Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Private school tax relief dead?

It isn't even mentioned in this description of the budget agreement just reached:

It includes property tax relief, which the suburban Republicans desparately wanted (and probably needed if they were to have any chance of maintaining their Senate majority), and the support for NYC schools desparately wanted by both Democrats and Republicans in the city. Unfortunately it looks like that extra school aid is being funded through debt. It includes a tax credit for all school aged children something like Speaker Silver wanted, rather than the larger credit for private school expenses that the religious community wanted. It also elimates the sales tax on most clothing purchases.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Outgoing JTS Chancellor puts himself on the side of halachah

Bashing the Conservative movement is pretty easy for Orthodox bloggers to do, particularly as the movement loses members and becomes less and less committed to the principles of Rabbinic Judaism. (Admittedly, the majority or Orthodox rabbis and laypeople probably would agree that the Conservative movement dropped adherance to those principles a long time ago.) But Dr. Ismar Schorsch, the current Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America who is retiring soon, made a strong appeal for traditional Judaism last weekend:

Interestingly, on the Shabat immediately preceding, he attended an Orthodox synagogue and spoke on the occasion of the bar mitzvah of his grandson (whose family lives a few blocks from me, attends at least two Orthodox minyanim that I attend, and has hosted me for Shabat meals):

I saw Dr. Schorsch there Friday night, but attended a different shul on Saturday morning, so unfortunately I don't know what he had to say.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Washington Post discovers Frumster

My wife and I were match #152. And yes, she was the one who made the initial contact. I thank the creators and owners of, the creators of the Internet (not just Al Gore), and Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu for putting her into my life.

Any single frum Jews who aren't on frumster and want to get married....go for it! If you have any reservations, feel free to email me.

Jewish Press columnist misfires on private school aid

In this week's Jewish Press, Uri Kaufman goofs on an important item. Here is the link to his front page essay about the Florida Supreme Court's overturning of a private school aid program:

Here is the problem:

'Since it also permitted government aid to African-Americans, the court concluded that it violated a Jim Crow-era constitutional amendment.'

'The lower court ruled that "[e]ven if the no-aid provisions [of the Florida State Constitution] were 'born of bigotry,' " these provisions still had to be enforced against the hapless students.'

Mr. Kaufman then rants and raves about James Blaine, the 19th century anti-Catholic bigot and Republican Presidential candidate who convinced most states (including New York and Florida) to prohibit the use of tax funds for religious schools -- and then goes on to rant and rave about educating illegal immigrants. Now, ranting against illegal immigrants may be good red meat for conservative audiences, but a lot of relatives of those immigrants vote and won't be particularly favorable to Mr. Kaufman's cause, Gov. Pataki's proposed tax credit for students who incur expenses outside of public schools (including but not limited to private and religious schools). Also, his organization, Teach NYS, was incensed when there was a reasonable suggestion that the tax credit be linked to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which seeks to finally get underfunded city school districts an adequate funding source for their public schools. (I'll comment on that in a separate post.) Now Mr. Kaufman links the tax credit to immigration?

But the biggest goof is that he erred on what the Florida Supreme Court did. It overturned the program based not on Mr. Blaine's unfortunate amendment, but on a "uniformity" clause that is in many state constitutions -- but not New York's! Thus, the Florida Supreme Court's reasoning is completely irrelevant to the situation here in New York. Here is an article that accurately describes what the court did:

Is Mr. Kaufman more interested in getting the tax credit passed, or in raising the hackles of politically conservative Jews who would love to hear more about how liberals and unions are preventing them from educating their children. We ought to be reminding the unions that the Catholic schools in New York are unionized and that this might just put money into their members pockets. We ought to remind immigrants that this will give their children more opportunities. We ought to remind NYC legislators that this does not prevent the Campaign for Fiscal Equity from being successful. And essays like this will not do that.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Hollywood" is corporate America

Conservative pundits are back to bashing "Hollywood" for allegedly making films that don't reflect our values. Here are two recent examples:

I don't defend either of these films, and don't plan to see them. But I think the protests are misdirected. The two films in question are released by studios owned by megacorporations General Electric and Time Warner. They will continue making movies like these as long as they think people will pay to see them -- unless their other business is affected. Why aren't the conservative pundits calling for boycotts of light bulbs or America Online? Once again, conservatives raise a ruckus while ignoring the folks who are really responsible for the alleged problem. They just can't come to admit that there just might be something imperfect about capitalism!

