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Monday, March 31, 2003

Another Review of Martin Gilbert's New Book

Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Theology and Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute on Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the University of Judaism, reviews Martin Gilbert's The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust, which chronicles the stories of thousands of people who acted to save Jews at times of maximum peril.

His review is entitled "The Banality of Goodness" because the stories Gilbert chronicles are of ordinary people, acting not because they were righteous, but because they simply wanted to do the right thing:

" . . . to talk of 'righteousness' confers a sense of being extraordinary rather than expected. Few, aside from the devout, aspire to righteousness. Many aspire to be fundamentally moral human beings, and each of us wonders, as Gilbert so aptly asks: What would we do? Would we have the courage, the integrity and the decency to behave properly?"

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Hope for Iraq -- and the Rest of the Middle East

Ralph Peters, the respected retired military officer and author of "Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?" has an ultimately hopeful article ("Tragedy of the Arabs") in today's New York Post:

" . . . consider the overall state of the Arab world:

* It does not produce a single manufactured product of sufficient quality to sell on world markets.
* Arab productivity is the lowest in the world.
* It contains not a single world-class university.
* The once-great tradition of Arab science has degenerated into a few research programs in the fields of chemical and biological warfare.
* No Arab state is a true democracy.
* No Arab state genuinely respects human rights.
* No Arab state hosts a responsible media.
* No Arab society fully respects the rights of women or minorities.
* No Arab government has ever accepted public responsibility for its own shortcomings.

". . . Is there any hope? Yes: Iraq.

". . . With their oil reserves, a comparatively educated population and their traditionally sophisticated (compared to other Arabs) outlook, the Iraqis are the best hope the region has of building a healthy modern state.

"It isn't going to be easy, and it is going to take years, not months. But the Iraqis have the chance to begin the long-overdue transformation of Arab civilization. . . . The Arab world desperately needs a success story. Let us hope, for the sake of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings in the Middle East, that Iraq provides that example. . . . Baghdad was once the center of Arab culture, of science and the arts, and a beacon of human progress. It should be our sincere hope that Baghdad one day might play that role again."

Another Suicide Bombing

Islamic Jihad today claimed responsibility for a suicide-bombing near a Netanya restaurant, in which more than 50 people were injured.

It also announced that it had sent its first wave of suicide bombers to Baghdad, with more to follow.

Wonder What the Sermons Were About

The Associated Press reports that tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday to support Iraq. About 30,000 "poured into the streets after Friday noon prayers in more than a dozen mosques."

About 4,000 took to the streets in Nablus, buring effigies of George Bush, Tony Blair and Ariel Sharon. About 16,000 marched in the West Bank towns of Qalqiliyah, Tul Karm, Halhoul and Yabad.

The War in Iraq and the Road Map

Uzi Benziman reports in Haaretz that the "road map" for peace in the Middle East is likely to be delayed until the end of the war in Iraq -- because both Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen do not want to start on it earlier ("Bumps in the Road Map").

The people pushing the immediate implementation of the road map are the Quartet (the U.N., European Union, Russia and the U.S.). But of those four, three have actively or inactively opposed the U.S. in Iraq, and the fourth -- the U.S. -- is actually only the U.S. State Department.

One of the casualties of the war in Iraq may eventually be the Quartet.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Report from the Country that Gave Us the "Declaration of the Rights of Man"

A national study presented yesterday to the Prime Minister of France by an independent group reported that, in the last two years, there has been an increasing wave of violence against Jewish schools, synagogues and cemeteries in France.

Last year there were 193 attacks against Jews, in a "real explosion" of anti-Semitic violence. The prior year, the group reported that 32 acts of anti-Jewish violence occurred.

This Week's Portion: Leviticus 9:1-11:47 (Shemini)

The portion covers the death of Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, who offered "alien fire" before the Lord and died immediately, and Aaron's silence in the face of their unexplained death. The portion then sets forth the rules of Kashrut.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson has a d'var Torah entitled "You Are What You Eat." He writes that Kashrut is "motivated at its core by a recognition of the holiness of every living creature" and that, repeated three times a day, it creates a "heightened appreciation for all life, and increased responsiveness to God's presence . . . and a continuing affirmation of Jewish loyalty and values."

Rabbi Debra Orenstein writes in "Why Keep Kosher?" that Kashrut "make us aware of life's mystery" and "in some mysterious way . . . [makes] ourselves holy by making distinctions, and remembering who God is for us."

Rabbi David Wolpe writes about "Real Life" -- which is not the postponed life beyond childhood, or beyond school, or beyond the current job, but rather present "at every age, at every moment" as a "great, unrepeatable gift."

Rabbi Vernon Katz writes that "Sometimes a single hour is all it takes to make a difference, to change a life, to ameliorate a situation. Once that hour is passed it cannot be retrieved." ("On the 8th Day, We Can Start Life Anew").

Jeff Bogursky discusses the ways in which the story of Aaron's silence contrasts with the Greek myth of Laoccon, the Trojan priest who lost his sons to the god Poseidon ("Learning to Make and Accept Judgment").

