barbed wire (yes, I'm not making this up) would render us more vulnerable than ever to Arab terror.

To all the residents of Gush Etzion,

A few minutes ago I had a conversation with a senior source from one of the government ministries that is dealing with the "security fence". During the conversation a number of issues came up that I felt concerns all the local residents. Please distribute this letter to all your friends and acquaintances as soon as possible.

1.. The planning authorities in the Ministry of Defense have now concluded their work concerning the fence on the Green Line that will keep Gush Etzion out of the main fence of the state of Israel. So as not to arouse the residents of the Gush it was decided to first implement the eastern fence (around the Gush) and only after the elections to build the fence on the green Line (the direct quote of the source: "The decision to build an additional fence on the Green Line has already been taken with tens of thousands of shekels already invested in the planning and with instructions being not to disclose the actual building of the fence on the Green Line till after the elections."

2.. The actual work on the fence is to begin this week with the actual area chosen being the Abu Suda Forest between Migdal Oz and the Gush Etzion Junction (since the area is a nature preserve there was no fear of an appeal to the Supreme Court). It should be mentioned that this is a blatant violation of the agreement with all the local councils that there would be no work begun on the fence until there is total agreement on the route.

3.. During the situation evaluation that was held in the Ministry of Defense considerable fear was raised of the possibility of opposition to the fence by the residents of the Gush. To this end Danny Terza, the head of the fence authority, was sent to be interviewed for Makor Rishon for the edition published this past Friday (the most comprehensive interview ever conducted with Terza).

4. The Ministry of Defense is fully aware that they do not have a chance of successfully defending then present route of the fence in the Supreme Court so they want the work to be commenced so that afterwards the Supreme Court will rule that the fence should be built as close as possible to the settlements (as the proposed route of Shalom and Bitochon including a fence 500 meters north of Neve Daniel, a fence between Efrat and Neve Daniel, etc.) this way permitting the Ministry of Defense to claim innocently that it is not them but the Supreme Court that decided on the dangerous route.As it seems now the Gush will be surrounded by fences that will be as close as possible to the settlements with an additional fence to be built on the Green Line affectively cutting us off from the State!

To summarize:We have been hoodwinked in broad day light.

Yaron Rosenthal
Kfar Etzion

[Note: The Council for Peace and Security is a Leftist organization that works for a return to the 1967 borders. Imagine! With the great job Sharon did with the people from Gush Qatif (unemployment, depression, suicides, divorces, drug use....), it will now move on to do the same to another quarter of a million. ]

Further thoughts on the matter, here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Diabolization Continues

For the information of those who villified the people of Gush Qatif, cheered as their lives were destroyed, and jeered at these new 'millionaires,' Haaretz Reporter Nadav Shragai provides an insight into their ongoing suffering, as the State ignores them.

So, if Israel can't deal with 8,000 refugees...How does it expect to throw 80,000+ out of their homes with nowhere to go, no employment, no schools, and deep psychological scars?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Finally! A Response to the Diabolization...

Professor Stuart Cohen and Dr. Asher Cohen of Bar Ilan's Political Science Department have published a much needed (and long overdue) reaction to and analysis of the disparity between the realities in the Religious Zionist community and the way it is portrayed in public (especially media) discourse.

I would only add two points:

1) It can't be stressed enough that principled Right Wing politics can be based upon non-messianic considerations.

2) The diabolization of the religious community is part of a wide-ranging, post-Zionist kulturkampf.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Argument is not that Dumb, Sarah....

Chayyei Sarah considers the argument that Gaza is the same as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to be both disingenuous and just plain bogus. She makes some very cogent points but, IMHO, misses the main point. Here it is:

Whether we like it or not, our conflict with the Muslim World is a zero-sum game. It's all or nothing. Yes, it's true that the Israeli consensus disagrees. However, that is totally irrelevant (except when we negotiate with ourselves, as we usually do). The Muslim World defines it as a zero-sum game, and that's what makes it so. Why do they define it so? Because Islamic religion and culture relates to the world that way. You're either part of the Dar al Islam or the Dar al Harb, the House of Islam or the House of War. A respectful attitude toward the 'Other' demands that we stop with the Cognitive Egocentrism and see what our interlocutors actually believe. [Despite the criticism, Bernard Lewis is correct.]