Sad happenings in Gaza

In case anyone wondered what had happened to Gaza since Jews left, this article gives you some idea:

How the Palestinians can expect Israel to maintain normal trade relations with a government that has basically announced full scale war with it is beyond me. But there is a more critical issue here: It is quite possible that all law and order will break down in Gaza and the West Bank as Hamas runs out of money and Israel continues its (correct) sealing of the borders. This will endanger the remaining settlements in the West Bank and will likely result in an increase in terrorism overall, as the PA will give up even the pretense of trying to stop attacks. At some point the new Israeli PM (probably Ohlmert) will have to decide what to do and the options aren't pretty. Re-occupation is not out of the question -- but by whom? Ohlmert definitely seems to want out of the job of ruling Palestinians. Would NATO be willing to do what they did in Kosovo? Bush doesn't even have a large enough army to maintain the occupation of Iraq, which isn't (at the moment) run by an unapologetic terrorist organization. Would the Europeans would take the lead? Would Israel accept that? Whatever happens will not likely be for the better.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rabbis condemn Pesach price gouging and excessive chumrot

As we begin preparing for the Pesach holiday, it is worthwhile to review a statement from the Rabbinical Council of America issued in 1997 that is still featured on their web site:

I would hope that all observant Jews would follow the suggestions here without prompting.

"Beware the Ides of March"

This line is the warning by a soothsayer to the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar in Act 1, scene 2, of Shakespeare’s play of the same name. It is a foretelling of Caesar’s assassination on that day (which fell on the 15th that month, March, 44BCE) by Brutus and Cassius, for whom Dante reserved a special place in the lowest level of Hell (a level shared only by Judas Iscariot). It is one of the earliest specific dates on the secular calendar most learned people can remember – a distinction that makes sense because it had only been a few years since Caesar had established his calendar.

For Jews this was a particularly notable event, for Julius Caesar was a rarity: a despot who was good to Jews. Josephus lists some of Caesar’s favorable (to us) decrees:

This ‘perpetual dictator’ referred to Jews as ‘friends and confederates’ and his actions matched his words! This from a man known primarily for his ruthlessness, as this short bio indicates:

Few non-Jewish rulers would be as favorable toward Jews over the next 1800 years. See

for one who was.

This presents a dilemma. Caesar was not a mensch. He rarely showed mercy toward his opponents – although it should be noted that he had once showed mercy toward the men who later became his assassins. He was ruthless and brutal in extending Roman power; it is hard to envision today the impact of casualties of the magnitude suffered in his wars – in a population that is much smaller than today. And he was not only an idol worshiper but the pontifex maximus of Rome! But he was good to Jews.

Most anti-Semites are generally awful people. And most people who are good to Jews are generally good people. Julius Caesar does not belong in either group. Fortunately, Jews do not appear to have suffered from having been on Caesar’s side when the assassins took their revenge. But it is an ethical dilemma that is worth thinking about whenever we consider currying favor with contemporary authoritarian regimes.

To anyone who has not seen the Shakespeare play, I wholeheartedly recommend it. There are also two movie versions I recommend: Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ 1953 film in which a young Marlon Brando fires up the crowd as Marc Antony:

and Stuart Burge’s 1970 film in which Charlton Heston recreates the Antony speech (a decade and a half after playing Moses):

John Gielgud appeared in both – as Cassius in the 1953 version and as Caesar in the 1970!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Einstein Medical Halachah Society

You might have thought that this would have happened decades ago, but a new medical halachah society has just been started at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Here is the information regarding their next meeting. Here is the announcement:

The next Einstein MedicalHalacha Society meeting will take place this coming Tuesday March 21 at 8:45 PM inthe Einstein Shul, 1935 Eastchester Road, #28B, Bronx, NY 10461.