Thursday, March 27, 2003

It Is, as Dominique de Villepin Says, an Old Country

Stuart L. Meyer, of the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, has a letter in today's Wall Street Journal responding to Mary Ann Caws' earlier letter extolling French contributions to Western Civilization:

"She is justly prideful of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, but that August 1789 document was clearly derivative of our earlier Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. It was also closely followed by the Reign of Terror . . . [and] the Directoire, Napoleon as Consul (1799-04), Napoleon as Emperor (1804-14), King Louis XVIII (1814-24), King Charles X (1823-30), King Louis-Philippe (1830-48), Louis Napoleon, President of the Second Republic (1848-52) until he declared himself Emperor Napoleon III (1852-70). This was followed by three more Republics and the Vichy regime of World War II. Perhaps there is a French taste for autocracy, Jacques Chirac being the latest in the line of De Gaulle and the Bonapartes.

"Nowhere was mentioned the issue at hand: the political demeanor of the French from the suppression of the Huguenots (St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre where 100,000 innocent Protestants were slaughtered within a week) and the betrayal of Joan of Arc to the English, after she had served a purpose, to French colonial policies in Indo-China and Algeria, disgraceful by any conception of civilization. Perhaps they are more proud of the Dreyfus Affair."

"The Truth is, He Never Gave it [Violence] Up"

Dennis Ross spoke at Georgetown University earlier this month on the 2000 Camp David process.

He discusses why Arafat said, "when he was offered 97% of the territory, that he was never even offered 90%, and he was only offered these little cantons, these Palestinian islands in the Israeli sea, which was in fact not the case?"

Anti-Semitism on the Left -- and Right

Melanie Phillips, a Daily Mail (U.K) columnist, reports in The Spectator on "The New Anti-Semitism" in Europe.

She says it is not only "pouring out in television programmes, newspapers and religious sermons throughout the Arab and Muslim world" but, even more ominously, has been adopted in Orwellian fashion by many on the Left in the name of "anti-racism and human rights" -- with Israel defamed as a Nazi and apartheid state.

David Frum, a prominent American conservative, writes in "Unpatriotic Conservatives" that it is "time to be frank" about the paleoconservative movement. He castigates it for, among other things, its anti-semitism -- which culminated in Patrick Buchanan's accusation earlier this month, in words tracking a famous Nazi slogan, that a "cabal" of "neoconservatives" have "colluded" with Israel to "ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests."

Frum's article struck a nerve. He heard from nearly 100 readers in the first 12 hours after his article was published, and more thereafter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The Jewish Community Debates Itself

Rabbi Daniel Gordis has published an eloquent open letter to one of the founders of "Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace." The letter has generated a continuing correspondence between the two that can be found at Gordis' website. Gordis' emails from Israel now reach thousands of readers (and can be signed-up for at

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz had a perceptive article last year ("Between Conscience and Solidarity") that covers some of the competing thoughts and emotions in this debate.

This is an important dialogue, but it is one that is occurring largely among members of the Jewish community -- not between Israel and the Palestinians, as Martin Peretz notes in an article ("Failed Experiments") in this week's New Republic.

MEMRI publishes the text of a March 21 sermon broadcast live on Palestinian Authority television about Iraq: "This is also a religious war....America will be destroyed, Allah willing, and Palestine, Iraq, and the Middle East will become a cemetery for oppressors..."

Palestinian society is now permeated with this, as it extols murder-suicide as a cultural ideal, educates its children with maps that omit Israel, cheers the deaths of Americans, and continues its war against Israel into a third year -- initiated in response to the offer of a state on more than 95% of the West Bank by the most peace-oriented government in Israel's history.

It is hard to see how the still unpublished road map is a solution to this, given the last time Israel went down this road. As Peretz notes, the endorsement of a road map other than the one outlined in President Bush's June 24 speech may in fact be counter-productive -- and thus delay the just peace that both Rabbi Gordis and his correspondent seek.

Three Very Important Articles

Paul Berman, contributing editor of The New Republic and a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, had an important article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine entitled "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror."

The article argues that the roots of Al Qaeda are not in poverty or in anti-Americanism, nor in the leadership of a few individuals, but rather in Sayyid Qutb's theology -- a theory of how Greek Civilization, Judaism and Christianity all went wrong, and an ideology that is moving multitudes. Berman makes a compelling case that Qutb's works are a major intellectual and spiritual challenge to liberal democracy -- and to American religious leaders.

The article is an excerpt from Berman's new book, Terror and Liberalism, which will be published next month.

Dinesh D'Souza wrote a very significant article last July on Qutb's challenge ("What's So Good About America: Responding Intellectually to the Attack on the U.S."). In a few pages, he outlined the moral and intellectual response to Qutb.

Andrew Sullivan wrote a major article shortly after September 11 on the same theme ("This Is a Religious War"), noting that the post-September 11 challenge was far greater than a military one.

