Wednesday, August 31, 2005

והיו עיניך רואות את מוריך

Rambam Statue in Cordova Posted by Picasa
For what it's worth, I've always imagined that the Rambam looked more like this than the picture in the previous posting (which is of doubtful currency, anyway). See this post from earlier this year.

O Tempora! O Rambam!

During an all to quick vacation on the Kinneret, I took the opportunity to pay my respects at the Tomb of the Rambam. As with everyone else I know, the impact of Maimonides on my life, mind and soul has been profound. He dominated my (just shy of a) decade of learning with the Rov. He was the focus of everything we did at Harvard under Professor Twersky. His thought frames every discussion of the interaction of Judaism and general culture. Even my most recently published article, about the nigh on absolute neglect of Maimonides b Tosafist and late Ashkenazic scholars, is simply a reverse example of what Professor Twersky called, 'the endless fascination of Maimonides.'
All of that, of course, only requires studying the Rambam. However, the experience of being in the quasi-physical presence of a great figure from the past is very powerful. It's rooted in the Jewish sense of time perception, viewing Time as fluid, as a continuum. There are very few places (especially in Israel) where one can commune with one's memories of medieval Gedole Torah. The Rambam is one such rare example, and that's another reason why I try to go whenever I'm in Tiberias.
Of course, the Rambam emerges from his writings (including his letters) as a somewhat austere individual. Thus, the white washed, simple tomb that I remember from my youth is that which fit him best (sans the gate):
I was, therefore, a little taken aback when they started 'improving' the site. First, the monument itself was ‘fixed up.’

OK. That part wasn’t so bad. It’s actually quite beautiful. The problem is that they then covered the whole thing with this hideous tower:

Then, came what I thought was the piece-de-resistance. The Rambam was turned into a miracle worker/intercessor. And in typical fashion, they destroyed the tomb by sticking on it the ugliest mechitza you ever saw.

I thought that was the end, until yesterday (and I’m really sorry I didn’t have a camera). The place was teeming with people asking the Rambam to work miracles. There were Rambam souvenirs everywhere. I’m sure he’s none too pleased, considering what he wrote about amulets, now that he himself has become one. The nadir was reached when I saw a bottle of ‘Sacred Araq,’ guaranteed to cure what ails you. On the label, looking extremely uncomfortable, was (you guessed it!):

I think I’ll go read Hilkhos De’os, chapters 1 and 2. (I’m very angry).

A Must Read

My colleague, Dr. Asher Cohen, has written a must read article on the Israeli media.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Messianism and Its Discontents II

During today's reading of Parshat Eqev, I realized something that perhaps had gotten lost in my previous posting and in some of the responses it attracted (and perhaps was also too obvious). The capacity to eagerly anticipate the arrival of the messiah is a blessing. The longing for redemption on the part of the Jew is a source of incredible strength and endurance. The ability to discern the first rays of the dawn of that redemption is a tribute to the capacity of the Jew to transcend appearances and to perceive a deeper, more sublime reality. With out all of these, we would long ago have ceased to be. Certainly, the State of Israel would never have arisen.

The danger, however, is arrogance. The sin that messianic anticipation can engender is the arrogant belief in its irreversibility. The destruction, the easy destruction, of Gush qatif should teach us alot about reversibility. Our enemies got the message. We should too.

There are conditions to our being here. There are conditions to our staying here. There are conditions to the way we treat each other. There are conditions relating to the worship of God. If we want to know those conditions, all we need to do is to read Sefer Devarim, in general, and Parshat Eqev, in particular.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Manuscript Boy just published his thoughts on the Da Vinci Code and related literature. They reminded me that I've been meaning to relate to the phenomenon (and there is no other word for it) for a long time. It's an especially personal thing for me, because I've been following the story for almost a quarter of a century (long before most people had heard of the Prieure de Sion).

I confess that

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On Messianism and Its Discontents

I had occasion today to chat with a Jewish journalist from abroad about the future of Zionism The conversation was eye-opening on many levels, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity. One point, that has been dogging me for weeks, kept resurfacing and I'd like to address it here.

I'm really sick of the way 'messianism' is bandied about in public discourse, especially as a pejorative. In current parlance, messianism is a synonym for wild-eyed, irrational religious fanaticism. It is globally invoked when referring to religious zionists in general, and settlers in particular. I often feel (lately, on a daily basis) that when the Haaretz Tabernacle Stereo Choir (Schocken, Samet, Levi, Golan, and Strassler) and its sub-woofers (London, Tirosh, Man, and Baram) speak about messianic settlers, they are conjuring up the image of Rasputin with a yarmulke and an Uzi. 'Messianic' has become a term of opprobrium, a weapon in the arsenal of those who would demonize the Jew.

It probably is beside the point to note that the messianic ideal is one of Judaism's most precious gifts to humanity. It is irrelevant to note that the world's second largest religon is called 'messianism' (aka Christianity'). Never mind the fact that Socialist Zionism began (and, at first, succeeded) as a self-conscious form of secular messianism. [No, I didn't make that up. Gershom Scholem and Zalman Shazar said so. David Biale proved it.] Never mind that, as Ari Shavit noted years ago, in a series of articles in Haaretz, the most radical and dogmatic messianic movement in Israel today is the Israeli Left/Peace movement [with Habad tied for first place].

