Jewish Current Issues

Search this site powered by FreeFind

Friday, February 28, 2003

This Week's Portion: Exodus 35:1-38:20 (Vayachel)

The portion deals with the construction of the tabernacle. The Lord singled out by name Bezalel and endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every craft and inspired him to make designs and to give directions. The tabernacle was built with a call for gifts from "everyone whose heart so moves him" and produced so many gifts that it was "more than enough for all the tasks to be done."

Pearl Abraham has a moving and lovely d'var Torah in the Forward, "Sanctifying the World Trade Center Site," based on the selection of Daniel Libeskind as the architect to design the World Trade Center memorial.

Joseph Telushkin, on CLAL's website, notes that "When it comes to giving gifts to God--in this case for the building of a tabernacle--God wants people to donate voluntarily. God does not, after all, need gifts. When it comes to donations for the poor, however, the Torah legislates . . . . God is self-sufficient; the poor are not." So one-tenth of one's income must go to charity.

Lawrence Layfer, writing in the Chicago Jewish News, compares modern fund-raising with the instructions in the Torah.

David Wolpe's weekly d'var Torah, "Finding God in Pain," is in The Jewish Week of New York. He writes on why the Talmud insists we bless God for the bad was well as for the good.


Thursday, February 27, 2003

The Road Through Bagdad

President Bush, in a speech last night on the future of Iraq, devoted four paragraphs to the post-war Middle East peace process, including the following relating to the "road map:"

"The United States and other nations are working on a road map for peace. We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It is the commitment of our government -- and my personal commitment -- to implement the road map and to reach that goal."

David Frum, writing in National Review, says the speech "ranks among the most important state papers of the past three decades." But he says the failure to mention Saudi Arabia or Iran "almost left behind the idea that the next order of business after Iraq is not the extension of democratic transformation in the Arab world, but yet another dreary round of negotiations on the West Bank" -- as if democracy "is something disagreeable the United States is inflicting on the Middle East -- for which the Arabs must be compensated with another round of concessions to the Palestinians."

Aluf Benn, writing in Haaretz, suggests that the concessions are actually to Britain and Spain for their support of the war in Iraq. He reports that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar visited the Bush ranch in Texas on the weekend and "spent hours trying to convince the president to advance the 'road map.'" Tony Blair's special envoy, Lord Michael Levy, traveled to Washington last week and met with Elliot Abrams (who holds the Middle East portfolio in the National Security Council). Levy asked the United States "to respond favorably to the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister, even if he seems to be an Arafat man."

The Letters to the Editor on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page (not available on the web) leads with four powerful letters on the "road map," all of them against it. The first, from Stuart L. Meyer, of the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, castigates "the repeated suggestion that Israel give up something tangible in return for something vacuous. The suggestion that the Palestinians' 'right of return' be exchanged for something tangible is disingenuous. More appropriate would be to trade the 'rights of return' of the displaced Palestinians and the displaced Jews expelled from Arab countries. Most noteworthy of all is the . . . continual offer of exchanging 'efforts' . . . by the Palestinians for tangible actions by the Israelis. What good is a '100% effort' that produces a 5% result?"

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Road Map to Where?

The indispensable Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translates a February 5, 2003 telegram from Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat to Saddam Hussein, as reported in an Iraqi newspaper:

"Any kind of support and assistance from you in these difficult times will enable us to continue our persistence and resistance until we put an end to the occupation, in all its manifestations, of our holy Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and the Islamic and Christian holy shrines, and exercise our legal and lasting rights, based on international legal resolutions, and most importantly our rights for self determination, for repatriation, and for establishing our independent state with its capital Al-Quds Al-Sharif [Jerusalem]."

In all its manifestations. Most importantly repatriation. And keep those $25,000 checks coming.

Dan Meridor (Likud minister preparing a peace plan for the new government), as quoted in today's Jerusalem Post:

"People focus only on the road map whether it needs 100 corrections or just one or two. But this is not the main issue. The main issue is that there is no address, no leader, no partner, no interlocutor on the other side. . . . Everyone is talking about the road map and the Bush vision. I think that concurrently we have to deal with the address."

Arafat ends his telegram to Saddam with "may Allah the Powerful protect Iraq from the great dangers and evils that loom over it . . . and together, hand in hand [we will march] to Al-Quds Al-Sharif with the help of Allah."