*Studying medicine on Shabbos*

*Switching Shabbos "call" with other Jews*

Case #1: "The anatomy practical"

Dan is a first year student toward the end of his first year anatomy course. Med School has been a tough transition for him with many ups (Disease Mech) and downs (Histology midterm), but surprisingly he actually finds himself enjoying Anatomy. The human body is so precise, delicate and unique; he often stops to think "Ma rabumaasecha." In fact, after an enthusiastic recommendation from Avi, he is considering Radiology as a career choice. The initial awkwardness working on a cadaver has been replaced by a sense of care and respect that Dan hopes will be the first of manyacts of kavod habriyot he will achieve as a doctor. Now, with the anatomy final approaching, Dan wonders whether he is allowed to study anatomy on shabbos. Moreover, he has even entertained the idea of visiting the anatomy lab onshabbos--just to look around. Or should he devote his free time shabbos afternoonlearning Torah?

Case 1B: "Shabbos in Disney"

Sara is a second year ophthalmology resident and would like to attend the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthamology being held in Orlando, FL this winter. The conference runs for one week and features the latest and greatest lectures on ocular disease. Better yet, her residency program is reimbursing allcosts and providing her a week's vacation. Sara knows that her attendance willimpact on her knowledge of ocular pathology and improve patient care. However, many essential lectures will take place Saturday morning as the conference runs throughthe weekend. Can Sara attend the Saturday talks without taking notes or otherwise violating shabbos?

Case #2: "I can't believe Einstein put me on-call for shabbos, isn't this supposedto be a YU school?"

Josh is a third year medical student and just finished the first week of his first third-year clerkship -- surgery. Just barely removed from the fuzzy memories of sleeping in the padded chairs of Robbins Auditorium, the switch to the wards has been challenging to say the least. To add insult to injury, Josh didn't get his 1:1 at Bronx Lebanon Hospital for surgery. Instead he will spend the next eight weeks at Weiler. However, Josh and his co-clerks Reuven, David and Rebecca have a bigger issue on their hands. Andy, the chief resident has decreed that med student call will cover 24 hrs on the weekends, ending a long policy of no overnight call at Weiler. The problem is they all celebrate shabbos. Josh, Reuven and Rebecca are Orthodox while David is Conservative (and even attends AECOM synagogue services some Friday nights). Only two other students out of the group of six are gentile. How can they cover all Friday night and Saturday calls? The chief mean while is adamant that call be covered. He too is Jewish and has often needed to work in the hospital on YK. "Why should you be any different, you are all going to be doctors aren't you?" he declared [as only an overworked and underpaid surgical resident could]. After muchstress, discussion, and fear followed by more stress, discussion, and fear a possible solution is found. With some creative scheduling in exchange for extra calls taken by the Jewish clerks all shabbos calls could be covered. All, except for one Friday night, July fourth weekend, that the gentile students understandably refused. What are Josh, Reuven and Rebecca's options? Can they ask David to take the call, since he normally violates shabbos melachos anyway, though he attends Friday night services? Should an Orthodox student take the call (perhaps they will at least know what not to do)? Or should they all skip the call, potentially provoking the wrath of the surgical chief?*Note: This is a true story and should never happen to anyone. Only the names havebeen changed to protect the innocent (or guilty).

Case 2B: Would the answer to above case be any different had the participants beenresidents and not medical students?

*** Please email me or post a comment if you'd like more information, or directions. ***

A personal note: I am on the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, but have nothing to do with clinical assignments. (I have a PhD, not an MD.) The issues in Case 1 do affect me, though; occasionally a conference comes up that includes a weekend and I often have work-related reading that "should" be done over Shabat. I'll share in a future post how I have dealt with these problems. My wife IS a practicing physician and issues similar to Cases 2 and 2B come up on a regular basis. If she gives me permission I'll share what she does at a later time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A lesson from the Megillah

There are many lessons we learn from the Megillah.

One is from the treatment of Queen Vashti. The commentators consider her to have been a bit uppity in general and her refusal to appear before Achashverosh was not atypical behavior. Therefore the embarassed Persian monarch, at the instigation of Haman, enacted an irrevocable decree that women must be subservient to their husbands. Non-Jews follow this rule to this day, as any perusal of evangelical Christian internet sites proves. Because there is a Torah prohibition of following in the ways of the goyim (derived from Vayikra 18), it is therefore an ussur for a Jewish women to be subservient to her husband. Some authorities argue that the prohibition is rabbinic because the prohibition only specifically mentions Egypt and Canaan as nations we should not follow and the decree is from a Persian monarch; however, others point out that Achashverosh was also the ruler of Egypt and Canaan and therefore the prohibition has the status of a biblical prohibition.