Yes, Gush Emunim (or what little is left of it) was a messianic movement. Also true, the Rav Kook (pere et fils) school of thought pushed out the more pragmatic school of Religious Zionism represented by Rav YY Reines and Rav Soloveitchik, all זצ"ל. At the same time, it is also true that the overwhelming number of Jews living in Yesha do not subscribe to messianic politics. Then again, arguing the facts is well-nigh futile, when the other guy is banging on the table.

So what is it, pray tell? Actually, pray is the operative word because 'messianic' has simply become a synonym for belief in God, commitment to the Torah, to the Jewish People and an unshakeable belief that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish People in perpetuity (with caveats). In the face of the power of faith, those who are made uncomfortable thereby must demonize it. It must be a pathology. It must be an expression of the 'dark side.' Otherwise, one would need to take it seriously. Ironically, such an attitude is profoundly Manichean, or typical of medieval Christian thought. Catholic and Protestant theologians were absolutely stumped by the stubborn persistence of the Jews to remain as Jews. They could not understand why the Jew was waiting for the Messiah, when (as far as they were concerned), he had already come. At best, as Desiderius Erasmus observed, such stubborness was the height of stupidity, testifying to the utter folly and inanity of the Jew. Most Christians could not comprehend why they insisted on remaining in the dark, and did not leave the shadows for the light ('ex tenebris in lumen Jesu'). The only way that they could explain it was by demonizing the Jew and attributing his obduracy to an alliance with the forces of darkness, or unreason, of Satan himself.

So it is with those who invoke the word 'messianic.' It is not messianism that bothers them. It is the reality of profound, abiding faith in God, Israel and Torah. Whether human initiative can bring the messiah is a matter of theological debate. (Personally, I think it's God's call.) The enduring strength of Judaism however, is a fact.

It is time to call a spade a spade. The use of 'messianic' to stigmatize (again, a 'messianic' usage) all religious zionists is yet another part of the ongoing kulturkampf. Let's face up to it, engage it head on respectfully, intelligently and with determination. Luther stared down the Vatical with his faith. We can stare down Haaretz and Tzavta with ours.

Kudos to Elyashiv

Elyashiv Reichner has politely, yet firmly, replied to those who are cheering the demise of Religious Zionism. Nicely done.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hirhure Teshuvah II

Today's posting by Ben Chorin highlghts another thing that our community has to do now. We need to care for those who've been thrown out of their homes, often with no where to go. Hesed is something we need to work hard at, and I'm proud that so many Israelis (Religious and non-Tel Aviv secular) are responding to the ten thousand human tragedies that are at our doorstep.

Hirhure Teshuvah

Looking over my postings for the last two weeks, I realize that, in direct relation to the degree of pain I feel, they've become a bit shrill. As the fires burn in Sa-Nur and Homesh, it's time for some stock taking. I wrote what follows in response to a request on the Efrat Chat List for a new sticker to express our feelings. Most suggestions were either banal or full of vengeful fury.
Give the ongoing demonization of the settlers, synagogues, Torah, rabbis (of every stripe), and the horrible neglect and abuse of the expellees, I'm not surprised. However, we need to look forward. To a degree, what I wrote here is a repeat of things I've been saying for ages. I realized, though, that my mistake is that I've been saying them in English (witness my sitemeter record of hits). Time to take the show on the Hebrew road and go back to Op-Ed pieces. I suggest the same to all my fellow Anglos. Letting off steam in Mama-Loshen is fine. e, however, have a responsibility to teach what we know here in Israel. Time to add on Loshen Qodesh.

Anyway, here goes my response:

The destruction of GK is NOT just a political, a security or even a Zionist issue. It is a purely Jewish issue. What allowed it to happen, what has accompanied it from the start, is a deep-seated, pathological desire to divest Israel of any semblence of its Jewih character. That is what lies behind the demonization of all religious zionist Jews. That is what prepared the ground for people to be ready to withdraw. And that is where we, ourselves, failed miserably. We isolated ourselves in Yesha and actively or passively allowed the country to assimilate into the morally relativist, self-indulgent and self-hating West.

It is not the lack of 'settling in hearts' that paved the way for this disaster. It was the uprooting of any semblence of a respectable Judaism in most of the country. Put another way, we are ostensibly religious, believing Jews. As such, we must know that while Eretz Yisrael is ours by absolute right, our residence here is always conditional upon our behaviour. Yes, there are very bad people and ideas. However, for those who constantly quote Rav Kook (pere), it would behoove us to recall that he fought for deeper observance everywhere in the Yishuv. Eretz Yisrael is an exalted means and value. Like all other mitzvot it cannot be an end intself. The Brazen Serpent should give us pause.

So, I suggest more Torah and less venom. That's how meaningful change is made.

BaYamim HaHem BaZeman HaZeh

I had (and have) serious reservations about this comparison. I, also, do not (God forbid!) equate our children (friends and neighbors) in the IDF with viri Legionis X Fretensis, who laid waste Jerusalem.
However, there is no doubt that there is a sense of exile hanging over the land, as its
cheer leaders chant 'HEP HEP' ("Hierosolyma est perdita").