It is also true that we do base our claim here on Jewish History and Tradition. On that level, it really is true that it's all of a piece. Here, however, semantics play an important role. The Left would have us believe that Gaza and Judea/Samaria are Arab Lands to which Jews have no right. That is Post-Zionist claptrap. It is, however, the line harped on and advanced in the Israeli media and in broad swaths of academia. That does not make it less claptrap (maybe more). One could, however, maintain that we are willing to give what is ours to someone to whom it does not belong (not that I am arguing on behalf of that point). That would put a very different face on things. Neither is this quibbling. How you define yourself, even in theory, is critical for national function and continuity. Consider, when Germany was divided the Western half's constitution included a plank callung for reunification while the Eastern half did not. I have no doubt that the dream of unification played a very serious role in defining West German identity and in the process (albeit rough) of Geman reunification.

On both grounds, I think it would be a serious mistake to blithely dismiss your letter-writer's point.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Ben Chorin's take on Sharon and the upcoming elections is right on target.

QED has a great rundown on recent issues and academic controversies that are VERY important for contemporary life.

Aharon Barak is so desparate to prevent the breaking of his ideological clamp on the judiciary that he's obviously been brow beating poor Beige Shohat not to retire so he can torpedo the nomination of the very qualified, brilliant jurist Professor Ruth Gabison to the Supreme Court.

Also, take a careful look at David Hazony's trenchent analysis of the significance of this issue. Must reading.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Samuel Butler Was Right

Lisa has this great post today about a survey concerning phone use. The punch line was:

But the final question was definitely of the only-in-Israel variety.In the dry, disinterested tone of someone who has asked the same questions over and over without giving much thought to their significance, the woman asked me: "Are you religious, traditional or secular?"

One of the downsides of Israeli society is the fact that we're all placed into procrustean beds that go far beyond anything that Halakhah requires. We all wear identifiable uniforms (though why secularists and haredim both like black is a mystery to me). Deviation from herdlike norms is all too often excoriated. It's time to shake these labels off and allow for room to move.

Samuel Buler was right. 'Reason betrays men into the drawing of hard and fast lines, and to the defining by language -- language being like the sun, which rears and then scorches. Extremes are alone logical, but they are always absurd; the mean is illogical, but an illogical mean is better than the sheer absurdity of an extreme. '

Midrash, Midrash....

Hagahot has moving shiur in memory of his sister, Malki הי"ד.

Mutatis mutandis, I have some comments on a more contemporary issue.

Avanti Balagan!

So Rinat is leaving Jerusalem for Tel Aviv. She can't, however, depart without a
potshot at the religious presence in the former. Encountering the above sign, she remarks:

Back from the bank this afternoon, I stopped to have a slice of pizza at Big Apple, near Kikar Tzion. Felt I was saying good-bye to all these places. Felt I'm moving to Tel Aviv when I saw this sign near the cashier...The first sentence is quite obvious as you have it in English. The second one, in Hebrew, says: "For pizza, you bless: Ashkenazi - hamotzi. Sfaradi - mezonot". It's a religious instruction for observant jews, who bless before eating, to remind them which blessing to say depending on his origin.I wondered if I'm gonna see this in Tel Aviv (sic). I'm definitely feeling I'm about to go. And I'm quite happy about it.

Now, I understand her supermarket difficulties. What I don't understand is what ticked her off about this sign. No one asked her to make a berakha. Why can't a kosher establishment be self-consciously Jewish? In Manhattan, Prime Grill is one of the leading restaurants in the city. It is obviously kosher but that does not repel non-observant Jews (or non-Jews), or stop them from patronizing it.

The whole business leaves me very, very sad.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Of Land and Man and Sanctity

This posting prompted me to pull together my thoughts on the often heard accusation that religious Jews, especially 'settlers' deify the Land, and prefer 'sticks and stones' to human life.

