Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why the IDF Won't Fight, or

How Aharon Barak, Dorit Beinish, Meni Mazuz and the Media fatally wounded the State of Israel.

Guy Bechor has it, tragically, right.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Heartbreak: Madoff Fallout

I'm going to let the myriads of journalists and bloggers discuss ad nauseum the details, dimensions and implications of Bernard Madoff's criminal venality. I feel the need, though, to put a face on his crimes; a face that hasn't emerged from behind the raw facts and the titllating numbers.
I feel that I owe it to two of the victims, one living and one deceased, whose vision and passion left a deep impression on me, and who dedicated large sums of their hard-earned money to the advancement of Jewish Education, Israel and Jewish National Survival, to put a face on this tragedy.

The first is Robert I. Lappin.

Robert Lappin is my grandmother's first cousin. His father, John, was born in Volkowisk Poland (Lita), and moved with his family to Eretz Yisrael in 1881, out of Religious Zionist conviction. His parents, Israel and Rebecca Lappin, moved first to Petach Tiqva, and then to Jerusalem. John, and his younger brother Yankel Mayshe, studied in the famed Yeshivat Etz Hayyim, which was then located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (next to the present day Menachem Zion synagogue, across from the Hurva Synagogue). Family legend has it, that upon hearing of the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903, Uncle John lost his religious faith. He could not believe that God would allow for the murder of 47 Jews, just for the crime of being Jews. He left Israel, and moved to Boston. H settled in Salem, married and raised a family and became a very wealthy man.

Robert, who I only had the pleasure of meeting once, has an consuming passion for Jewish survival through Jewish Education, the fight against assimilation and the support of Israel. It was for that reason that he set up the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation (though his involvement in related endeavors goes far beyond it. They are, I understand, pursued with characteristic modesty). A glance at the foundation's website gives an idea of the priceless contribution that Mr. Lappin has made, in the words of the foundation's masthead, 'Helping to Keep Our Children Jewish.' As a distant cousin, watching from afar, I have always been extremely proud of Mr. Lappin's activities. This is especially so, because of the heavy toll that assimilation and intermarriage have taken on our family. I feel a spiritual kinship with him, as I fight for the survival of Jews and Judaism here, and he carries on the fight in the United States. When I visit their graves on the Mount of Olives, I always feel like Israel and Rebecca Collier Lappin are shepping nahas.

The second person is the late, Maurice Saval.

Mr. Saval was a very successful, and extremely charitable, Boston businessman. Of his many causes, two were especially close to his heart. One was the Charles River Park Synagogue, in Downtown Boston. The other was the Maimonides School. Mr. Saval's involvement in Maimonides was a result of his long-standing and devoted friendship with the Rav זצ"ל. He was the Chairman of the Board and supported every initiative to expand and improve the school. He loved Maimonides with a passion. Since he and his wife were childless, he viewed Maimonides' students as his children (this, too, along the lines of the Rav's teachings in Family Redeemed). In 1992, I served as Rabbi of the Charles River Park Synagogue for the High Holy Days. As a result, I had an opportunity to spend many hours in conversation with Mr. Saval.

I will never forget, though, one comment he made, en passant. After recounting his relationship with the Maimonides School, he leaned back with pride and satisfaction and said: 'After I die, I've made arrangements that Maimonides will never know want.' Words cannot describe how Mr. Saval glowed when he said those words.

It is incredible to me, that both of these fine, wonderful, devoted men were victims of this inexecrable swindler. My heart twinges with pain at the memory of Mr. Saval's satisfied smile, when I know that most (if not all) of his bequest to Maimonides was stolen.

I cannot but imagine the sense of violation and betrayal that Robert Lappin must feel.

At the same time, I have to believe that the mitzvot done by the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation and by Mr. Saval ז"ל will continue bear fruit long after Bernard Madoff has been forgotten, having been left to rot in some richly deserved prison cell.

Monday, December 08, 2008

One Reason Likud Must Win (and NOT Admit Labor or Kadima into the Coalition)

How dumb can we be?
Government should stop telling us that impotence vis-a-vis Hamas is an advantage
Alex Fishman YNET Published: 12.08.08, 11:39 / Israel Opinion

The letter calling on residents of Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, and Kiryat Malachi to prepare for rocket attacks hides a secret. This secret is well known to the ministers who are currently debating the Israeli response to attacks from the Gaza Strip.

They are keeping this secret to themselves and in meanwhile they are building an alibi for the day it will be exposed. Because once the Israeli public discovers that Gaza groups may possess rockets with a range of dozens of kilometers, these ministers will have to explain why they didn't do a thing about it.

Dozens of kilometers means that Beersheba and Yavne are in range, not to mention the Ashdod Port. If our leaders have no intention to do something about Gaza before the elections, they would do well to send, now already, letters to residents of the abovementioned cities. It would also be wise to start fortifying strategic sites such as the Ashdod Port for the possibility of a rocket hit.