Update: Now Maariv has gotten in on the act.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Unbearable Ease of Destruction

I received these thoughtful observations by Josh Ragen, and was so impressed I decided to post them in full (with his permission).

The Unbearable Ease of Destruction
By Asher Ragen

As family after family is evicted from a home and a community, as the synagogues are emptied and thenurseries abandoned, the scale of destruction and suffering seems overwhelming. Equally overwhelming is the ease with which four decades of work and love invested in communities can be effaced. Is it really that easy to destroy what we have built? Is nothing about this state permanent?

Destruction on this magnitude demands an explanation. Yet search as one might through the "critical" analysis of the barrage of experts and pundits, no rational explanation is to be found. Hopefully the magnitude of suffering witnessed now daily will warn us of those flippant, vacuous answers heard too often. One needs to do better than callously remark, "Well, we couldn't stay there forever". None of us will live forever, either. The "forever" argument, intimating a knowledge of a future decades away, sounds doubly strange coming from a leadership that lacks a vision for the coming January, let alone "forever". It does not explain why this had to happen; why now? Why in this manner? Why was this done without elections? Why did the people not even get a chance to plead for themselves? Surely if forever is our time scale, a few more months would hardly matter.

Perhaps sometimes it is necessary to destroy. But the previous occasion- the destruction of Yamit- should serve as a yardstick. When Yamit was destroyed, it was done for the sake of a peace agreement with the largest Arab nation and the bitterest of enemies. It was done after Sadat arrived in Jerusalem, and after the peace agreement was ratified by an overwhelming majority in the Knesset. There was a real sense that the Middle East was about to change forever. Against such a background, the pain and suffering experienced in Yamit could be contextualized. It offered such tremendous benefits to the entire state, that it truly seemed wrong to let the settlements of Yamit stand in the way.

But what benefits are being offered here? The Palestinians have patiently explained, repeatedly, that this will change nothing. On the contrary, they are now assured of two crucial facts: Terrorism works, and there is no limit to what Israel will give. Some people believe that "at least no soldiers will have to die in Gaza". While I admire a fervent belief in the powers beyond our control, such religious zeal should really not interfere with rational security considerations. When the qassam missiles fall again in Sderot and beyond (and fall they will), Israel will immediately wait until there are significant civilian casualties. It will then threaten to really, really, retaliate. And when (surprise!) this threat is ignored, it will once again send soldiers into Gaza. Except this time they will face a well armed and prepared enemy, intent on exacting the highest price. And as for Sharon' s threats- well, not everyone is as frightened by the old man as his party yes-men.The final straw being grasped at simply illustrates thedisengagement from logic that this process entails.

We are now toldthat we must leave Gaza because of the "demographic threat". Demography never killed anyone, however. And drawing artificial lines in the sand will not reduce the number of Arabs intent on murdering Jews. Slice and dice the state of Israel as you like, the Jews will remain a miniscule minority in the Middle-East. And at any rate, "demographic threats" materialize over generations. Or not.

If one insists on looking for a rational within the confines of academia, he would do better to turn to the department of Psychology. Because not everyone watching the scenes from Gush Katif is moved to tears. Some people have complaints about the aesthetics of the deportation. These multiple "Miss Manners" have very clear ideas about the etiquette of being thrown out of your home. They lament the "barbaric" lack of decorum exhibited by parents who have just had everything taken from them. Perhaps this reaction is the most revealing of all. It comes closest to explaining why this is all happening.

The rational underpinnings for the "disengagement" are slim indeed. But the irrational, violent hatred aimed at the victims of this madness compensate adequately.The rhetorical arsenal deployed against the citizens of Gush Katif is overpowering. For the most part, these people have never been convicted of crimes, they serve in the army, run productive business and pay taxes. They have been described alternately as messianic fanatics, religious zealots, or violent threats to democracy. Mostly they are farmers. Throughout these difficult days they behaved with a dignity of spirit that strangely enough is uplifting. As much as we are learning about the settlers (though anyone who spent any time with them is hardly surprised), we are learning quite a bit more about the Israeli left. To anyone who thought the people on the left simply possess a soul deeply attuned to human suffering; to anyone who believed their cries of empathy for every displaced Palestinian, every uprooted olive tree, were born of a basic human solidarity that just cannot overlook a suffering human being, regardless of the context; this week was an eye-opener. It seems that they are quite able to look upon human suffering and dismiss it with the quip, "Well, they had it coming".

Since the destruction of Gush Katif is not a means to anything, it must be the end in itself. There is a desire, a yearning even, to"take on the settlers" and destroy these communities regardless ofany political advantage. The battle has been described by some as "Israelis vs. the Jews". This formulation is worth noting. One might think there was no dichotomy between Israeli and Jew. Israel is the Jewish State, is it not? But for some creating this dichotomy, this clear distinction between Israeli and Jew, is actually the purpose of this entire exercise. To these people , the main obstacle to achieving peace is the peskyJewish-ness of the conflict. Israelis, Jordanians, and Lebanese could get along just fine. It's the Jews and Arabs who can't live in peace.