Judaizing Jerusalem

Today's New York Times proves that the Palestinian line is now official policy (if that was ever in doubt). Reporting on European objections to Jews settling in and around 'East' Jerusalem, the paper reported:

The report is particularly explicit about what it terms "increasing settlement activity" in three areas in and around East Jerusalem.
The first area is formed by new Jewish neighborhoods in the Old City and in the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods, including Silwan, Ras al-Amud, Wadi al-Joz and Sheik Jarrah. The second is in existing East Jerusalem neighborhoods running from Ramot and French Hill through the new Israeli neighborhoods to East Talpiot, Har Homa and Gilo. And the third is in "greater Jerusalem," which links the city to the settlement blocs of Givat Ze'ev to the north, Maale Adumim to the east and Gush Etzion to the south.

Note the second group of "East Jerusalem' neighborhoods. It includes Ramot, French Hill, East Talpiot and Gilo. The implication, also, is that some of these are 'new' neighborhoods, when they are actually almost thirty years old (and some of them look it). So, anyone who thinks that Jewish Jerusalem is not on the table, think again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Strange but True (and Moving)

This type of story never fails to bring me to tears. It was in today's Jerusalem Post.

Aging Mishna traced to Holocaust victim By ETGAR LEFKOVITS

The aging and tattered Mishna was lying amid a pile in a Tel Aviv synagogue of old holy books that were meant to be buried last week.
A worshiper in the synagogue happened upon the books, and, out of curiosity, opened it up.
He looked inside and saw the name "Moshe Shmuel Ehrlich - Lodz" written on the inside cover.
The book, which was printed in Lithuania in 1929, also bore the seal of the now-disbanded Ministry for Religious Affairs, with the words 'Books from Poland' found underneath.
The worshiper, Dov Tennenbaum, 43, of Tel Aviv, realized that the book he was holding in his hand likely belonged to a Holocaust victim.
In the 1950s, hundreds of such holy books that had belonged to Polish Jews murdered in the Holocaust arrived in Israel from Poland and were distributed at synagogues nationwide. The Mishna in question came from Seder Nezikin, the order of the Mishna that deals with Jewish criminal and civil law.
Tennenbaum retrieved the Mishna from the pile of books to be buried and, his curiosity piqued, did a search on Yad Vashem's new Holocaust database on the Internet ( to see if he could find any information on the book's original owner.
The state-of-the-art database, which was launched last year, lists the names of three mi llion of those who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Tennenbaum typed in the name from the book cover and found it on a German list of prisoners at the Lodz Ghetto as well as on a "Page of Testimony" detailing Ehrlich's death that had been filled out by E h rlich's brother, Joseph, who now lives in Florida.
Excited by the discovery, Tennenbaum called Joseph in the US, who was overwhelmed to suddenly have an item that had belonged to his brother Moshe.
Joseph, 82, was the only member of his family to have s urvived the Holocaust, as his 21-year-old brother and the rest of his family were murdered by the Nazis at the Chelmno death camp in 1942.
Ehrlich, who was a teenager at the time of the Holocaust, filled out the page of testimony at Yad Vashem a half century ago, he said in a telephone interview from Florida. Now, six decades after the Holocaust, he is eagerly awaiting the arrival by mail of the Mishna that once belonged to his older brother.ˇe

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Apologies Are in Order

Yesterday, I wrote a reaction to a posting by Lisa at On the Face. As she pointed out in her comment, I misunderstood her intent and (clearly) insulted her to boot. I sincerely apologize for having done both. [I"ve removed the offending post.]

In the future, as in non-virtual life, I will make sure to wait before reacting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Enough Whining

The comment I received to my posting about 'Dati-Lite' hit home. It's time to create facts on the ground to create another model of responsible, open Orthodoxy in this country. Others are thinking in the same direction. I am sure that there are still more out there.

I was thinking that an informal e-mail exchange (or physical meeting) of interested parties might be in order. You can start by dropping me a line at:

The Spectre of Amir Peretz

Amir Peretz scares the hell out of me. Caroline Glick tells why. (This a must read for those who want to get past the sloganeering in Israeli public life.)