All three of these articles are essential reading.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Two New Books on The Darker Side of France

Pierre Birnbaum, professor of politics and philosophy at the Sorbone, has published The Anti-Semitic Moment: A Tour of France in 1898.

The book describes a moment in the "war of the two Frances" that has regularly punctuated the history of that country -- a year in which there was a ferocious wave of near-riots and pogroms throughout France in the wake of the Dreyfus affair, but in which the police acted to protect Jews.

Julian Barnes has a long review of the book in the April 10 edition of The New York Review of Books. He describes the moment as a "distant lightning flash" whose "thunder came in 1940-1944."

Arnold Ages, professor at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) and a specialist in modern intellectual history, has a review of Frederic Cople Jaher's The Jews and the Nation: Emancipation, State Formation and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France (Princeton University Press).

He contrasts the experiences of Jews in the United States and France after the revolutions of 1776 and 1789 and reminds us that:

"In the vote in the Assembly in France on Jewish emancipation in 1793, 43 percent of the delegates voted against the bill. One could argue quite plausibly that the 43% minority has continued in France to militate against Jews ever since that vote. In the Dreyfus affair, the Vichy government, the Poujadist reaction, the LePen leadership and the current Chirac government the voice of that 43% can be heard in the dark echoes of anti-Semitism."

Sunday, March 23, 2003

"He Made You, Holds You in the Palm of His Hand, and Loves You as You Are"

Amiram Barkat has an article regarding the debate among Conservative Jews about the ordination of homosexuals as rabbis ("Once It Was Women, Now It's the Turn of Homosexuals").

It is a step that, having been adopted by the Reform movement and opposed by the Orthodox movement, is viewed as having implications for "the integrity of the [Conservative] movement, and even for its future existence."

The group supporting a change from the 1992 rule forbidding the ordination of homosexuals is led by rabbis of "high status and prestige in the movement," such as Elliot Dorff and Bradley Shavit Artson of the University of Judaism. But Dorff was not apppointed to lead the review since he is "seen as having a personal interest in the issue: his daughter is a declared lesbian."

Is this a criticism? Or an indication that Dorff has an understanding that others may lack?

Jon Soucy, a 1999 graduate of Georgetown College and Georgetown Academy's Man of the Year, writes a letter to the Georgetown Hoya that bears on that question.

His letter announces what he told only a couple of friends during his college years: He is gay.

"I don't think many people know what it's like to be gay and Catholic -- except those of us who are. Let me describe to you the feeling. It's having your Church say to you that it's disordered to be attracted to those of the same sex. . . . So, essentially, a gay Catholic is 'supposed to' live a life devoid of the love and intimacy for which each of us long. . . .

". . . The loneliness is hard to describe to straight people. It's the loneliness of seeing straight couples together, and knowing you'll never know the love of another human being because it's forbidden. It's the loneliness of seeing your best friends pair off with the girlfriends to leave you alone to contemplate your solitude. It's the loneliness of knowing that . . . you have no love in your life and never will.

". . . I'm gay, and, God willing, I will have love in my life someday. . . . [K]now the love of God for you. He made you, holds you in the palm of His hand and loves you as you are."

If it is simply a "personal interest" of those rabbis who know from their own family what Jon Soucy felt, it is one that Conservative Judaism should embrace.

Friday, March 21, 2003

This Week's Portion: Leviticus 6:1-8:36 (Tzav)

Daniel Bouskila ("Look to Leviticus") discusses why "the rabbis actually believed that the preferred starting point for Bible instruction is the Book of Leviticus."

Shlomo Riskin ("The Essence of Sacrifice") discusses the warning of our our sages against too great an involvement in the ritual of sacrifices.

Burton Visotzky ("Those Who Make a Way for Others") notes that the most important sacrifices come from those who are not priests or among the most learned: "Each and every Jew is part of the great mosaic . . . . God accepts all of our offerings."

David Wolpe ("The Age of Unreason") writes about unreason and the abuse of reason: "We must bring reason tempered by compassion, faith leavened by tolerance."

Annual Jewish Book Awards

The 2002 Koret Jewish Book Awards have been announced.

The Fiction winner is: Henryk Grynberg: Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories: True Tales from the Holocaust and Life After (Penguin Books).

The History winner is: Benjamin Nathans: Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia (University of California Press).

The Biography, Autobiography and Literary Studies winner is: Tikva Frymer-Kensky: Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories (Schocken Books).

The Philosophy and Thought winner is: Moshe Idel: Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (Yale University Press).

Thursday, March 20, 2003

The War Has Begun

Tony Blair's speech to Parliament on Iraq was the most eloquent and compelling statement on the war so far. The video is on the Prime Minister's web site.

The only jarring point was the two-paragraph reference to the Palestinian war, which seemed premature and over-optimistic.

