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 (www.yadvashem.org) 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: woolfj@gmail.com.

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.