[Thanks to QED for the tip.]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Sara Blau (again) raises the issue of Dati-Lite and the impact of the Rabin Assasination. My thoughts on the issue are here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Art of Hate

The last session of the conference on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a public lecture by Elie Wiesel. In that lecture, Wiesel discussed 'Words of Hate.' He remarked that hatred cannot create literature and hatred cannot create art.

I thought about that remark when I read a review of Dana Arieli-Horowitz' book, יוצרים בעומס יתר-רצח רבין, אמנות ופוליטיקה. The book is a series of interviews with the major artists on the Israeli scene, by the head of the Art History Department at Betzalel. The leitmotif of the interviews is the abysmal (as in 'abyss') hatred and loathing of the Israeli art scene for Judaism, Zionism (especially Religious Zionism) and the political Right. The book also documents the way in which this loathing permeates and finds expression throughout Israeli art and art politics (as in keeping non-PC artists out of galleries and museums).

The irony is that, according to Professor Elie Wiesel, what they create is not Art.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sophistication Unto Death (Sorry Soren)

Of course, Professor Landes is not the only one who invents, or recasts, phrases. In thinking about Tel Aviv semi-literati (and their French/British/Scandanavian/American compatriots), I like to describe them as 'sophisticating themselves to death' (Hebrew: מתחכמים את עצמם לדעת). As the Palestinian/Muslim World strikes blow after blow, in their wisdom they will ever so nuancedly understand, appreciate and empathize with suicide bombings and God knows what else. (The comments to this post, not the post itself, are another case in point.)

This kind of mindset, however, is not confined to the political realm. Here, for example, are MK(Labor) Professor Yuli Tamir's oh-so sophisticated remarks on female circumcision:

Clitoridectomy is obviously a deplorable practice. It is, among other things, an extremely painful, traumatizing mutilation of young girls that leaves them permanently disfigured and deprived of sexual enjoyment. We should express no sympathy toward those who practice it, and support those who struggle to end it.

But we also should be suspicious about the role of clitoridectomy in current political debate. Despite their liberal appearance, references to clitoridectomy commonly reveal a patronizing attitude toward women, suggesting that they are primarily sexual beings. Moreover, those references involve a certain degree of dishonesty. They intentionally widen the gap between our culture and those in which clitoridectomy is practiced, thus presenting those other cultures as incommensurable with ours. The effect of this distancing is to disconnect criticism of their practices from criticism of our own, and turn reflection on other cultures into yet another occasion for celebrating our special virtues. We should resist such self-congratulation. And if we do, the debate about clitoridectomy takes on an entirely different cast.

Of course, Tamir is against this practice. Her loud 'but,' however, is louder and more resonant than her opposition.

And they say religious people (and others who believe in absolute values) are casuistic and primitive.

'Nuff Said...

Cognitive Egocentrism- The Case of "Golden Age in Spain"

This time I decided to expatiate in Hebrew.


I keep getting requests from people for my blog address. So, I've decided to do something a bit out of character. I'm going to subscribe them to my blog via Bloglet. If anyone does not want to stay subscribed, I apologize for the imposition. All you need do is go here and remove your e-mail address.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Of Supermarkets, Tzni'us and Shmattes

Returning from the US (and the conference on the Protocols) and after spending a wonderful Shabbat at Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck (N.J.), where I was privileged to serve as Scholar in Residence, I discovered the Israeli blogosphere convulsing over the draconian rules of modesty that are imposed upon women who don't meet the dress code at supermarkets in Nahlaot or Agrippas Street. It appears that an increasing number of stores are banning women who are wearing slacks or 'unacceptable clothing' from shopping. OTOH, they are offering shmattes to serve as ersatz skirts to allow both shopping and to preserve Haredi sensibilities.

