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Friday, May 30, 2003


This Week’s Portion: Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20)


The portion begins with Lord speaking to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, instructing him to take a census of the whole Israelite community. Everyone age 20 and up and able to bear arms is counted.


Rabbi David Wolpe writes about "Desert Voices:"


This week in synagogue we begin the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. Although called Numbers in English, the Hebrew name means “in the desert.”

Desert imagery occupies a central place in the Torah. . . . [T]he desert is a place that recalls the pristine majesty of creation. The sand and stars remind us of our smallness . . . Beside God and the totality of God’s creation, we are . . . ephemeral. Yet to experience God is to stand at the summit of creation. We are nothing; we are significant. . . . [W]e can be partners with God.

Rabbi Melissa Crespy writes about the significance of the census. She notes that the commentators ask why “does God command all this counting . . . to list in detail and in various forms the 603,550 men age 20 and above . . . ."


It speaks of a God who is close and involved in our lives . . . who values each individual, and of individuals who are each terribly valuable. . . .

In these times when Israel . . . and its people are being sorely tried, it is good to be reminded that each and every person is precious in the eyes of God, and should be precious in the eyes of human beings. . . . [I]t is good to be reminded of the miracle of our survival throughout the ages, and to continue to pray to God to heal those who are no longer whole.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, May 29, 2003


Latest from the 1994 Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize


MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) provides an excerpt from Yasser Arafat's May 14 Nakba Day (Castastrophe Day) speech:


"…The great imperialist Zionist conspiracy against our Arab nation and against our homeland Palestine began at the 1897 Zionist Congress in Basel and reached its accursed zenith on May 15, 1948. On that cursed day, the State of Israel arose, by means of weapons and imperialistic conspiracy, on the ruins of our homeland Palestine. Our people were expelled from [their] homeland, and [were] slaughtered in exile, dispersion, and the refugee camps. . .

"Palestine is our homeland. There is no substitute for it. We have no other homeland. Every Palestinian refugee looks forward to the day he will embrace his homeland and seek to restore his identity . . ."

Undoubtedly the full text concludes with a call for the "peace of the brave."



Why 97% of the West Bank is Not Enough


MEMRI posts an excerpt from a sermon at the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Iqrima Sabri, on the "right of return:"


"A number of meetings are to be held this week in which the issues connected to the refugees' right to return to their homes will be discussed. In order to emphasize this right according to religious law, and in answer to the [arguments] of those advocating compensation [instead of the right of return], and also in answer to the proposal that includes the refugees' return only to within Palestinian Authority territory, it is essential to clarify the religious law regarding this matter. [The law] does not permit accepting compensation in exchange for the land of Palestine, because compensation is, legally, selling; selling [the land of Palestine] . . . is absolutely prohibited by religious law, and the [seller] is excommunicated from the [Muslim] community. What applies to people applies also to countries and governments.

MEMRI translates the following quotation from the secretary of the Palestinian National Council's Refugee Committee, Walid Al-'Awadh, reported in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida:


" . . . It is troubling to find Palestinian voices, among them officials [who waive the right of return] . . . among them the Popular Campaign for Peace [of Ayalon and Nusseiba] which waives this right . . . and says it will be implemented only within the 1967 borders . . . The right to struggle for the establishment of a Palestinian state is legitimate and it must not be replaced in any way with another right . . . because [the establishment] of the state is our right and the return of the refugees to their homes is also our right. [This is all the more true] because the refugees fought and sacrificed tremendous [numbers] of victims to defend this right and rejected all the repatriation programs aimed at eliminating this problem . . . ."

The road map does not call for the waiver of any "right of return."


Instead, after the creation of a Palestinian state in Phase II, the road map calls in Phase III for "an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue."


Meaning what?

Wednesday, May 28, 2003


Reading Genesis


Alan Jacobs, Professor of English at Wheaton College, has a long review in "First Things" of Leon Kass's new book, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Free Press, May 2003).


Jacobs writes that Kass' book -- based on a seminar on Genesis that Kass has been offering at the University of Chicago for the last 20 years -- is "expansive, curious, fascinatingly rich and digressive" -- but one that, as a Christian, he finds maddening:


" . . . I shudder when I read (for instance) these words in [Kass'] Epilogue:


'The book of Genesis is mainly concerned with this question: Is it possible to find, institute, and preserve a way of life that accords with man’s true standing in the world and that serves to perfect his godlike possibilities?'

"It seems to me that not a single significant word in this sentence accords with what the book of Genesis is about. Genesis, and the culture from which it emerges, doesn’t seem to me to give a damn about our 'true standing in the world' and our 'godlike possibilities'; rather . . . it is about God and what He has done, and is doing, to repair what His rebellious and arrogant creatures have broken: our relations with ourselves, with one another, with the creation, and with God Himself."

Kass might not agree with that reaction, but he would undoubtedly appreciate the spirit in which it is offered. Jacobs concludes his review as follows:


"But even as I make my protest I realize that, if Kass’ language would be unrecognizable to the biblical authors, so too the language I have just employed would ring hollow and strange in the ears of most university students in America today. When reading an ancient text, especially one that makes the kinds of demands on us that Genesis makes—demands not just on our attention but also on our obedient response, on our whole lives—we have to start somewhere, and in the end I’m not sure that it matters much where.

