Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cynicism vs. scepticism

Rabbi Yitzcok Adlerstein offers an execellent essay in last week's Jewish Press regarding the difference betwen cynicism and scepticism:

As we approach the holiday of Shavuot, it is worth asking the question, "Why bother?" What difference does it make that one follows Torah? And I think Rabbi Adlerstein addresses it:

Life is hard. Life is difficult. Life is unfair. It is easy to become cynical and say that there is no purpose to anything in life. Logically, it is easy to postulate that we are nothing more than molecules acting with complete randomness, that there is no reason for anything. Logical sequelae of this are hedonism or despair. Neither are desirable characteristics for any human.

But there is another extreme: Total surrender of ones intellect and ethics. It is tempting, in the healthy renunciation of that cynicism, to go to far and give up ones intellect, ones independent sense of history and ethics. To do so is to be a member of a cult. This is also undesirable for any human.

Judaism is neither of these. Torah provides a way to be sceptical but not cynical. Rambam, in Hilchot Deot, tells us that we need to follow a middle path. That message is as compelling today as when he wrote it over 800 years ago. Rabbi Adlerstein has identified one very important area for us to apply this principle, and we should meditate on it over Shavuot.

Chag sameach!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Why I celebrate Jerusalem Day.

I prayed davened at a school this morning where Jerusalem Day was celebrated. Hallel was sung, preceded by a blessing.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding whether a Jew should recite Hallel on Jerusalem Day, or Israel Independence Day. At one point I had become convinced that both the opponents of the practice and the supporters had very good arguments. What is a good frum Jew to do in such a situation? So I asked my rav.

He indicated that I was correct, that there were good arguments on both sides -- and that I could follow whichever position I wished to.

So why did I choose to say Hallel? It is a reminder that God is in charge. The annals of warfare are indeed full of hopelessly outnumbered armies that nevertheless prevailed. We could easily ascribe the Israeli victory in the six day war to human action alone. But as a Jew I insist that it was not ONLY the brilliant leadership and courageous fighting of the IDF that resulted in Jerusalem being liberated from the Jordanian government that had banned Jews for 19 years. It was a miracle. Yes, a miracle that occurred through natural means, just like the miracle of Purim. A miracle that occurred through Jews who were mostly not religious, just like Purim (Esther married a non-Jew!). This day is a reminder that we are all one people and a reminder that as a modern Jew I need to be conscious of God's presence in all aspects of life.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Just Another Jewish Conspiracy

I am part of a new group blog and just made my first contribution:

The other participants are folks I respect despite frequent disagreements. I hope we can elevate the level of political discourse on the internet. I will probably make all my political posts there and keep this blog for philosophical musings.

Depressing week

I don't need to say to anyone who reads Jewish blogs that last week was a painful time for anyone to be an Orthodox Jew. I don't have anything to add to what others have said, other than that I hope our community leaders will be less in denial about the real problems we face.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

All talk and no action on immigration

A Washington Post article points out the reality of immigration enforcement:

An example:

'Beefed-up enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border since Sept. 11, 2001, has substantially increased the number of arrests of illegal immigrants, but tens of thousands of captured non-Mexicans continue to be released into the United States because there is no place to hold them, according to experts and immigration officials....The success of border crossers who stay in the United States through this "catch-and-release" process has encouraged others who hope to enter the country the same way.'

'arrests of non-Mexican border crossers have tripled, from 49,545 in 2003 to 155,000 in 2005. But presidents and Congress for 20 years have not shown corresponding support for detention beds, courts, inland enforcement or diplomatic and administrative changes'

By comparison, the entire population of the Federal Prison system in the US is only a bit over 180,000:

Those non-Mexicans who cross the border can't be sent back to Mexico -- they aren't Mexicans! Indeed many illegals truly have nowhere to go -- their own country won't accept them back. Sort of like European Jews in 1941.

If you really want a crackdown in illegal immigration, you really want a massive increase in either taxes or government borrowing in order to fund the prisons needed -- not to mention judges and prosecutors. In any case, it is clear that if there is a problem with illegal immigration, it is not one that enforcement will solve.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thank you, Klement Gottwald

One of the less-known facts about the Israeli war of independence was that only one country was willing to give arms to the struggling Jewish state -- Czechoslovakia. We remember President Truman's almost immediate recognition of Israel's independence, but we forget the arms embargo that he slapped on it -- not until after the Six Day War did Israel become an American ally. It was Czechoslovakia that provided the essential armaments so that the new Jewish state could survive against the combined armies of six Arab countries (some of them newly independent themselves):

The time of the first agreement in January 1948 was before the communist takeover in February, but the communist leader Klement Gottwald was the Prime Minister as a result of the communists having taken the largest share of the vote in the 1946 elections. Even the non-communist President, Eduard Benes, was sympathetic to the Soviet Union rather than the western democracies, possibly as a result of having been betrayed at Munich in 1938. Gottwald is that rarity -- a true rasha who nevertheless did good things for Jews:

I have met many who fled the communists of Czechoslovakia. Particularly during Gottwald's five years of uncontested power, the repression was horrific -- and remember that Czechoslovakia was the one country in Eastern Europe that had been democratic the entire period from the end of World War I until 1938, so the shock of totalitarianism must have been even more difficult for its citizens.