Predictably, and understandably, this has produced furious responses from some bloggers. Rinat Malkes of Balagan is typical (though a bit more shrill than most):

People here lost their sense and I can't stand this anymore! I can't! Now this is the supermarket. Tomorrow the buses. What the hell are these ultra-orthodox idiots thinking? That we are in Iran? We have to respect them all the time and they cannot respect us, secular people, jews like them!!! That's one among the million reasons I got to be ANTI! Yeah. I became ANTI after I came to live here. I can't stand them. This post is gonna cause polemics, I know. However I can't be quiet! Say whatever you want, but I swear just wanted these people to disappear from earth. They're destroying the jewish people! I myself and many others, all around the globe, are very happy we are different from them! Argh! I'm writing this a couple of hours after the whole thing happened, but my blood's still boiling. It's just a shame!!!! Wish I could tell this in Portuguese or Hebrew. I guess in English I cannot express myself properly. When I say I'm angry it's because I really am!

Heady Stuff. When I read it (and the comments), my first reaction was, 'Ugh! Another unnecessary Hillul HaShem.' What is it about Haredi (and Hardali) society that everything comes down to female modesty? How come, a few years ago, when there was a drug problem in Har Nof, local rabbis attributed it to the fact that women weren't covering their hair? Recently, the suggested cure for another societal ill was traced to skirt lengths. {Never mind that radical separation of Orthodox singles is a major factor in impeding dating and marriage, but that's a different post. See here.] What the blazes has one thing to do with the other? It reminds me of my friend Judy Miller's book, God Has Ninety Nine Names. She describes how in every country where Islamists take over, the first thing they do is to throw a shmatte on the women. So my first thought was to think that there was something to Malkes' intemperate tirade (though she clearly has a dogmatically secularist, anti-religion agenda, and her comment about the abandonment of Tradition by secular Israelis is misinformed, gratuitous and wrong. See the Guttman Report and the Kabbalat Shabbat Programs at Tzavta and Michlelet Alma.)

The important question, however, is what lies behind this clear trend? What motivates Orthodox society to push its religious policy (and its envelope) beyond the limits that Halakhah sets? The matter clearly lies beyond the confines of a posting (and a good start was made by a student of mine, Dr. Ora Cohen, in her MA thesis.] In this context, it is worth noting an observation that was made to me by a psychologist friend, who is one of the most perceptive people I know, Dr. Giti Bendheim ( I hope she doesn't mind being cited). She once offered that the rush to halakhic stricture (humra) is a direct response to the collapse of clarity and absolutes that characterizes Post-Modern society. I think that she is absolutely right, and fits in well with Prof. Jacob Katz' idea that traditional Jewish society possesses a certain 'ritual instinct' that leads it in directions that defy or at least are not consenant with the obvious upshot of halakhic research (though her comment should be complemented by Prof. Haym Soloveitchik's observations in Rupture and Reconstruction.)

Dr. Bendheim's comment helps explain the expansion of sex segragation and modesty regulations in the Haredi and Hardali world. The Liberal West has effectively dispensed with any and all restrictions on sexual behaviour, and traditional modes of modesty. (Wendy Shalit is not wrong on this score.) Instinctively, religious communities are responding by raising the fortifications and lowering the hemline. Essentially, there are salutary aspects to this move. The problem is when thing run amok (as they admittedly have). Where are the lines? When do things get too rigid or ends in themselves? When they lead to humiliating someone else, when they ignore other religious values, when they violate the sacred rule of: צו פיל איז אימגעזונט.

Update: Gil Student (indirectly) confirms my last point.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ten Years Later

I was trying to put down some thoughts about the upcoming anniversary of Rabin's murder. QED, however, has put it better than I could have. Herewith some highlighhts (but don't miss the whole piece):

Ten Years. It seems like only yesterday we heard that Rabin had been shot. It is hard to describe how I felt, an intense disbelief, as though something other-worldly had just happened. I can only compare it, perhaps, to the stunned feeling I had on 9/11.
Yet, as the columnists and pundits waste ink and precious time arguing pointlessly "did we learn our lesson?", and ynet
waxes nostalgia over the "candle youth", I can not forget the flip side to the reaction on the part of many to Rabin's murder.

Because I remember it - it is seared in my mind no less than that day. I remember how everyone who objected to Oslo was labeled an "inciter", or at least somehow an accomplice to the murder. I remember when "We will never forgive or forget" was a slogan of the left. I remember the calls to shut down Bar Ilan, as though the entire University was somehow to blame, for being religious, or for just being a convenient target.