He may be working off a different road map.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

JCPA Resolutions for 2003

The JCPA has adopted its resolutions for 2003. They include resolutions on Israel, Evangelical Jewish Relations, Social Justice in Israel, Boycotts, Combatting Terrorism and Protecting Civil Liberties, Health Care Coverage (including Prescription Drug Coverage for Medicare Beneficiaries), the Environment's Impact on Public Health, and Care for Needy Holocaust Survivors. The resolutions can be found here.

The resolution relating to Israel omits any reference to the settlements.

Instead, the resolution notes President Bush's vision in his June 24, 2002 speech of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side and states that:

"Such a vision, however, will only be realized when a Palestinian leadership emerges that accepts the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, takes effective action to end all violence and incitement against Israelis and Jews, recognizes the historical and religious attachment of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, and foregoes the claim that all Palestinian refugees have a 'right' to return to their villages and towns inside Israel."

President Bush's June 2002 announcement stated that "when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East."

Monday, February 24, 2003

The JCPA Debates Israeli Settlements

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community and serves as the national coordinating body for 13 national and 123 local Jewish Community Relations councils, ranging from Orthodox to Reform.

Today, at its annual Plenum, the JCPA will debate a resolution submitted by the Reform movement's Union of Hebrew Congregations to support a freeze on "all settlement construction" in the territories. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism intends to oppose the resolution, as does the Orthodox Union. The Ant-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee are also expected to oppose the settlements provision.

Part of the debate is on the Israeli settlement policy itself, and part is on whether it is appropriate for the American Jewish Community to debate it while Israel is in the midst of a war.

The issue is the subject of dueling essays today on the pages of the Jerusalem Post, by Rabbi David Saperstein (Vice-Chair of the JCPA) (for the resolution) and Rabbi Avraham Feder (of the Masorti/Conservative movement in Israel) (against the resolution).

Sunday, February 23, 2003

America and Religion

Clifford Longley, writing in The Telegraph (UK) on "Americans are the Chosen People:"

"As one demonstrator said to the cameras in Hyde Park last weekend, 'The only thing that makes sense of what America is doing with Iraq is oil.' Maybe . . . but what about religion? That makes even more sense of what America is doing. . . ."

Interesting article.

Also an interesting discussion of it at One person's comment: "Can you imagine what the world would be like if America never happened?"

Worth re-reading in connection with this: Andrew Sullivan's remarkable October 7, 2001 New York Times Magazine article, "This is a Religious War."

America and Israel

Hillel Halkin, writing in the Jerusalem Post on "The Immorality of Losing," recalls his anti-war marching in America in the Sixties and his experience in Israel now -- a "small and vulnerable country faced with numerically superior enemies" that depends on American aid to defend itself and -- like South Vietnam then -- is both grateful to America and fearful of being abandoned by it. Worth reading.

Walter Russell Mead, writing in the Sunday Los Angeles Times Opinion section, argues that once the war against Iraq is over, Bush will need to send "candy and flowers" to Old Europe. But it can't be a concession on the Kyoto Protocol ("no U.S. president can get an environmental agreement through Congress that imposes costs on U.S. manufacturers but exempts their competition"). And it can't be a concession on the International Court (because "it's unlikely that the Europeans would be willing to compromise" even to the extent of allowing vetos by permanent members of the Security Council). Mead suggests that "one way that the old Europe and the U.S. can patch up their differences" is for the U.S. to "reach out" with a "new peace initiative" in the Middle East -- a "key European demand."

Hmmm . . . a new plan. As candy and flowers to France. But "Does Israel Need a Plan?"

David N. Myers, Professor and Vice Chair, UCLA History Department, writes to the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles (fifth letter down) that he has been "on the front lines encouraging efforts to better inform students" about Israel -- it's what he has "been trying to do for the entirety of [his] career." He criticizes StandWithUs for a brochure saying Jews are defenseless in the face of hostile neighbors. According to Prof. Myers, to "depict Israel as anything less than a powerhouse is to do violence both to the historical record and present-day realities."

Not sure Hillel Halkin would be reassured.