But the speech was magnificent. It was followed today by another eloquent address to the nation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A Prayer from the Middle East

Ahmad Bishara, former vice-dean at Kuwait University, now a writer, publisher and leading voice for democracy in the Middle East, in a letter to "friends everywhere" reported by Claudia Winkler:

" . . . as we all pass the forthcoming dreadful hours, we pray that Almighty God showers the brave soldiers of the US, Britain and their allies with His blessings and covers them with His protection in every move and direction. For they are the saviors of the future of this region's children. We salute them; and may God bless them all."

Silence on the Editorial Page of the Paper Formerly Known as the Newspaper of Record

Over the past 10 days, there have been a spate of articles about the supposed influence of "the Jewish community" in connection with the impending war in Iraq -- including articles by Bill Keller ("Is It Good for the Jews?"), Howard Kurtz ("Hidden Agenda"), and Rebecca Phillips ("Dual Loyalty").

The best responses were written by Jonah Goldberg ("Jews and War"), Andrew Sullivan ("The Israel Card"), and Linda Chavez ("Moran's Jewish Problem").

Mugger (Russ Smith) raises an interesting question: "why hasn't the New York Times run an editorial condemning Rep. Jim Moran's comments"? His answer is caustic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Incredible Moral Acts by Ordinary People

Walter LaQueur reviews Martin Gilbert's The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust ("Thwarting the Nazi Doom Machine") in today's New York Times.

Purim Then and Now

Today is Purim. Beliefnet runs a quiz on the Book of Esther, and an article by A. James Rudin on "The Modernity of the Esther Story."

One of the lessons of the Book of Esther -- a book of the Bible that does not mention God -- is that evil exists, that it must be fought, that such a fight requires tremendous moral courage, and that violence, even in the name of a just cause, is horrendous.

The absence of God in the story reminds us that the moral choices in those circumstances must be made by imperfect people without a clear sign from God.

On his website, Andrew Sullivan links to an article by Labor MP Ann Clwyd ("See Men Shredded, Then Say You Don't Back War") that he says shows the world faces evil in Iraq.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Purim is Here

The holiday of Purim begins at sundown this evening.

Francine Klagsbrun writes ("The Genius of Esther's Scroll") that the book of Esther can be read in many different ways, and thus "epitomizes the genius of all Jewish texts."

Jennifer Traig notes ("On Purim, Dress Up, Drink Up and Be Merry") that this year erev Purim lands squarely on the other big drinking holiday, St. Patrick's Day ("Those of us who happen to be both Jewish and Irish should just go ahead and ask for March 18 off right now").

Yoram Hazony has an excerpt ("The Politics & Faith of Purim") from his book The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther in this week's Baltimore Jewish Times.

Mitchell First, responding to Joseph Rachman's March 6 article, writes about the historicity of Purim (fourth letter down).

Send Purim baskets to victims of terror in Israel and their families through the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund -- One Family Fund.

Chag Sameach!

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Thoughts on the Diaspora

Barbara Sofer, on a trip from Israel to Beverly Hills, reflects on the Diaspora ("Israel on Their Minds").

Two Different Road Maps

Abraham Ben-Zvi ("Playing Different Melodies") compares the Bush June 24 speech and the Quartet's road map.

The principal difference is that the Bush June 24 speech required Palestinians to undertake substantial constitutional, financial, leadership and security reforms before Israel was called upon to make significant concessions.

The Quartet's road map (as reflected in a December draft published in the March 15 New York Times) requires only that the Palestinians "call for an immediate end to all violence against Israelis," appoint an interim prime minister with "empowered executive authority," and "begin" drafting a new constitution.

In exchange for the "call," "appointment" and "beginning," the Quartet road map requires that Israel withdraw from areas occupied since September 28, 2000, dismantle various settlement outposts, and freeze all settlement activity.

All the News that Fits Their Perspective

Tom Gross, former Middle East reporter for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News -- and a self-described liberal -- has a 12-page analysis of the extraordinarily biased coverage of Israel by the New York Times over the last two years.

It is very convincing.

Straight Talk

Mark Steyn, in the London Telegraph ("The Straight Talker"), notes that Donald Rumsfeld's recently-criticized bluntness has in fact been effective.

After Rumsfeld's suggestion that troops in Korea might be cut, the Washington Post reporter in Korea reported that "anti-American demonstrations here have suddenly gone poof."

Within a week of Rumsfeld's statement about "Old Europe," the phrase became a new paradigm and the "entire map of the continent suddenly feel into place for the first time since the Cold War."

Rumsfeld's latest statement -- that if Britain were not able to participate in the war in Iraq, it would not make much difference -- was right: "Britain is helpful, but not necessary."

Finally, while Colin Power "was traipsing round the Middle East on his fool's mission last summer, Secretary Rumsfeld . . . made you wish he had been sent over" with his statement that might have forced the Arabs to confront the consequences of their reckless resorts to war:

"My feeling about the so-called occupied territories is that there was a war, Israel urged neighboring countries not to get involved in it once it started, they all jumped in, and they lost a lot of real estate to Israel because Israel prevailed in that conflict."

Friday, March 14, 2003

This Week's Portion: Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26 (Va-yikra)

"And the Lord called to Moses . . ."