At my first year at BIU, I remember the dorm manager telling us in oblique language that our dorm, where Amir stayed at, may still be bugged by the GSS. I remember my father telling me about the Bar Ilan professor who answered the question "did you cry?" with "No. I was in shock", only to have the latter sentence edited out. I remember my mother, going to light a candle, telling me of a reporter who was disappointed that she did not jump with glee at the news but was saddened.

I remember, too, the widespread historical revisionism that took place. I remember the obsession with Rabin's "legacy", the near-paganic rituals that took place in his name year after year. I remember how all of a sudden, Israel under Rabin was a picture-perfect time. No suicide bombers, no "victims of peace". People remembered only the peace demonstration where Rabin was murdered, but somehow all the anti-Oslo demonstrations were forgotten, except of course those where fanatics were present, shouting "Rabin is a Traitor" and the like.

I have stated before that history must be learned in its entirety, not just what we want to know. This period is no exception.

Beautifully put. (See also Rivka Yaffa's reflections, and the responses.)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Yosher Koach Rabbi Steinmetz

I didn't publish a list of 'My Favorite Blogs,' but occasionally I feel the need to call attention to specific blogs that I find outstanding. One such is written by my friend, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation TBDJ in Montreal. It's very thoughtful, insightfil and well written. Kelorin la-Eynayim, as they say. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

For the Foliage

After two days of intensive discussion of the Protocols, I had a day off in Boston. It was the first one in a long time. Though I've visited at least once a year since making Aliuyah, these trips were very quick affairs, centered upon a visit to Kever Avot and whatever lecture had prompted me to come. This time I really had time to look around and smell the roses (i.e. feel the delicious Fall air and see the foliage).

The entire day was an exercise in nostalgia. For the first time in years, I really felt (or let myself feel) just how much I missed Boston. I miss the people, the sights, the sounds, Faneuil Hall, The Common, Rubin's Deli and the quiet. I also miss reall, wide-ranging intellectual and cultural exchange. Boston still has people with whom you can start with Festinger, move on to P{atrick Geary and end up with Reb Hayyim. Furthermore, you can meet (without too many psychological barriers) non-religious Jews and non-Jews. You can assume that people might speak and read in more than one language. Ahhhh.....

Now, I am very well aware of the drawbacks of American Life and the curse of PC Liberal culture. It was nic e to see something broader, for a change. I think this trip also confirmed that klitah is long behind me. I feel no defensiveness about loving whence I came, and it doesn't detract from my love of where I've come.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Protocols Revisited...Mind Recharged...Horizens Widened

As I mentioned in my previous posting, I'm participating in an international conference marking the centennial of the publication of the 'Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.' The conference is bein convened by the Center for Millenial Studies at Boston University and the Center for Judaic Studies at BU.

The idea for the conference was my friend's, Professor Richard Landes, who founded the Center for Millenial Studies. Richard is an extraordinarily gifted, creative and insightful scholar whose range of learning always leaves me stunned. One of the World's leading Jewish historians recently told me that Richard's scholarly corpus will set the agenda and serve as a focal point for medieval studies for the next twenty years. The great thing is that he shares his ideas and I find that I learn more and think more widely after a few days in his company than I do all year long. Talk about interdisciplinary. A case in point was his opening paper about the chronicles, in which he ranged from Plato to Yeats and was able in 30 minutes to distill the problems of language, rhetoric and politics that undergird the protocols and developed a fetching theory as to why they still exert their hold on Muslims, and on the political Right and Left.

A central point, which has been somewhat controversial but whose historical centrality I have come to appreciate is the importance of apocalyptic and millenial expectation as a motive force. It is true that this idea is much debated. However, one should bear in mind that a century ago scholars thought that Jewish mysticism was so much rubbish.

In general, the conference has brought together a very high level, creative group of scholars from all over the world. It's so refreshing to get to think out of the box, on subjects with which I don't often deal. Israel has a long way to go when it comes to inter-disciplinary work and cross-fertilization.

All in all, a good reason for leaving Israel for a week.