Why Bush is unpopular

This article gives a hint as to why Bush is at record (for him) low approval ratings despite an economy that is doing surprisingly well:

Independent pharmacists ought to be the perfect Republican voters. They are well educated small businessmen who earn good incomes. But when they complained about the well documented problems with Bush's Medicare drug plan, he dissed them with this remark:

"It's not immoral to make sure that prescription drug pharmacists don't overcharge the system."

Yup, he was accusing his own supporters of overcharging the government, when in fact they had gone out of their way to try to make a terribly designed and terribly implemented program work. Never mind the fact that pharmaceutical manufacturers can charge the government whatever they want.

Democrats had said that the best way to add a prescription drug beneft to Medicare was to, er, uh, do just that. But the Republicans used this to create a windfall for pharmaceutical manufacturers and insurers. Is there any question as to who is running things in Washington?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The problem with homosexuality (R-rated)

'Facts cannot be wished away by theories, no matter how cherished.' - Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, in the essay I just referenced in the preceding post:

There has been a flurry of blog activity recently regarding homosexuality, triggered in part by the success of Ang Lee's film "Brokeback Mountain" and also by the fact that the Conservative movement is discussing the issue this week. I'd like to take a moment to discuss this issue not from a public policy perspective nor even from a halachic perspective, but to point out from an Orthodox perspective some hashgafic problems that I think have been ignored.

Regarding Rabbi Dr. Lamm's quote above, the hashgafic problem stems from the fact that there are some people who just seem to have been created by HaShem to be sexually attracted only to people of the same sex. Of course, there are many who disagree with that statement, which I'll get to in a moment, but I want to speak first to those of us who consider ourselves open-minded, liberal, and accepting of empiricism.

It is clear that there is a prohibition in the Torah against men having sex with men. Oh, you can come up with some pilpul that might limit it a bit, maybe to anal-genital intercourse, but the fact is, it is there. It has been there for over 3,000 years. There is nothing I can see in the tradition that would limit it much if at all. And it is equally clear from our tradition that Jewish men are supposed to get married and try to have families. It is, according to our tradition, a mitzvah from the Torah. And according to our tradition there is a similar prohibition from the Rabbis against women having sex with women.

This should be a huge hashgafic problem for those who see Judaism as a Way that all should be able to follow. It is a problem for those of us who notice that the biggest Gay bashers tend also to be the biggest anti-Semites. It is a problem for those of us who notice that Hitler was just as adamant to exterminate homosexuals as to exterminate Jews. It is a problem for those of us who see Torah as having no conflict with modern society and modern liberal sensibilities -- and can cite compelling sources in favor of our position. This just doesn't fit.

And maybe that is the point. I am one of those folks whose politics shifted quite a bit to the left as I became observant and discovered the Torah's ethical teachings. I strongly believe that it is the Jews who support laissez-faire capitalism who ought to be troubled by the Torah -- it just isn't a Torah value. But this is the one for us liberals. It isn't easy. It is a challenge. And it has no easy resolution.

This is not a justification for bigotry, discrimination, or even exclusion of anyone from the Jewish community. Yeshiva University doesn't even discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation: But those few of us Orthodox liberals left do understand that this is not easy for us. Torah is indeed supposed to be a challenge and this is the big one for me -- not Shabat, not kashrut, not taharat hamispacha, not believing in God and in miracles.

Now, to the folks who deny the problem: It isn't going away. Homosexuality is as real as evolution, and it isn't going away. Those of us who assume that it is all a matter of choice are in denial about both the facts and this problem. And that there are so many who choose to stay in denial represents to me a discouraging sign for a religion. Denial makes this problem easy. It is *their* fault.

That's not Torah. It isn't supposed to be easy. If we don't get our ideas challenged, what is the point? Making it look like things are always clearcut and that it is easy to always be on the right side of things actually misrepresents Torah. If it were truly so easy there would be no point, no stimulus for growth.

Any feedback is appreciated.

Pluralism vs. relativism

Dovbear is currently hosting a thread on pluralism.