David Curzon, contributing editor of the Forward, has a beautiful d'var Torah ("A Summons with the Character of a Call") on the nature of the prophetic call, and how it came to him at the side of a hospital bed.

Melissa Crespy, writing for the Jewish Theological Seminary, analyzes why a sacrifice is a "gift of pleasing odor to the Lord" and discusses the Talmudic insight: "You sacrifice not for My sake, but for your own . . . ."

Neil Gillman notes the poignant lines in the story of Samuel and Saul: "Samuel never saw Saul again to the day of his death. But Samuel grieved over Saul . . . ."

David Wolpe, in "No Certainties," writes of the journey that we (like the ancient Israelites) are all on, every minute, with no place of secure repose.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Is There a Clash of Civilizations -- Between America and Europe?

Mark Steyn writes ("The Yanks are Going Home") that the "death of Europe in its present form is a given" and that America is more culturally compatible with Britain, Australia and the Atlanticist states of Eastern Europe:

"What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is that for Europeans the real clash of civilisations is not between Islam and the West but between what the French call ‘Anglo-Saxon’ capitalism and Eurostatism. I was amused by the sheer snobbery of Martin Amis’s analysis in the Guardian last week: the condescension to Bush’s faith, the parallels between Texas and Saudi Arabia, both mired in a dusty religiosity. America’s religiosity [is] now unique in the Western world . . . . [but] for all Amis’s cracks, Texas doesn’t seem as fundamentalist as the radical secularism of post-Christian Europe."

It Was Always Thus

David Gelernter, writing in the Weekly Standard, notes that the U.N.'s recent performance is of a piece:

"In December '56, the U.N. had just finished condemning Israeli aggression in the Sinai -- a nice piece of work in which President Eisenhower lined up with Nasser and the Soviets. If Russian tanks felt like raping Budapest, the U.N. couldn't stop them. But it was easy to condemn Israel. . . . In November 1974, the U.N. at last welcomed Yasser Arafat to its podium. 'Now Zionism will get out of this world,' Arafat explained sweetly, gun at his hip, 'under the blow of the people's struggle.' He got a standing ovation. Six months earlier, Palestinian terrorists had murdered 22 schoolchildren at Ma'alot."

Where's My Reward for Appointing a Prime Minister?

Robert Satloff, Director of Policy and Strategic Planning for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on "The Prime Minister Nobody Knows," in the Weekly Standard:

"Here's a Middle East riddle: Who are Atef Obeid, Muhammad Justafa Miro, Ali Abu Rabheb, Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ali Benflis, and Abd al-Qadir Bajamal? . . .

"Here's a hint: They work for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Jordan's King Abdullah, Tunisian president Zine Bin Ali, Algerian president Abelaziz, and Yemini president Ali Abdullah Salih.

"Still can't figure it out? Answer: They are Arab prime ministers.

"In most of the world, prime ministers form governments, run their countries, and lead their people. But in Arabic-speaking lands, the position of prime minister matters little.

". . . Unless the new Palestinian premier shows through deeds that he is something besides a glorified Arafat flunky . . . Washington should not let his mastery of English, his soothing, moderate-sounding words, or his good personal grooming substitute for the one act that would truly constitute the coming of new Palestinian leadership: the replacement of Arafat himself."

Khaled Abu Toameh, in "Where's My Reward for Appointing a Prime Minister, Arafat Asks Quartet," notes that Arafat has told representatives from three of the four authors of the still unpublished road map (Russia, the EU and the UN) that he expects them to pressure Israel now that he "has agreed to share powers with a prime minister."

A "senior Palestinian official" is quoted as saying "'The ball is now in Israel's court. . . . The people are demanding to know what kind of compensation we are going to get after President Arafat agreed to give up some of his powers."

The people are demanding compensation for President Arafat (now in the seventh year of his four-year term) agreeing to give up some of his powers? What kind of "compensation" is appropriate for the head of a one-man government "agreeing" to give "some" powers to a "prime minister" whom he selects and can fire?

Meron Benvenisti, writing in Haaretz ("Prime Minister of What?") blames Israel. He believes the appointment of a prime minister is an "empty concept" that "serves only the Israeli approach" and serves as camouflage for a catastrophic occupation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Campus Debates about Israel

Ariel Beery, a first-year student at Columbia University, writes to the Columbia Daily Spectator about Professor Joseph Massad, whom he says teaches a course entitled "Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Society" that the professor describes as intended "not to provide a 'balanced' coverage of the views of both sides . . . ." Beery says the great majority of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department signed the divestment from Israel petition last fall.

Hamid Dabashi, chairman of the Columbia Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department, has a letter in the same edition accusing the Director of Hillel at Columbia of "fabricated lies" about the Department, and castigates a speech at Columbia by an honored alumnus accusing the Department of having an "enormous anti-Israel policy."