It is clear that Gottwald would never have sent aid to the struggling Zionists without Stalin's ok. Why Stalin, a rasha even worse than Gottwald and one almost unparalled in history, did so, is a good topic for historians. But nevertheless we can be thankful that this happened. Israel's survival might be one of the very few good things attributable to communism. (Maybe the only thing?)

Monday, May 08, 2006

History repeats

If anyone wonders if we have been through the same immigration arguments before, this article shows that that is indeed true:

Back in the 1910s, Jews were the undesirables. We were considered by the WASP establishment to be impossible to assimilate. We had radical ideas about socialism -- or weird religious ideas that kept us from working on Saturday or eating the same food as everyone else. Today, people worry about immigrants who can't be assimilated or who have questionable loyalties while Jews attend separate schools, marry only other Jews, sing Hatikvah rather than "The Star Spangled Banner", have Israeli rather than US flags in their shuls, and say prayers for the State of Israel rather than the United States. After the nativists slam the doors on Mexican immigrants, you can be sure that we will be next.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Social conservatives really aren't anti-abortion

If they were, they'd be advocating some of the successful policies that the Netherlands and other European countries have followed. This essay shows that preventing abortion is not their primary agenda:

What is REALLY scary is the willingness to distort science in order to achieve their ideological goal of taking us back to the 19th century -- a time with horrific levels of sexually transmitted diseases. As late as some years of the 1910s, syphillis was one of the ten leading causes of death in America. And it is scary also that some Jews support these efforts despite our muich more lenient attitude towards birth control, and a somewhat more lenient attitude towards abortion than that of the Catholic Church and some evangelical churches.

Jews support illegal immigration

During the British mandate, many Jews entered "Palestine" illegally. That illegal immigration is even celebrated in a museum.

Shockingly, many American Jews seem to side with the nativist anti-immigrant camp in the United States. That is perhaps the best example of American Jews forgetting that we are in galut. We are at the mercy of the (mostly) non-Jewish governments wherever we are in the diaspora. Even countries that were good for us for centuries can become hostile very quickly -- see Germany in 1096 for an example. It is in the interest of Jews everywhere to have open borders throughout the world.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Where we come from

Anyone who is interested in some of the American sources for us anti-totalitarian religious liberals might read the article by Peter Beinert in last Sunday's New York Times:

Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr, mentioned often in the article, was a tremendous supporter of Israel. He also was a scathing critic of injustice in 20th century America.

Of course, there are also the mandates from the Torah and Prophets....

Evangelical leader accepts Jews as Jews

In this week's (May 5-11) Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, David Horovitz interviews John Hagee, an evangelical Christian minister who has started a pro-Israel grassroots lobbying organization, "Christians United for Israel":

The article is a reprint of an interview that appeared in the Jerusalem Post this past March:

In the article, Pastor Hagee renounces "replacement theology", saying, "Replacement theology falsely teaches that the Church has replaced Israel." He states that anyone who holds to that position is not welcome in his organization, and will not target Jews for conversion. He also says that his support for Israel is unconditional, even when the government of Israel takes positions he opposes. (One could even argue that this support is therefore stronger than that of some Religious Zionists.)

This is a refreshing change from the position of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has plans to convert millions of Jews and thus destroy the Jewish people. While Jews should indeed stay out of intra-Christian theological disputes, it is refreshing to see an evangelical Protestant who accepts us the way we are and is willing to give us support in this important area with no evidence of strings. Would that there would be another Reinhold Niebuhr who did the same in liberal Protestant Churches over a half-century ago!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another right wing leader gets a pass

Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick correctly points out the inability of the current German government to see the evil in the current Iranian government:

Howerver, here is what Ms. Glick wrote last summer about the woman who now heads Germany's government:

"In Germany, opposition leader Angela Merkel will in all likelihood replace Schroeder as chancellor after the September elections....[She has] a firm grasp of the multifaceted challenges facing their countries and a healthy respect for democracy....and an understanding that the global jihad is the largest threat to international security today. "

Here is the entire original article:

Ms. Merkel is not even mentioned in the current article, even though she is responsible for the very policies that Ms. Glick criticises. This looks similar to the "pass" that conservatives give George W. Bush. For right wing Zionists, are all right wing leaders of all western governments exempt from criticism? Does Ms. Glick really think that Ms. Merkel has nothing to do with this? Or thinks that Iran is not part of the global jihad?

Note that the previous German government included Joschka Fischer as foreign minister, a committed leftist who was probably Israel's biggest supporter on the continent. In this case, the right wing is not doing better than the left had. Will we hear that from Ms. Glick or any other conservative commentator?