The Navy, by the way, already treats its military port in Ashdod just as it treats the Haifa Port, which is in range of Hizbullah rockets.

So take a map, mark the regions under threat nationwide, and start to prepare - mentally at least. Meanwhile, our politicians should stop explaining to us that our impotence vis-à-vis Hamas is an advantage and not a drawback. Internal debates recently held in the Defense Ministry concluded with a document that outlines no less than 15 convincing arguments for why the lull must continue and why we must not spoil the nation's mood.

It starts with the argument that we must not irritate the new US Administration, and ends with the fact that we neglected the issue fortification in Gaza-region communities.

Thankfully, someone in the defense establishment took the initiative last week and prevented a Libyan ship from reaching Gaza, while later also preventing a ship on behalf of the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch from sailing to the Strip. The moment the global Islamic movement discovered that ships can be sent from Cyprus to Gaza without being stopped, the wave got underway.

The Jews are dumb, so why shouldn't we exploit it?

Indeed, at this time already, seven ships packed with goods from various Muslim countries such as Yemen, Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan are already preparing to sail.

Hamas identifies Israeli weaknessIn the past week, Hamas fired about 100 rockets. A month ago, when the IDF operated against a Gaza Strip tunnel, Hamas fired 30 industrial Grad rockets in order to signal to Israel that it intends to dictate a different kind of lull. If Hamas can afford to fire 30 Grads just to signal, it means its weapons warehouses must be full.According to Israeli estimates, Hamas has an emergency supply of fuels and food that would enable it to withstand a month-long Israeli assault. Instead of preparing for war, perhaps it would be better if the group handed out all those goods in the warehouses to hungry Gaza residents.

At this time, Hamas maintains eight brigades in Gaza, deployed in three rings: On the border, in a security zone, and deep inside the Strip. This Hamas army comprises almost 17,000 people, including police officers. All of them receive their salaries from the Hamas government. Why does Israel need to transfer NIS 200 million (roughly $50 million) to Gaza, so that local banks can keep paying the salaries of Hamas soldiers? How dumb can we be?

Throughout the year we have been sitting and watching foreign instructors and advisors coming in and out of the Gaza Strip and building Hamas' defense plan against a future Israeli operation. The plan includes, among other things, the establishment of a 50-kilometer long underground network that would enable Hamas' leadership and its best combat units to go underground and be protected from surgical strikes or aerial assaults.

Hamas is firing rockets at this time because it identified an Israeli weakness. This weakness is an opportunity to create new rules for the lull. Hamas is also taking pleasure in the face of Egyptian anxiety and requests to hold the fire. The group just keeps on making more demands of the Egyptians.And what will happen if Hamas and the other groups decide that they are no longer interested in a lull? What will all our experts say then? Will they draft a new document that outlines 15 arguments for why we must not maintain the lull in its current format?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Jabotinsky for Knesset

In answer to a number of requests, I want to explain why I am enbthusiastically supporting the candidacy of Zev Jabotinsky for a realistic place on the Likud Knesset List.

I have known Zev personally for a number of years. He's a fine, extremely intelligent, and highly principled person. He is firmly committed to Jewish settlement in in the Land of Israel, and has absolutely no illusions as to the intentions of the Palestinians (and the Arabs, generally). In fact, he has a stunning, and penetrating grasp upon the contemporary geo-political realities that shape our existence in Israel. He was adamently opposed to the expulsion from Gush Qatif and, as a mermber of the Likud Central Committee, was part of the active vocal opposition to Ariel Sharon's betrayal.

In this, he is an unmistakeable and worthy heir to his distinguished heritage, as the grandson and namesake of Vladimir Zev Jabotinsky ז"ל. As opposed to some so-called 'princes', Zev has not and will not ever go 'native.' He can always be relied upon to loyally, and tirelessly, advance Leumi positions.

He knows how to live with the Left. He has lived in a left-leaning town for many years, without compromising his principles, and passed on his beliefs to his children. He is a forceful, level-headed speaker who knows exactly how to effectively make our case in wider fora, and to debate the avatars of the Left. He is respectful of Jewish Civilization and posessses the kind of historical awareness that is critical in representing National Zionism in the wider Israeli community.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, knowing Professor B. Netanyahu and the kind of reverence that Bibi has for the memory of the Rosh Beitar, Having Zev on the Knesset List will, in my opinion, help keep our next Prime Minister (P-G), ideologically hones.

I urge every member of Likud to include him in the list of twelve candidates on the National List.