It is not quite that the settlers are being singled out because they are Jewish. Or that everyone who supports their eviction is somehow not Jewish. But the willingness to inflict so much pain, without even telling them why, bespeaks of a fundamental disconnect within the nation. Of people who insist on not viewing the settlers are their own people. At its core the disengagement is a literary move. The settlers,with their long beards and multiple children, represent the unmistakable Jewish-ness of the nation. The thousand of soldiers and police men represent the Nation. By manufacturing these images that pit Israeli soldier against Jewish settler, a distinction is created that can never again be ignored. It is the most painful literary exercise in history.

The irony is that on one level they are correct. The core of the problem is the Jewish-ness of the nation. But by seeking to rip it out of their own body, they are making the most typically Jewish move of all. In this century the assimilated Jews of Germany reacted to the virulent anti-Semitism of the Germans by attacking the uncultured ostenjuden from Poland. It was because they insisted on being so damn different that the Germans hated the Jews. But of course when the time came, the Germans made no note of this internal Jewish hairsplitting. The Palestinians are equally unimpressed with this display of enmity that the Jewish state has put on. They are all Jews and they are all settlers, and their fate should be the same. When Abu-Mazen speaks of marching to Jerusalem, he is not thinking of just East Jerusalem. Among the numerous tragedies that unfolded this week, there is also this: in a year, all of the politicians who supported this plan will be gone. Just like the architects of Oslo, they will be relegated to the overflowing dustbin of Israeli political failures. But the self- inflicted wounds of this psychotic episode will continue to bleed.

One can only hope that we they have not been fatal.

(This remarkable piece, by a young PhD candidate in my old department at Harvard, was received thanks to the author's mother Naomi Ragen).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Horror Revisited

Today's murder of three innocent Arabs by someone ostensibly trying to stop the retreat from Gaza is an indictment of our society here in Yosh. Yes, he's a lone murderer (unlike the Hamas). Yes, he's probably become unglued by the terrific pressures we're living with. BUT THAT"S NO EXCUSE! If people are on the edge, their communities are obliged to help them get help. That's how you prevent tragedies, as much as possible. Small communities under horrible depression need to invite therapists to help treat that depression.

Obviously, not every act of violence is preventable and Hamas/Fatah/Jihad/Hizbullah need no excuse to kill Jews. Still, we need to remind ourselves that more is expected of us, especially those who presume to be religious. We put fences around our rooves to prevent people from being hurt. We need to do the same to prevent others from committing outrages.

Required Reading

There are few people today who can rival Yisrael Harel's incisive mind and effective prose. Today's article is a must read.

To Live With One's Suffering

In his essay, Qol Dodi Dofeq, Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל laid out his vision of Religious Zionism. As a prelude, he discussed the question of suffering and how to confront it (a topic which is elaborated on in his posthumously published essays, Out of the Whirlwind). The bottom line of his discussion in QDD is that the search for an answer to the ultimate, metaphysical 'why' questions leads man nowhere. Halakhah, the Rov declared, requires the sufferer to take stock of his changed life and ask himself: 'What shall I do in order to live with my suffering?' (The emphasis is on do and live).

In our present situation, I think that the answer (or part thereof) is very clear. We need to undertake nothing less than the re-judaization of this country. Without that, there will be no basis for our continued existence (from both a practical and a fortiori a theological point of view). This is, albeit, a very daunting task. The academic/judicial/political/media./intellectual powers that be have effectively rejected Judaism and Jewish Civilization, followed by the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own. This has been a principled decision on their part, which I both respect and reject. The decision has effectively been a conversion to Western-Liberal dogma, which has many traits of fundamentalist religion (as the noted sociologist, Peter Berger has demonstrated in A Rumor of Angels and the Heretical Imperative). In any event, as with most inter-faith dialogues, there is little to be gained by debating principles of faith here either.

The people, however, are another story. Pace R. Ya'akov Medan, the events that we witnessed during the Oslo War (Stage One), proved to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis want to be Jews, respect Judaism and will fight for both. We need to listen to them to get our own house in order and to learn Torah (in the widest sense of the word) with them.

Here, though, is the rub. 'The bearers of the Torah do not know Me' (Jer. 2, 8). There is no one home (or precious few) to do this act of collective literal Piqquah Nefesh. Where are rabbis who can do more than quote? Where are the Rashe Yeshiva who can do more than yell 'azay shteht'? How come there is noone to stand up and respectfully engage the shibboleths of society in its own terms? Yes, there are religious academics who have those tools. All too often, however, they are not Talmide Hakhamim and carry no valence as representatives of Torah, either with religous or non-religious Jews. (Never mind that all too often they 'go native,' as Shifra Ehrlich pointed out so effectively today.)

This has got to change, and right now. It means changing priorities. It means taking heat from both sides. It means that what open Orthodoxy there is in this country has got to take itself seriously, beyn le-humra beyn le-qula. It can be done. It must be done. Our lives and souls, and those of our posterity, depend upon it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cassandra Vivit

Cassandra (also called Alexandra) is the Trojan seeress who uttered true prophecies, but lacking the power of persuasion, was never believed. So it is with Daniel Pipes. This is today's column in USA Today.

The Gaza Withdrawal: A Democracy Killing Itself

by Daniel Pipes
USA Today
August 15, 2005

[This article is presented as an "Opposing View" to USA Today's own editorial, "Gaza pullout begins with extremists poised for trouble."]