Pluralism is actually a Torah principle; relativism is not. It is easy here in galut to get confused. Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm has a great essay that discusses this:

Some excerpts:

'Relativism is the proposition that because there are many kinds of "things" or points of view, and each has an equal right to be heard and advocated in a democratic society, they are therefore necessarily equally valid. If pluralism is just the newest name for that kind of discredited ethical or religious relativism, it is not deserving of our attention....A pluralism that accepts everything as co-legitimate is not pluralism, but the kind of relativism that leads to spiritual nihilism. If everything is kosher, nothing is kosher. If "Torah" has an infinite number of faces, then it is faceless and without value or significance....Orthodox Jews are fully aware of the Talmud's comment on the disputes between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, that "both these and these are the words of the living God." Unfortunately, this profound statement has been abused and turned into a slogan by ignoring the fact that the controversialists were at one in their commitment to the halachah and its divine origin, and disagreed only on its interpretation with regard to very specific matters. The dictum implies a pluralism within the halakhic context-only. It simply cannot be stretched to cover all "interpretations of Judaism" as co-legitimate.'

While in the remainder of this essay he mainly talks about relations between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities (raising up many issues that sadly, are still unresolved), I find the most profound aspect of the essay to be the premise: Pluralism is totally legitimate, within limits. In the case at hand, the non-Orthodox movements have gone beyond those limits.

In order to avoid the "anything is valid" relativist philosophy, however, some of the Orthodox world draws the line too narrowly. We saw that with Rabbi Slifkin. I hear criticism of LW MO that is in the same spirit. Yet all the disputants here are all committed to Torah, observant Jews. That is enough to get you a place in the discussion, and not be expelled from the beit midrash! I worry that in our zeal to oppose relativism, we end up opposing pluralism. There is a middle path and we must find it an follow it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Anti-homosexuality is not the most important value in the Torah?

Who says so? The Jewish Press!

I was preparing another post on this issue (which may not appear until tomorrow), in response to all the activity on the subject on other bolgs. While taking a break I happened to surf to the Jewish Press web site. Their "What's Clicking?" section had a link to their condemnation of Gay marriage:

But I recalled last summer and fall what the Jewish Press had told us:

They endorsed Mayor Bloomberg in both the Republican primary and the general election despite his endorsement of gay marriage:

which appears to have been a position change from before:

There were plenty of other reasons to support Mayor Bloomberg, of course. He has been a pretty good mayor although I thought his support of the Manhattan football stadium was a terrible misjudgement of priorities (thank you, Sheldon Silver, for killing it). This just shows that you don't get radioactivity or cooties from this issue of gay marriage.

Wal Mart using bloggers?

The New York Times reports that some bloggers have ghostwriters:

Now, I think Wal-Mart has the right to use whatever means it wishes to put out its message, as long at it is legal. And having others contribute material to blogs is pretty common; I've contributed to DovBear and SerandEz, and I’m working on a contribution to another blog whose owner has invited me to guest post.

But is Wal-Mart so embarrassed at its public policy positions that it needs to be anonymous? This isn’t an anonymous individual blogger but the largest retailer in the world!

I will let my (few, at least so far) readers know if anyone else contributes material here. I somehow suspect I won't be hearing from Wal-Mart.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Interesting New York Times article about Vermon, one of the most beautiful states in America and one of the most contrarian:

The article discusses the somewhat bizzarre combination of factors that are causing major problems for the state. It is a very popular retirement desitination and "flatlanders" (non-Vermonters) have been bidding up the price of real estate making it unaffordable for Vermonters. It is difficult to expand businesses because of a lack of labor and little land. (Vermont literally means "Green Mountain" and it is indeed almost totally mountainous.") It is the one state in America with no large cities at all. And it is losing people.

Continuing the thread about immigration, there is a surprising quote from the state's governor, a Republican. He isn't too worried about illegal immigration:

'The worker shortage recently forced Mr. Douglas to say he would not drive out illegal immigrants working on Vermont's dairy farms.

"I respect the laws of the United States, of course," Mr. Douglas said. "But the cows have to be milked."'