Not too soon, a new book has been published that provides accessible and balanced information for Jewish college students confronted with anti-Israel protests and similar campus activities: "On One Foot: A Middle-East Guide for the Perplexed." Information about the book can be found at

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The Religious Basis for War

Richard Neuhaus concludes that military action to disarm can be morally justified in terms of the just war doctrine. Indeed where a war is just, it is not an option chosen but a duty imposed. But whether a war is advisable is a practical decision, not a religious one:

"Whether that cause can be vindicated without resort to military force, and whether it would be wiser to wait and see what Iraq might do over a period of months or years, are matters of pudential judgment beyond the competence of religious authority."

Elie Wiesel, speaking to an audience of 500 at Temple Beth Israel in Florida ("An Unlikely Hawk") is surprised by the depth of his own support for a possible war in Iraq. He has faith in Colin Powell.

Christopher Hitchens questions the religious stance of many religious opponents of the war, as well as those who think God is on their side ("Pious Nonsense").

The 17th Murder

The 17th person has died from last Wednesday's murder bombing in Haifa -- Moran Shushan, age 20.

She was doing national service with a Kupat Holim clinic in Haifa, and was on the bus to visit a friend. The IDF plans to deport several relatives of the bomber, who allegedly either assisted or were aware of the bomber's plans.

There may be a more fundamental difficulty involved

Akiva Eldar covers a lecture to the Meretz Party by Shaul Arieli, who was involved in the Camp David and Taba talks. He believes it is possible to breathe new life into the Oslo process.

"Only the violence and the Palestinians' difficulty in publicly waiving the right of return" block the road back there.

Palestinians and Kurds

Evelyn Gordon wonders about a double standard being applied in the Middle East. Why is there "almost unanimous demand for a Palestinian state by a world that rejects the idea of a Kurdish state"?

Her answer: "terrorism works." As well as something else.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Stops on the Road Map

Efraim Inbar, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University (and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies) writes in "Compass for a Road Map" that the main failure of the Oslo process was the PA's incapability of centralizing control over all militias. He favors a return to an older plan -- the Alon Plan.

Norman Podhoretz writes in "The Morning After Iraq" that there are actually two road maps: the State Department's (which winds its way back to another Oslo), and George W. Bush's (which charts a path in the opposite direction, by conditioning support for a Palestinian state on "regime change" of the PA).

DEBKAfile publishes a long analysis of the nomination of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Palestinian prime minister, saying that, given the powers reserved by Arafat (command of all security and police and control of any negotiations with Israel), it is not likely to result in any reduction in terror. Akiva Eldar thinks that Abbas's powers depend on Sharon. ("Who's Afraid of Abu Mazen?).

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Abigail Leitel's Funeral

Haaretz has a heart-breaking picture of her family at her funeral today.

Her father, Philip Leitel, is a Baptist minister who moved with his family from the United States to Israel in 1989. He chose "Abigail" as his daughter's name because it meant "father's joy" in Hebrew.

Philip studied at Technion, Israel's premier technological institute, and was later appointed the representative of the Baptist Church in Israel. He and his wife decided to stay and raise their five children in Haifa and sent their children to Israeli Hebrew-language schools. He currently works as the minister and administrator in the tiny Baptist community.

Abigail is the sixth student at her school who has been murdered since the start of the September 2000 war by the Palestinians. She was a member of a school group that aimed to bridge the divide between Arabs and Jews.

They Murder Children

This morning in Israel, Abigail Leitel, 14 years old, will be buried.

She is the American girl murdered in Wednesday's bus bombing in Haifa. She was on her way to a friend's house. Two other students from her school, Daniel Harush, 16, and Yuval Mendelevitch, 13, were also murdered on the bus. Yuval was on the phone with his father when the bus blew up.

Haaretz has published the names and pictures of the people murdered (the 16th, Anatoly Birikov, 20, who immigrated to Israel three years ago with his mother, died yesterday from wounds in the attack).

Tom Hershko, 16, was on the bus with his father Motti Hershko, 41, his best friend. They were returning home from a visit to Netanya.

Tom's mother, Ruth, spoke to her only son a few moments before the explosion. He called her from the bus to say he had something important to tell her when he got home. Ruth had a surprise planned for him too. She had arranged a high-speed Internet connection for him, and was waiting until he got home to show him. "He wanted to tell me something, and left with his secret. I wanted to surprise him, and I didn't succeed. That was the last conversation."

She is glad that Tom and Motti went together, "because Motti will certainly continue to look after him." "It Was the Last Day Out for Father and Son."

Assaf Zur, 16, was on his way home from school. He had spoken to his father on the phone three hours before.

Liz Katzman, 16, was a high school senior who had immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. She was on the bus with her friend Tai Kehrmann, 17, who was also murdered. They had gone to look at costumes for a play they were producing, called "The Best of Friends."

Meital Katav, 20, was talking to her sister on the phone. Just after 2 p.m., she got on the bus and the conversation was cut off.

Fourteen people are still in the hospital, some in serious condition. A total of 50 people were wounded in the attack.