The Israeli government's removal of its own citizens from Gaza ranks as one of the worst errors ever made by a democracy. This step is the worse for being self-imposed, not the result of pressure from Washington. When the Bush administration first heard in December 2003 that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had unilaterally decided to pull all soldiers and civilians from Gaza, it responded coolly. Months of persuasion were needed to get the White House to embrace the initiative.

The harm will be three-fold: within Israel, in relations with the Palestinians, and internationally. Sharon won the prime ministry in early 2003 by electorally crushing an opponent who espoused unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon declared back then: "A unilateral withdrawal is not a recipe for peace. It is a recipe for war." For unknown reasons, in late 2003 he adopted his opponent's policy of leaving Gaza, thereby reneging on his promises, betraying his supporters, and inflicting lasting damage on Israeli public life. To Palestinian rejectionists, an Israeli retreat under fire sends an unambiguous signal: Terrorism works. Just as the Israeli departure from Lebanon five years earlier provoked new violence, so too will fleeing Gaza. Palestinians ignore all the verbiage about "disengagement" and see it for what it really is, an Israeli retreat under fire. Indeed, Palestinian leaders have already broadcast their intent to deploy Gaza-like aggression to pry the West Bank and Jerusalem from Israeli control. Should that campaign succeed, Haifa and Tel Aviv are next, after which Israel itself disappears.

The Sharon government has also defaulted on its obligations to its allies in the war on terror. As other states, such as Great Britain, finally show signs of getting more serious about counterterrorism, Israel's politicians release hundreds of convicted terrorists and retreat under fire from Gaza, encouraging more terrorism.

Israel's mistakes are not unique for a democracy – French appeasement of Germany in the 1930s or American incrementalism in Vietnam come to mind – but none other jeopardized the very existence of a people.

"Where are you going? You will bring conflagration back with you. How great the flames are that you are seeking over these waters, you do not know." [Cassandra to Paris. Ovid, Heroides 16,120]

Cassandra Warns of the Trojan Horse Posted by Picasa

Is This Our Future?

QED, a neighbor of mine, is one of the most thoughtful blogs I know. It has a wealth of information on politics, history and life in general. Today he posted the secret fear that haunts many of us here. The entire posting is a must read. I"ll highlight some key paragraphs:

With the disengagement going into full swing, I can not shake the feeling that we are going to retreat all the way to the Green Line, no exceptions, just as the Europeans desire. This includes, for the uninitiated - the entire Old City, Ramat Eshkol, the Mt. Scopus part of Hebrew University, part of road no. 1 and so forth. This also means that "concensus" settlments such as Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Edumim, will be on the chopping block as well. This Jewish population living across the Green Line is circa 400,000. Kicking them out will create a human disaster that will make the disengagement look like a cake walk.

I recently expressed this fear with an acquaintance, who told me that Gush Etzion was part of the "concensus" and thus won't be removed. To this I replied that it used to be

a concensus that Jerusalem should be undivided - now it's up for grabs. Apparently,
the "demographic demon" means that we must forfeit even unpopulated areas like Latrun, or areas that contain archaeological remains of supreme national importance,
like Silwan/City of David.
Nevertheless, the fact that so much of the intelligentsia and the public probably equates eveything across the Green Line as equally illegitimate - even when this is not so, as I have tried to explain - depresses me to no end. It would seem that even Jerusalem has ceased to be of much importance, and so the "Israeli" has beaten the "Jew". Ben-Gurion must be rolling around in his grave, although I'm sure many are now dancing on our grave.

Was this why we fought, was this why over 20,000 people died in the various wars? So that we could assimilate differently, if as "Israeli" or "Jew-Arab" or "Yiddisher"? Was this why we stayed alive for 2,000 years in exile, so that we could do to ourselves what even the worst of our enemies couldn't do - i.e. make the Jews de facto disappear?

Don't know anyone whose said it better.

They Won...Not Sharon, The Palestinians

Aluf Benn writes in today's holiday edition of Haaretz:

Upon the evacuation of the settlers from the Gaza Strip, a situation assessment is called for: Who won the last five years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which broke out following the collapse of the peace process at Camp David? Who seared whose consciousness? The simple answer is that the Palestinians won on points. Sewing shops in Gaza are currently flooded with orders for PLO and Hamas flags, as the two movements vie against each other for the credit for getting the hated Israelis out of Gaza. The Palestinians are preparing victory marches, while Israel is mourning an internal rift and the loss of a dream and fearing the dangers of "the day after."

A comparison between the two sides' positions at the start of the conflict and their current positions also gives a clear advantage to the Palestinians. They demanded an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories, a state with Jerusalem as its capital and a right of return for the refugees. Israel insisted on maintaining the status quo, without giving up an inch, until the Palestinians gave in and abandoned terrorism. But Israel blinked and decided to evacuate some of the territories without receiving anything from the Palestinians. Their diplomatic positions have not changed by so much as a comma, and despite the blows they have absorbed, they have maintained their terrorist capabilities and have not implemented reforms.

Nor will they.

No Words Required...