My Final Obiter Choices for the Likud List

The tomorrow. Primaries are December 8th. Ben Chorin has a detailed description of how the process works, and offered his observations on the candidates. In light of the changes in the rules made last week, These twelve look the best to me:

Moshe 'Boogie' Yaalon (National)
Ruby Rivlin (National)
Yuli Edelstein (National)
Miki Eitan (National)
Yuval Shteinitz (National)
Zev Jabotinsky (National)
Moshe Kachlon (National)
Tzippi Hotobali (National)
Gilad Erdan (National)
Leah Ness (National)
Moshe Muskal (National)
Michael Ratzon (National)
Yossi Fuchs (YoSh)

Where our lists overlap, I pretty much agree with Ben Chorin on the reasons. My list adds Zev Jabotinsky and Tzippi Hotobali, and does not include Moshe Feiglin.

I know Zev Jabotinsky personally. Independent of his distinguished lineage, he's a really fine, extremely bright, and highly principled person. He knows how to live with the other side, without compromising his principles. The country will only benefit from having him in the Knesset.

Tzippi Hotobali is a bright, eloquent and committed thinker and writer (Maariv Yahadut). She's a star student of some of the best teachers at Bar Ilan (Law and Political Science). She handles herself extremely well on TV. She knows how to present both a Right wing position and Jewish tradition intelligently. That makes her an avis rara.

I oppose Moshe Feiglin on both substantive and tactical grounds. I defer to Ben Chorin's judgment as to his grasp of the issues. However, I reject his attempt to use subterfuge and questionable tactics to highjack the Likud. While I, along with tens of thousands, share the desire to rejudaize Israel and agree that more religious and traditional people should get active in the larget parties (see Federalist no, 10), that must be done through persuasion and dialogue. I see none of that in Feiglin or in Manhigut Yehudit. Ben Chorin has, himself, outlined the tactical reasons to avoid Manhigut Yehudit.

I would also emphasize, that every effort should be made to keep Dan Meridor as low as possible on the list. He, like Tzippi Livni, has gone totally native. He is a political Leftist, and an ideological supporter of Aharon Barak/Dorit Beinish and Co. Hence, he represents everything that is undemocratic in this country.

Most importantly, every Anglo Likudnik should vote and help set the agenda for the government that Bibi Netanyahu will, אי"ה, form next Spring.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fie, Barak!

So, it has finally happened. Ehud Barak has unleashed the security forces upon the residents of a house in Hebron that was lawfully purchased. With orders to bash heads, the police SWAT teams effectively evicted women and children. Twenty people are injured. According to report I just received from the site:

Contrary to what the media report, the expulsion from Bet HaShalom was very violent and MANY were wounded.The Special Forces were specifically searching for Daniella Weiss and Nadia Matar to beat them. Nadia was beaten and was taken to hospital. Reliable sources have informed that the Chevron police are planning to raid the homes of the leaders of the struggle tonight in order to arrest them and send them away from Yesha

In response, there are mass protests blocking the entrance to Jerusalem and the Gush Eztion Junction. No doubt, Barak will cause them to drink the cup of poison, as well. Unfortunately, from my ten years in the Israel Police, I know that the SWAT teams are easily provoked and quickly turn into brutes. (In fact, a cop I partnered with for years in Jerusalem left this unit (YaSaM) because he did not want to beat Jews to a pulp.

The press is hailing this victory over children as a triumph of democracy. Of course, for Haaretz and the rest of its hassidim, democracy is defined by accepting their ideas. anything that deviates therefrom is ipso facto anti-democratic. Indeed, the only democrtic action is that which advances an anti-Jewish, pro-Palestinian agenda. In Barak's case, he has the additional incentive of the Labor Primaries today. Beating up diaboical settlers is great press for the press.

Consider, though, the facts. The Supreme Court did not order the evacuation of the building. It allowed for it. In other words, Barak and Olmert could have waited for the Jerusalem District Court to rule before taking action. They were looking for blood and they got it.

The owners have written and video recorded proof of purchase. The recording even has the seller describing the threats made to his life by the Palestinian Authority. (Don't forget, if an Arab sells property to a Jew he is summarily executed.) [Haaretz, of course, immediately decided it was a forgery. ] However, when we're busy scoring points with the media and the orthodox [Left], what difference do facts make? What difference, for that matter, do the courts make (if you suspect they won't line up ideologically)?

In addition, Barak was well aware that he was giving ammunition to the extremists among us (many of whom are still refugees in their own country after the expulsion from Gush Qatif, or still have scars from being beaten within an inch of their lives at Amona). He wanted them to over react, in order to justify the use of tear gas and stun grenades against them. He got what he wanted. He played the radicals like a violin. Now, I want to emphasize that I am not a supporter of Daniella Weiss (who is, IMHO, severely intellectually challenged and a prisoner of her Gush Emunim memories), or of the Hilltop Youth who are often troubled and verge on Juvenile Delinquency. However, Barak's cynical use of their expected reaction is absolutely contemnable. (I am troubled also that their rabbinic and Lay leaders played into his hands so stupidly.)