Friday, March 07, 2003

This Week's Portion: Exodus 38:21 - 40:38 (Pekudei)

The portion begins with "the records of the Tabernacle . . . drawn up at Moses' bidding" -- how much gold that was used for the work (29 talents and 730 shekels), how much silver (100 talents and 1,775 shekels), how much copper (70 talents and 2,400 shekels).

Ismar Schorsch has a nice observation regarding the fact that Moses felt obligated to state these facts for the record. The gold, silver and copper had been contributed by the Israelites, and Moses was rendering an account to his donors. "Irrespective of his power, he subjected himself to the norms of good governance . . . confidence in a leader requires transparency."

Schorsch ends his d'var torah by recalling these words from Pirkei Avot 4:1:

Who are the wise? Those who learn from everyone.
Who are the strong? Those who conquer their own impulses.
Who are rich? Those who find contentment in their lot.
Who are esteemed? Those who esteem others.

Lewis Warshauer has a d'var torah that focuses on lines about the cloud that covered the Tent of Meeting, where "the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle," and the fact that Israelites could not set out until the cloud lifted -- like a parent who needs to back away to allow his or her children to proceed.

Shlomo Riskin writes from Efrat, Israel about the the fact that the Sanctuary is made not so that God may dwell in it, but rather "so that I may dwell in their midst." We build a sanctuary so that God may be with us -- not in the sanctuary itself, not in a place, but in our "midst."

David Wolpe writes about "Igniting Minds" with real education about Judaism: "Judaism is not a smooth, effortless, always enlightened 21st century religion. It is an ancient, knotty, deep, anguished and joyous encounter with God embracing religion, culture, land, history."


Thursday, March 06, 2003

Uh Oh -- What About Purim; Did THAT Happen?

Joseph Rackman, a lawyer at a prominent New York law firm, writes in "The Turth About Purim" about why he believes in it even in the absence of conclusive evidence.

"If you want a modern-day 'miracle,' but one grounded in facts, one can point to the re-emergence of the State of Israel."

Some Suggested Purim Reading

". . . then I will go in to the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

With Purim approaching, it might be a good time to take a look at Yoram Hazony's recent volume: "The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther."

Hazony is President of The Shalem Center, an institute for Jewish social thought and Israeli public policy, established in Jerusalem in 1994. The Center supports academic research and publishes classic and contemporary works of political philosophy, as well as an important and provocative periodical, Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation. His book The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul (New Republic / Basic Books) was a milestone in Israeli intellectual history.

The Dawn is about politics and faith. It is about religion in "an era in which the prophets have been silenced and miracles have ceased, and in which Jewish politics has come to depend not on commands from on high, but on the boldness and belief of the individual Jew."

Hazony takes a book from the Bible in which there is no mention of God, nor a moral message easy to discern amid the twists and turns of the tale, and turns it into an extended essay about the Jewish idea of the good state and good leadership even as God's face remains "hidden."

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Memorial Ceremony for Col. Ilan Ramon

The Jerusalem Post describes a shloshim memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for Israel's astronaut, marking the end of the traditional 30-day period of mourning. Here are the last two paragraphs from the article:

"The memorial ended with the playing of the song 'Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet' (Shalom, lovely country), the song Ramon chose to have played for the crew as a wakeup call while in space. On the morning of February 1st the song ws played to wake up Ramon and the rest of the crew at the exact time Columbia flew over Israel.

"Ramon told Mission Control in Houston that 'there's no place better than Israel and there's no Commander better than Rick [Husband -- the Evangelical Christian commander of Columbia, who "spent many a Shabbat dinner together at the Ramon home in Houston"].' The song was the last Hebrew that Ramon heard, four hours before he died."

The Complicated Morality of the Anti-War Movement

Gerald Posner looks at today's anti-war protestors and regrets by his own anti-war protests of 30 years ago ("Was I That Stupid?").

Samuel G. Freedman sympathizes somewhat with the anti-war movement but says it lacks the "honesty and integrity" of the old one ("War Protesters Fail Integrity Test").

Michael Lerner notes ("The Triumph of Fear") that the anti-war protests have been "largely guided by a virulently anti-Israel group" that insures anti-Israel sentiments "are woven into the fabric of their events." But he encourages his synagogue to continue participating in the demonstrations "because stopping the war is the number one moral priority."

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

About the Palestinian Constitution

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has published a long analysis of the current and past Palestinian efforts at constitutional reform. It is not encouraging.

Religion and the War

What are the positions of the Reform, Orthodox and Conservative movements on the possible war in Iraq?

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations issued its statement last September, saying UAHC would support U.S. military action if the U.S. first explored all reasonable means of obtaining international cooperation, explored all non-military options, worked to obtain cooperation in the UN or (if that failed) cooperation with other nations, and acted with Congressional approval.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued its statement in October, saying that while it is "preferable for this threat to be neutralized through diplomacy . . . the United States has every right and obligation under the United Nations Charter and International Law to take firm and appropriate action."