Kotel 1842 Posted by Picasa
The Western Wailing Wall (1842)
Hand Painting 13x18.7,Israel Museum
Teddy Kollek Collection.
'Nuff Said. (Thanks to Mirty)

Partying on Shenkin: A Response to Anonymous

I received the following comment to my posting of a few days ago:

Re: Partying on Shenkein... and if the Hitnadkut had been cancelled, and those of us in Tel Aviv who are forced to protect your settlelements would have been condemned to continued military service over the Green line against our deepest values, wouldn't the settlers have partied?

My response:

There are two types of responses that the opponents of the settlement enterprise can have. One is satifaction that their side has won a major victory. As much as it hurts me, you have the right to be satisfied.

The other type of rejoicing, which is all too prevalent, is to celebrate the destruction of other people's dreams, homes, lives and spirits. This type of vicious 'dancing on other people's blood' is what I was referring to. It is evidence of a deeper pathology of Jewish Life in Israel (and throughout Jewish History) where our loathing is reserved not for our enemies, but for each other (especially for the identifiable Jew, as Modern Jewish History has frequently taught).

I take no small comfort from your comment, though, in that you imply that while you reject Jews living in Yosh (since there's no longer any Yesha), you would still do your reserve duty to serve there. The fact that refusal to obey orders has not spread deeply on either side of the debate is, I pray, an indication that we haven't broken into two peoples. Lu Yehi.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Point Well Made

This is a thoughtful point against secularist ultra-orthodoxy, by a noted historian. It's a useful anidote to yesterday's bit of anti-religious screed by Haaretz.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust

Yet another rising star in the media, who is also religious, 'goes native.' It seems to be contagious. this week it's Sahra Blau, but the trend is all too ominous. All too often, when a religious person becomes coddled by the secularist elite, he/she tends to adopt the point of view of the elite.

I know what that's like, since I've had more than my share of moments being the intellectual's wunderkind, as in 'I can't understand how someone like you could be religious/settler/zionist!'For a long time, I laughed off such things out of the heady desire to be accepted and the belief that by 'not being like all the other religious/settler/zionist/neo-cons' I might open a line of dialogue and mutual respect. I still believe that this kind of dialogue is possible in all sorts of sectors of the American Jewish and Israeli Jewish populations. Among the self-appointed, omniscient intellectual elite, however, I see very little hope for success. People who sophisticate themselves to death cannot be dIssuaded from their deep and abiding intellectual narcissism.

Unfortunately, that narcissism is a drug. Clearly it's contagious and addictive. Haval.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Tisha B'Av Viewing

Something appropriate to watch on Tisha B'Av. (Thanks to Josh Yuter for the link.)

On the other hand, the Atzeret Tefillah at the Kotel was a real Qiddush HaShem, as these pictures prove. We'll never know how many people were there. I can testify that the whole Old City, downtown and th Malha parking lots were jammed with buses.

Geviha ben Pesisa has reappeared and published a very disconcerting poster for this Tisha B'Av. I understand the point, but it's really too much. (He got it from here.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

In the Rav's Name...

So, again we've been treated to an invocation of Rav Soloveitchik's much bruited opinion on the question of Land for Peace. Last week, the full citation was provided to the membership of the Rabbinical Council of America through its in-house e-mail list. It's really quite famous. Even Nissim Mishal, in his book for Israel's Jubilee, made sure to cite it (along with the Rov's picture).

This is the central portion of the Rov's remarks (in Tishre, 5727), as cited in the above e-mail. The full text is found here ):

But I don't need to rule whether we should give the West Bank back to the Arabs or not to give the West Bank to the Arabs: we Rabbis should not be involved in decisions regarding the safety and security of the population. These are not merely Halakhic rulings : these decisions are a matter of pikuach nefesh for the entire population. And if the government were to rule that the safety of the population requires that specific territories must be returned, whether I issue a halakhic ruling or not, their decision is the deciding factor. If pikuach nefesh supercedes all other mitzvos, it supercedes all prohibitions of the Torah, especially pikuach nefesh of the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. And all the silly statements I read in the newspapers-- one journalist says that we must give all the territory back, another says that we must give only some territory back, another releases edicts, strictures and warnings not to give anything back. These Jews are playing with 2 million lives. I will say that as dear as the Kotel Hamaarovi is, the 2 million lives of Jews are more important. We have to negotiate with common sense as the security of the yishuv requires. What specifically these security requirements are, I don't know, I don't understand these things. These decisions require a military perspective which one must research assiduously. The borders that must be established should be based upon that which will provide more security. It is not a topic appropriate for which Rabbis should release statements or for Rabbinical conferences.

There are two points to be made here. First, the Rov was opposing rabbinic pronouncements on the issue.

Second, and more important, he was not sayng that it's a mitzvah to hand over parts of Eretz Yisrael. He assumes here that some sort of security consemsus can be reached as to what borders Israel needs. He, himself, took no stand on that point. He had the humility to say that he could not take a position in an area where he had no expertise. That's it. Given that there is no consensus about the security impact of the destruction of Gush Qatif, there is no way of knowing whether the Rov's theoretical discussion applies, or not.

On the contrary, invoking it today is extremely misleading and distorting (as are a host of other, one sided citations of his obiter dicta). Consider this, in 1967 the State of Israel was considering territorial compromise with a sovereign Arab country with whom it had a long history of sub-rosa relations, namely Jordan. Today, we are talking about handing over territory to a terrorist entity which has no cohesion, except its blood lust to wipe out the Zionist entity. There is no Palestine Authority (see the article in the Atlantic cited in my earlier post).