IY"H, he'll watch the next Knesset from the opposition, with his other 5-10 MK's.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Obiter Dicta (Three to Be Exact)

1) The Saban Center for Middle East Policy has published a report urging dialogue with Iran, while pressuring Israel to strip itself naked in order to avoid nuclear attack.

Two observations:
Saban, the Israeli expatriate who funds the center, apparently thinks that his Power Rangers are real and will clean up the nuclear waste of Iran's Jihad.

The leading thinker (sic!) behind this nightmare scenario is Martin 'Ive Gone Native' Indyk. Indyk, as we all know, is 'Turkey' in Yiddish. 'Nuff Said.

2) Among the side issues raised by the tragedy in Mumbai, is the question of Orthodox participation in Inter-faith Memorial Gatherings for the victims of Islamist Slaughter. More to the point, while Muslim and Christian clergy pose limited problems, Hindu priests are another matter. The Hindu religion is, by all criteria of which I am aware, Avoda Zara. Thus, such participation is (at best) aiding and abetting Avoda Zara on the part of a Noachide and constitutes a breach of 'Placing a Stumbling Block before the blind' (לפני עיוור לא תתן מכשול). On the other hand, one could hardly not include a Hindu priest in such gatherings, because Hindus were the key target and the majority of victims were Hindus (as they were for centuries of Moghul Muslim rule in India).

So, what to do?

I posted a longer version of this answer on a rabbinic forum:

I think we need to distinguish several different strands from this discussion. I would first like to address the specifically halalakhic issues, and then move on to the questions of public policy.

A) Personally, I am convinced of the validity of Rabbi Dr. David Berger's distinction between polytheism and Avoda zara, as far as Christianity is concerned. Indeed, I really like his formulation: Non-Pagan Avoda Zara in a monotheistic mode. Identifying Avoda Zara exclusively with ancient polytheism is far too blithe and simplistic. Christian believe themselves to be pure monotheists, though by halakhic criteria they are not such. Nevertheless, as implied directly by Tosafos to Bekhoros 2b, since they think that they are praying to the One God, if they do not mention his putative son, I see no reason why there should be any compunction in the participation of Christian clergy.

For better or worse, Hinduism (and not a few forms of Buddhism, Jain and Shinto) are in a much worse position. After years of teaching a course on Judaism and other religions, it is clear to me that Hinduism IS pagan (whether pantheist or pluralist in the identity of its deities). Certainly the reverance that Hindus pay their plethora of gods is closer to Greco-roman, Egyptian or Canaanite religion than is Christianity. In addition, there was not a small degree of sophistication inherent in all of these. Indeed, I believe that it is specifically the positive elements in Avoda zara that led the Torah and Hazal to be so adament about not being seduced thereby. Since when are we tempted by the ugly, the stupid and the festishistic?

B) One might aver that one can rely, in this connection, on the more liberal opinion of R.
Menachem Ha-Meiri. Now, it may well be true that Moshe Halbertal is correct, and that Christianity (and by reasonable extension, Hinduism) does not qualify (in his opinion) to be classified as Avoda Zara of any kind. However, relying upon that ruling is highly questionable from an halakhic stand point.

First, a reasonable case can be made that Halbertal is wrong and that Ha-Meiri did not maintain so far-reaching a position. Moreover, and I speak as an Historian of Halakhah, since when do the tentative results of academic scholarship play a role in normative halakhic discourse? More important, the legal consebsus (sugya de-alma) is overwhelmingly against accepting the Meiri as normative. Rabbenu Tam was also a brilliant scholar and I don't know of anyone who accepts his very convincing ruling that חמץ בטל בששים, מין במינו.

C) On the other hand, it is totally unrealistic, churlish and ( at baste)in very bad taste to exclude a Hindu priest from this type of event. Boycotting it is worse. I can only imagine the Hillul HaShem to which it will lead. I recommend, that it be suggested to all the clergy that are slated to speak at such memorials that in the interest of amity, religion specific prayers (not to mention ritual actions) be totally eschewed. Reference should be made to God, Allah, the Supreme Power or some such formulation, along with the type of humanitarian emphasis that unites us all. Let each person interpret them in his or her own heart. This, it seems to me, fits the criteria laid out by Tosafos in Bekhoros.

3) I delivered the first of two, 'After Srugim' lectures at Bar Ilan today (despite walking pneumonia). I did record the lecture, but have yet to decide if I want to release it unedited. The central text was רמב"ם, הלכות מעילה פרק ח הלכה ח and the presentation included important ideas advanced by Rabbis David Berger, Lawrence Kaplan and Shalom Carmy, here and here.

[UPDATE: This posting has generated a surprising degree of response. I've responded in the comments.]