Not mentioned in the article is the rather un-diverse population. The 2000 census reported that the population was 96% non-Hispanic white, larger than any other state. There is not a single kosher restaurant in the entire state; the only Orthodox synagogue is a Chabad house in Burlington. Writing from a county that is 15% non-Hispanic white, with over a dozen places to get kosher food and over a dozen Orthodox synagogues, Vermont seems like another world to me.

Yet I have to say that I love Vermont. I visit there often. It is beautiful. It is a great place to hike in the summer and ski in the winter. The people are friendly.

And it has a contrarian streak I admire. You can carry a concealed handgun without a permit. (Don't try that anywhere else in the U.S.!) The state has no death penalty. Vermont sends students to private, independent (but not religious) schools at public expense. Most roads in the state are "paved" with dirt yet they are smoother than most city streets in New York. Nowwithstanding the general lack of yiddishkeit, there is a shomer shabat maple sugar farm run by Jews. (I'm not making this up!) Their congressman is a Jewish socialist. In most of the state it is not illegal to be nude in public, something confirmed by none other than the state's senior U.S. Senator, Patrick Leahy, when he was still a local prosecutor, in a rather hilarious legal opinion that is available online: (Skinnydipping in Vermont in May? I've confirmed that this memo is not a hoax. A few years after this memo, Leahy became the only Democrat Vermont has ever elected to the U.S. Senate.)

And Rabbi Eidlitz says that Vermont Maple Syrup is kosher without a hechsher:

Say, there are a bunch of towns in Vermont that had zero population in the 2000 census. (I'm not making this up!) Can we get a bunch of Jews to start a new community? We wouldn't have to fight with non-Jews over an eruv -- because there aren't any!

More stupid immigration policy

Denying access to health care to immigrants is a really stupid idea – for those of us who aren’t immigrants! But too many people won’t admit that until the next major epidemic:

Full disclosure: My wife is a physician and works in the south Bronx. A lot of her patients are immigrants, some undocumented.

Jewish racists

The title of the article was the very inauspicious


Most folks who read the online edition would miss it.

But the subtitle said a bit more about the topic:

"White Nationalist Conference Ponders Whether Jews and Nazis Can Get Along"

Here is the link to the article:

In case anyone is really wondering the answer to the question, here is a quote from a speaker at the conference:

"The best thing is to not speak about the Jews. They don't exist. "

Right. Had the Nazis had their way, we wouldn't.

Is anyone else shocked that Jews would try to be a part of a racist organization? Have we forgotten all our oppressors? Have we forgotten all our Torah?

There is no concept of "race" in Judaism. There is a concept of "nation", but not race. There are Jews of all races -- whatever the term "race" means (it is actually rather difficult to define in a useful way). And as Rabbi Avi Weiss says, "Am Yisrael is color blind." HaShem judges people for their deeds not their ancestry.

So the most shocking thing about the article is this paragraph:

"Four of the 10 speakers were Jewish at the first conference in 1994 in Atlanta, including New York writer Lawrence Auster and City College philosophy professor Michael Levin. The after-dinner speaker that year was Rabbi Mayer Schiller, a teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys who believes in racial separatism. Schiller brought a cadre of yeshiva students with him. Kosher dinners were provided."

Does Rabbi Schiller still have any connection to this group? Does he really believe this trash?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dubai hypocrisy

Much has been made of the fact that Dubai Ports World, which stands to gain control of the operations of several major port facilities in the United States, appears to honor the Arab boycott of Israel, as initially reported by Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post and broken on the Jewish blogsphere by Orthomom.

If anyone doubts whether Dubai is one of the good guys or not, consider the following quote from the official government tourism site:

“Nationals of “Israel” may not enter the U.A.E.”

The U.A.E. is the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part.

Presumably they object to the lack of civil rights for the Palestinians? It is true that between 2.4 and 3.7 million Palestinian Arabs who live in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza have no rights within Israel, which used to occupy the area and still has a security presence there. This would represent roughly one quarter to one third of the population of what was prior to 1948 the British Mandate of Palestine. Israel can not continue to rule this area and its people indefinitely without offering them civil rights as Israeli nationals, but that is for another post.

What I want to do here is to point out that Dubai has no right to complain about Israel. The CIA World Fact Book’s entry on the United Arab Emirates contains the following amazing statistics:

“Population 2,563,212 note: includes an estimated 1,606,079 non-nationals”

That’s right, 60% of the residents don’t have any citizenship rights! Other Persian Gulf states are almost as bad. I’ve seen nothing to contradict this. Perhaps the U.A.E. ought to look at itself before criticizing Israel.