Would the Rov have supported such a move? I personally think not, but there is absolutely no way of knowing. He was a big believer in people making up their own minds. Besides, necromancy is a sin, according to the Torah.

So please, in the name of intellectual honesty and out of deference to the Rov's memory. Please keep him out of this. He said what he said almost forty years ago. If he always critically revisited his shiurim, I am sure that he would have done so in matters of Life and Death. Tragically, he's no longer here.

חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין

Go Caroline!

Caroline Glick is one of the most perceptive political analysts writing in the Israeli Press today. Today she takes a look at the larger issues around Sharon's government and Netanyahu's resignation.

It's a tragedy that her analyses don't get published in Hebrew, and in places they might influence the broader public. OTOH, there is no daily outlet for neocons in Israel.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Hilkhot Gerush

Recently, there have been several suggestions as to how to powerfully respond to the destruction of Gush Kaqtif, and the demonization of its residents. I"d like to add my ideas, with a nod to R. Israel Rosen and thanks to Toby Klein Greenwald)

Jewish Pride and the deep and abiding conviction in the justice of our cause demand, in my opinion, that the exile from Gush Katif (should it come to that) be greeted with the utmost dignity. The exiles should depart with their heads held high. Each town should gather in its center. The Sifre Torah should be taken from the Aron Kodesh. Ashes should be placed upon each Sefer and upon the heads of every man, woman and child. They should tear Kri'ah (as we all will) and recite Tehillim and swear 'Im Eshkahekh). They should walk, with heads high, out of the Yishuv, led by their Sifre Torah, singing Ani Ma'amin. If they have a Bet Almin, they should carry their dead out at the side of the Sifre Torah. Somewhere it should say, 'Qiyymu eleh, mah she-katuv be-Eyleh.'

At Kissufim junction, tens of thousands should line the road on both sides to meet them and say 'HaMaqom Yenahem etkhem be-tokh she'ar Avele Tziyyon ve-Yerushalayim.'

I have no doubt that on Sheinkin, in North Tel Aviv and elsewhere there will be Hitnatqut parties (not unlike the way in which the Bundists had Kol Nidre Balls.) I have no doubt that the media will ridicule the exiles and gripe about how much money they're making on this deal.

However, for ourselves and for the Jews who still care about why we came back here in the first place, it is important to show that they will not break us. They will not humiliate us. The Torah teaches us both how to win and how to lose, and how to keep hoping for our ultimate vindication.

במהרה בימינו אמן


Gilda's Blog is one of the most popular Hebrew blogs in the dati Leumi community. This is her latest contribution. Read it and weep1

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Word to the Israeli Academic

This week we heard about Eilat Mazar's thrilling find, which might be King David's Palace. My son, who's a student of Dr. Avi Faust at Bar Ilan, mentioned that the latter is about to publish a book discussing the anthropological implications and meaning of finds such as these. Faust is a real pioneer in bringing the tools of current anthropological analysis to bear on Biblical archaeology.

That got me to reflecting on the type of tunnel vision that afflicts the Israeli Academy (a point raised at the closing session of the World Congress of Jewish Studies, last Thursday evening). Around the world, archaeologists dig for finds in order to create a meaningful reconstruction of ancient life (a 'Thick Descriptive Model' in Geertzian terms). In Israel, however, we're all too often stuck with the material of our finds, and fail to ask what they mean on a larger plane.

The same is true in Talmud and Medieval Jewish Studies. We are the masters of manuscripts and philological reconstructions. But how much time do we really spend asking ourselves what all this means? How many of my fellow scholars use sociology, anthropology, cultural history, intellectual history and a plethora of other disciplines to take our work to the next level (as it were)?

I think it's high time for taking off the blinders, emerging from the tunnel and building a world on the material and textual finds we're so proud of.

(BTW, you can ignore the so-called archaeologist/propagandist from Al-Quds U. who was quoted by the Times article I linked to. OTOH, if you can tell me what he said, I"d appreciate it. It doesn't read like English.)

Defiling the Land

i wish I had something cogent to say about the murder of innocent people by an ostensibly religious person on Thursday. I don't. I have nothing but revulsion at him and at those whose moral obtuseness bred him. The shedding of innocent blood defiles Eretz Yisrael and its inhabitants. Period.

May God forgive us.

(QED and Manuscript Boy, did have thoughtful things to say on the matter.)

To Be a Jew

Even though I've spent a lot of my academic life studying medieval and modern anti-Judaism and antisemitism, I really didn't encounter all that much of it growing up. As a kid in Boston (in the refined, cultured suburb of Newton), I occasionally encountered anisemitism of the most basic kind, viz. getting accosted, threatened or beaten by Italian or Irish toughs who decided to teach the Jews a lesson. It wasn't pleasant, but It didn't happen all that often. I dismissed it as the acts of a few neo-neanderthals. In college and graduate school I don't recall ever experiencing either antisemitic or even anti-Orthodox sentiment. Once, during my two-year post-doc at Yale, I had one encounter with 'genteel' antisemitism that was so subtle that I wasn't even sure it had happened (until I recounted the encounter to the senior faculty member with whom I was working, and he confirmed it).