Friday, February 21, 2003

This Week's Portion: Exodus 30:11-34:35 (Ki Tissa)

Raymond P. Scheindlin, professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at JTS, writing in The Forward on "The Golden Calf as a Symbol of Desire for a Knowable God":

"Aaron's calf was a god the people could identify with, a god that reminded them of themselves, a vulnerable, comfortable, available god, rather than Moses' difficult, remote, normally invisible God. . . . They knew it wasn't God, but they worshipped it all the same, for it was helpless like them, and cute, a god on their own scale and to their own measure . . . a god whose vulnerability enhanced their self-esteem."

Mimi Weisel, Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the UJ, writing in The Jewish Journal on "The Finger of God," has a nice conclusion:

"Sometimes we just need to have the faith we will see it."

She says we do see it, in the everyday miracles that are all around us.

David Wolpe's weekly d'var Torah is on "The Little Things." He says Talmudic debates over a bird found within 50 cubits of a nest (belongs to the owner) or more than 50 cubits (belongs to the finder) seem like arguments over small things, but "anyone who has watched a football game and seen the referee bring out the chain . . . realizes that whether the ball is inside or outside the chain might seem foolish" but "a great deal hangs on it if you know the game." Our lives depend on boundaries, speed limits and other small distinctions necessary for a civil and spiritual society.

Reminds me of the great parable in Leon Lederman's The God Particle about visitors from outer space attending a soccer game. They can see colors, but not black and white, so they see only a bunch of people in brightly colored uniforms running up and down the field, kicking the air -- with wild cheers every so often after one of the goalies jumps awkwardly and falls down. It seems foolish.

Then one of the aliens notices that, a split second after this happens, there is always a small indentation in the net behind the goalie. He looks at his friends and says: "Assume a ball . . . ." (For the entire story, find "The God Particle" on, click on "Look Inside" and click on "Read Excerpt").

Maybe sometimes we just have to assume a God. We can't quite see every thing going on in the game. But it seems like the only way to explain the everyday miracles, and the ultimately unsatisfactory experience of worshipping golden calves.


Thursday, February 20, 2003

Professor Jihad and Co. are Indicted

The Department of Justice announces the indictment of Sami Al-Arian, erstwhile professor at the University of South Florida, on charges of being the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and being responsible with others for the deaths of more than 100. The indictment is 121 pages. John Loftus feels vindicated.

A New Book by Martin Gilbert

Martin Gilbert has published "The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust."

Six Million died. Thousands -- each a world -- were saved by the individual actions described in this book. "Each of the nineteen thousand and more known stories--like each of the several hundred stories in these pages--must lead each of us to ask: 'Could I have acted like this, in the circumstances; would I have tried to, would I have wanted to?'"

Three Jews, Three Worries

Gary Rosenblatt, writing in The Jewish Week ("A Litany of Worries"), interviews three prominent Jews on their most important concerns. Erica Katske thinks we worry too much about Israel. Yossi Klein Halevi thinks we don't worry enough. Stephen Hoffman worries about the younger generation.

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, on the anniversary of the discovery of his son's brutal killing -- murdered for being an American and a Jew -- writes on the Wall Street Journal editorial page ("The Tide of Madness"). He will be at memorial services this evening at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and on Sunday evening at B'nai Jeshurun in New York. More information is at the Daniel Pearl Foundation web site.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The Little Torah That Did.

Debbi Wilgoren's article in today's Washington Post -- "The Torah That Went from the Depths to the Heavens."

From Bergen-Belsen, to Israel, to the Space Shuttle, and finally, to "touch the face of God."

Sophisticated Supporters of Peace.

Amos Oz in today's The New York Times on "The Protesters: Right for the Wrong Reasons"

The war campaign relating to Iraq emanates from a "simplistic rectitude that aspires to uproot evil by force." A big stick is best used to "deter or repulse aggression, not to 'impose good.'" (Oz supports unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, including evacuation of settlements -- it may result in a war, but Israel will be able to fight it as a "just war, a no-alternative war" and thus achieve a "moral victory").

Too many of those, and we may be undone.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Daniel Pipe's "Does Israel Need a Plan?" in this month's Commentary:

Or a road map? Or an initiative? Or a process? Why these all lead to nowhere.

Martin Peretz's devastating critique of why the French are entranced by the Palestinian cause.

"C'est ├ža. . . Nothing else can explain it, and nothing does."

David Wolpe's weekly d'var Torah, "Human Touch on Learning:"

". . . an idea, to live, must be wrapped up in a person."

Amy Klein writes about the forgotten issue in "A Single Problem."