Fat chance.

The Cardinal, immigration, and Jews

Cardinal Roger Mahony spoke out rather loudly on this day, Rosh Chodesh Adar, which is also Ash Wednesday for Christians. He expressed strong opposition to a bill which passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit churches from helping immigrants unless they prove they are in the U.S. legally:

"The whole concept of punishing people who serve immigrants is un-American….If you take this to its logical, ludicrous extreme, every single person who comes up to receive Holy Communion, you have to ask them to show papers. It becomes absurd and the church is not about to get into that. The church is here to serve people…. We're not about to become immigration agents. It just throws more gasoline on the discussion and inflames people."

The Cardinal basically announced that the Church will ignore the law if it is enacted. I don’t recall any Catholic official ever taking such a strong stand on a U.S. political issue.

What is a bit surprising to me is that I have heard almost nothing from the Jewish community on this issue. We, the people who have had to find refuge over and over again throughout our history, we, who have been denied refuge too many times. No people in America who should be more in favor of easy immigration. Had the 1840 immigration laws been effect in 1940, we would not have lost six million Jews – but in 1924 the nativists convinced the Congress to reduce immigration from Eastern Europe, where most Jews lived, to miniscule levels.

Now, sentiment isn’t quite back to 1924. Most Americans know that this is a country that was built entirely by immigrants (even American Indians immigrated here 10,000 years ago), and appreciate the contribution that immigrants make. But there is a lot of nonsense being spouted by the anti-immigration side. Contrary to the anti-immigration proponents’ propaganda, there just isn’t much evidence that even illegal immigrants are taking jobs from Americans by bidding down the price of labor. And there is no evidence that any Mexican terrorists have entered the United States since Pancho Villa, 90 years ago.

What I think this is really about is the fear among too many that the United States might stop being a white, English-speaking country. If you walk through the parts of the Bronx where my wife practices medicine, you might think that that is a realistic possibility. But it isn’t. The 2000 Census reported that 82% of Americans aged five years and over spoke English only (itself a national problem, but that is another post) and another 14% spoke English “very well” or “well”. And 69% of the population is still non-Hispanic white. Visit rural Pennsylvania or Vermont some time and you would think that the fraction is more like 99%.

But why should we care? We of all people are proud to keep our own culture and language wherever we reside while in galut! There are still a few frum communities in which Yiddish is the first language. It is only fair that we support others who wish to keep their own ways – including immigrants from wherever. And some day we may need another place to go if Mashiach doesn’t get here soon.

This is not an endorsement of large scale illegal immigration. The U.S. can and should keep out people who are going to be a problem – both criminals and terrorists. But we should remember that much immigration to Palestine from 1939 to 1948 was illegal! The only real beneficiaries of the current system are the smugglers who take advantage of people who want to enter the United States, and the few crooked businesses who hire illegal immigrants in order to avoid paying a fair market wage and benefits. A real solution to the problem would include increased legal immigration, more lenient political asylum rules, better controls at the border with Mexico – and possibly a bit more compassion.

India's unusual leadership

President Bush is visiting India, one of the most multicultural nations on the planet. With a total population of over a billion people, India’s states are the size of Europe’s countries – and just as diverse. The Constitution of India recognizes 22 languages, a half dozen of which have more than 50 million speakers and thus count among the world’s major languages – and that doesn’t include English! The religious breakdown as of their 2001 census was Hindu 80.46%, Muslim 13.43%, Christian 2.34%, Sikh 1.87%, Buddhists 0.77%, Jains 0.41 %, Others or not stated 0.72%. Among the others are about 65,000 Parsees and 4,000 Jews. (I am aware of no instance of official persecution of Jews by any Indian government). The Muslim population makes it one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.

The 80% of India’s population that is Hindu is a similar to the fraction of Christians in the United States. Yet the President of India is a Muslim, the Prime Minister is a Sikh, and the leader of the governing party was born and raised Roman Catholic. Could such happen in the United States? Joe Lieberman got the most votes for Vice President in 2000. I think it could – some day.