Since the start of the war in September, 2000 I have spoken and written extensively on the origins of Muslim antisemitism and the devil's pact between Christian and Muslim antisemites to demonize Israel and the Jews using the grossest forms of antisemitic archetypes and images. So, of course, I'm aware of that. I wasn't, however, living in its midst (except for my two trips to Paris during that time).

Now, however, for the first time in my life, I find myself feeling constantly beset by anti-Judaism of the most virulent kind. It's not coming from the Arabs, or the Christians. It's coming from the Jews. It's spewed by the Israeli newspaper of record, Haaretz (here and here and here and here and there's more where that came from). The poison is not confined to Haaretz, it oozes out of the Israeli Left's mainstream. As Amnon Lord reports in this week's Makor Rishon, MK Avshalom Vilan is anxious for the opportunity to wipe out the Right and finally obliterate any sign of Religuios Zionism (and Judaism) in the State of Israel. The same sentiments arise in the response sections of the Israeli papers on line and in epithets screamed at religious people in the street, in airports (I just received a few of those), and all sorts of other places.

Since 1993 I have warned that Oslo and its metastases covered a deeper problem, an out and out kulturkampf. It's now upon us in full force. The very weaknesses that led us to contribute to its creation (and we do bear a good part of the responsibility), are now leaving us totally unprepared for addressing it. Religious (and traditional) Jews who grew up here have never developed the coping mechanisms that Jews in Galut had. On the other hand, how do you deal with an hysterical pathology? (And Judische selbst-hass, is a pathological disorder). Maybe, all you can do is reinforce your resolve to live a life of Torah and Mitzvot with dignity. After all, at the end of the day, it's not the slurs of the Gidon Samets, Gidon Levy's, Avshalom Vilans, David Landaus, and Yoel Marcuses that determine Israel's fate. It's God who determines it.

Maybe that's why the Rambam highlights the element of Teshuvah for Tisha B'Av, and not the element of mourning.

Rabbenu Gershom, Me'or HaGolah put it best:

אזכרה אל-קים ואהמיה
בראותי כל עיר על תלה בנויה
ועיר הא-לקים מושפלת עד שאול תחתיה
וכל זאת אנו לי-ה ועינינו לי-ה

In a Ruined Country

Anyone who has access to the Atlantic Monthly MUST read the article by this name in the coming month's issue. It exposes the seemy side of Palestinian corruption and the heavy involvement of government connected Israelis in reaping the rewards. (The article was posted here but was evidently removed over Shabbat).

Friday, August 05, 2005

Women Learning Gemara

Gil Student has been preoccupied with the issue of the right of women to learn gemara.In that connection, he reproduces the Rav zt'l's letter, that was published in R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Community, Covenant, and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications, p. 83.

I recall seeing the Rov quoted on this issue (but I can't recall where). The quote went something like this: Women are obligated to study the Halakhos of the the mitzvos that they are required to observe. So, for example, in order to know Hilkhos Shabbos, you need to study Masseches Shabbos, and 'the way to Masseches Shabbos goes through Baba Qamma.'

Catching Up...

It's been weeks since I posted. My schedule in New York was just too full to allow for it. Now that I want to catch up, however, there's so much to discuss that I scarcely know where to begin. And if I begin, I'm afraid one posting will over shadow the other (cf. Berakhot 14a). So, I'll start by writing telegraphically and try to follow up with fuller discussions. [It's a tried and true method for those who listen to Rega shel Ivrit on the radio at 1555.]

1) I'm sick over the criminal insanity worked by a meshugenah Kakhnik. Murder is murder. The Torah forbids the murder of civilians, period. Never mind that every Jew in the world will now be a target (as if they wetren't before that.)

2) I am a big fan of Rivka Yaffa's columns. Her latest on why she can't plan a vacation after Tisha B'Av because of the impending expulsion from Gaza hits home. We're not going awayu that week either. Same reason. The real insight is provided by the comments that her column attracted. The Religious Zionist and Haredi Worlds have become the 'Jew.' It's chilling how so many hate us. I didn't experience that kind of loathing when I had to put up with physical attacks by Irish and Italians toughs when I was a kid. And if you don't believe it, take note of Haaretz' declaration of war on a messianic public that doesn't exist, except in its own fevered imagination.

3) If you didn't believe that this is a Kultur-kampf, get a load of Gidon Samet's scurrilous screed about the so-called decline of Jewish Studies. I can't believe that I used to sit with this same person as part of the Shaharit Group and thought he would work toward dialogue and the re-judaization of the State of Israel. There must be something about Haaretz hiring vicious, ignorant demagogues named Gidon.

4) I recently received an email from the RCA where a colleague reproduced the Rav zt"l's remarks in favor of territorial compromise, from 1967. I am really tired of people taking things out of context and using the Rov as an oracle. He was the absolute last person who would tell people what they must do. He did not believe in Daas Torah. He believed, mirabile dictu, that people should think for themselves.

5) Oh, and how could I forget the exciting events of the Fourteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies. Contrary to Samet's imbicilic, vicious diatribe it was truly inspiring and legitimating.

Expansions to follow.