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued its statement in November, supporting the objective to "insure that appropriate action is taken to eliminate the danger posed by Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction."

The Reform and Orthodox resolutions are eloquent statements of their respective positions. The Conservative statement is -- there is no other word for it -- hazy. But the interesting thing about all three is that they are political positions, not religious ones.

The appropriate religious position, according to this rabbi, is that:

"[W]e clergy are no more informed about geopolitics than anyone else. Being a rabbi does not grant me insight into the possible consequences of invasion of Iraq, the potential for more terrorism, or any other political or violent repercussions. . . .

"Human knowledge is limited. . . . Therefore a religious leader ought to counsel humility in a time of uncertainty. Those who argue against your position on war are not (necessarily) stupid, or callous, or evil. They may even be right--we have no way of knowing. God is omniscient. We are not."

George W. Bush's religious faith has been apparent in his entire administration -- from the final paragraphs of his Inaugural Address on. But his religious temperment, as expressed last month by Peggy Noonan, is in fact one of humility:

"Some people . . . will say, Bush thinks God put him in the presidency 'at a time such as this,' and that gives me the creeps. This reflects a misunderstanding about Mr. Bush's faith. He actually prays for guidance, for wisdom, for strength. . . . He doesn't think I'm God's guy, he agrees with everything I do. If he did it would be disturbing to say the least. But he's not John Brown saying God himself told me to start this war, and he's not an ayatollah saying death to the Great Satan. He's just a Christian asking God for help and trying in turn to do what is helpful. When you do this you're acknowledging your inadequacy and dependence. It's a declaration not of pride but of humility."

Monday, March 03, 2003

A Ritualized Day of Rest

Judith Shulevitz, "Bring Back the Sabbath," in yesterday's New York Times Magazine.

The religious, social, cultural, historical and political significance of the sabbath in America.

Living Languages

Dara Horn, Harvard doctoral student in comparative literature and author of In the Image, writes in "The Luck of the Yiddish" about the resurrection of Yiddish and Irish Poetry.

She notes a beautiful poem about language by Irish poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, with its image that Yiddish and other readers will recognize:

I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of language, the way a body might put
an infant

in a basket of intertwined
iris leaves
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,

then set the whole thing down amidst
the sedge
and bulrushes by the edge
of a river

only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh's daughter.

"Vital Languages: An Evening of Irish and Yiddish Poetry," will take place at NYU's Hemmerdinger Hall on Thursday, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Essential Reading

Victor Davis Hanson has another important article -- "The Present Farce."

"So the ancient prejudice has returned . . . ."

A Different Road Map

Mark Steyn writes in the Canadian National Post ("Think the Unthinkable in the Middle East") on why the Brzezinski-Scowcroft plan for Jerusalem wouldn't work even if the parties were Canada and the United States.

Steyn proposes a different road map ("Some of us think Brzezinski and Scrowcroft are holding the plan upside down . . .").

Great article.

Campus Anti-Semitism

Chaim Seidler-Feller, Hillel director and teacher at UCLA, writes in "The Mood on Campus" that "most campus professionals . . . see little evidence of a widespread increase in anti-Semitism at their institutions."

Eli Muller, a columnist for the Yale Daily News, writes in "Locating the Hate in Anti-Zionism" that it "has been an unpleasant week to be Jewish at Yale." His article draws more than 40 responses, some of them anti-semitic.

The View from Rome and Jerusalem

Yossi Klein Halevi attended a conference in Rome last week on religion, media and the Middle East. He writes of the differing perceptions "Between Rome and Jerusalem:"

"Rome views the collapse of the Oslo process as a technical failure which a bit of tinkering can repair. Rome doesn't understand that when former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak placed Jerusalem on the negotiating table -- the first time in history that any nation offered to share sovereignty over its capital -- and received suicide bombings as the counter-offer, the Oslo process was over.
. . .
"Astonishingly, Rome has forgotten that this terrorist war was declared not against a government headed by Sharon but against the most peace-minded government in Israel's history. Rome doesn't understand that the second intifada, unlike the first, isn't a war of desperation against occupation but a war of religiously-incited triumphalism against Israel's existence."

But he thinks Israel needs to keep in mind the possibility of a political resolution once the Muslim world accepts the legitimacy of Israel.

Worth reading.

Commentary on the Middle East

Michael Freund, former Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning under Benjamin Netanyahu, writes that President Bush's "personal commitment" in his speech last week to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state is "A Monumental Mistake."

Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and sometime foreign policy adviser to Ariel Sharon, writes that President Bush's speech was "reassuring" and shows that "there is a large measure of common ground between the US and Israel on the peace process." Shoval thinks that "The Road to Jerusalem Leads Through Baghdad."

The New York Sun thinks the speech was a backslide into "a kind of false moral equivalence."

Michael Ledeen, in a perceptive review of Thomas Friedman's new book, includes the following Friedman quote:

"If the Palestinians persuade the Israeli center that they are ready to live side by side in peace, they will get a state; if they don't, they won't. Everything else is just commentary."