"Leon Kass . . . is asking people to pay attention to this strange old book, to listen very carefully to hear what it might have to say to them; he is, further, suggesting to them that they need wisdom if they are to live well, and that they might find a deposit of it in these stories. . . . Kass himself, as he admits forthrightly at several points in his book, is still very much a wayfarer in the pages of Genesis . . . . and this teacher asks students and readers alike to strive alongside him. May he hold fast to the book until it blesses him."

Very thoughtful and provocative review. Seems like a book worth reading.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003


More Misreporting By the Newspaper Formerly Known as the Paper of Record


Andrea Levin, Executive Director of CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), covers the consistent misreporting by The New York Times of the provisions of the road map -- even the Times' "Corrections" are wrong.


Israel Accepts the Road Map


By a vote of 12-7, with four abstentions, Israel adopted on Sunday a resolution accepting the U.S.-sponsored "road map." The resolution reads in part as follows:


"Based on the 23 May 2003 statement of the United States Government, in which the United States committed to fully and seriously address Israel's comments to the Roadmap during the implementation phase, the Prime Minister announced on 23 May 2003 that Israel has agreed to accept the steps set out in the Roadmap.

"The Government of Israel affirms the Prime Minister's announcement, and resolves that all of Israel's comments, as addressed in the Administration's statement, will be implemented in full during the implementation phase of the Roadmap.

"A list of the comments forwarded by Israel for the review of the Administration in the United States has been attached to this decision."

The text of Israel's 14 comments to be "fully and seriously address[ed]" has been published in The Jerusalem Post.


Israel also adopted a second resolution reading as follows:


"The Government of Israel expresses its hope that the political process that will commence, in accordance with the 24 June 2002 speech of President Bush, will bring security, peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The Government of Israel further clarifies that, both during and subsequent to the political process, the resolution of the issue of the refugees will not include their entry into or settlement within the State of Israel."

Nadav Shragai, writing in Haaretz, gives the right's analysis that, despite the 14 reservations, the too-clever-by-half acceptance of only "the steps" of the road map, and the brave caveats in the resolution, the action is a vindication of the Palestinians' 30-month war (and thus ultimately an harbinger of more):


. . . the road map repeats the great mistake of the Oslo Accords: It starts by giving the Palestinians tangible assets like land, weapons, money and authority, while leaving all the serious disputes -- borders, Jerusalem, refugees -- to the end. After Oslo, the Palestinians used the assets they acquired to try to force their desired solution on Israel.

Now, with the road map granting them a sovereign state and full international recognition as well, the right fears a repetition of this scenario, with even greater resources at the Palestinians' disposal.

Yasser Arafat, says the right, won the biggest victory of his life [Sunday]. Having broken all his promises and caused the death of more than 1,000 Israelis since 1993, not only have all the gains of Oslo been preserved, but they have been augmented by the road map.

DEBKAfile has a special analysis that takes a broader strategic view:


What has President George W. Bush promised [Sharon] for saying yes to the Middle East road map, a document that no one except its authors believes in? . . . .

Sharon was offered three main incentives:

First – America’s systematic disarmament of Israel’s most dangerous enemies has been built into the Bush master-plan – Iraq first; shortly, an attempt to dissolve Iran’s nuclear weapons option . . . followed by steps to eliminate Syria’s missile systems and weapons of mass destruction and the Hizballah’s military capabilities. . . .

The United States is sweeping all these threats from its borders without Israel needing to deploy a single soldier or fire a single shot. . . . Without any expenditure of its own military and economic resources, Israel may find itself in three or four years liberated from all its next-door enemies for the first time in its history. . . .

Second – The prospect of Yasser Arafat’s eclipse on the international and Palestinian stage. . . .

Third – Sharon has been assured by the Bush White House – though not publicly – that Washington will back him in resisting any attempt to include the return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees in a final-status accord. Washington also promises to go along with leaving the main Jewish settlement blocks in place on the West Bank.

Monday, May 26, 2003


Memorial Day


Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, speaking at last year's Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery:


". . . As the son of an immigrant, I know how fortunate we are to live in this country guided by the great light of freedom, how blessed we are to live free -- free from persecution and fear, for each one of us to be able to say, 'I am an American.'

"And how fortunate — how deeply fortunate — we are to know that there are those who have been willing to risk death for that."

Some last letters home from soldiers in Iraq are posted at the Mudville Gazette, including this one from Marine Capt. Ryan A. Beaupre, killed March 20 in a helicopter crash in Kuwait:


"Mom & Dad,

"Well, if you are reading this, then things didn't go well for me over in Iraq. I'm sorry for the pain that I have caused you because of this. Please do not be upset with the Marine Corps, the military, the government, or the President. It was my choice to go into the military. The President and my higher commanders were just doing what they thought was best.

"Realize that I died doing something that I truly love, and for a purpose greater than myself. There is a paragraph that I read from time to time when I lose focus. 'War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.' -- John Stuart Mill.

"Now there is a little Marine Corps bravado in there, but I do believe in the basic premise. I want you to know that I could not have asked for better parents, or a better family. . . . I'll never forget that one of my friends in elementary school said that if he could trade places with one person, he'd trade places with me because of my parents and home life. I truly feel that I've had a blessed life thanks to you two."

Rev. Dick Kozelka (retired), First Congregational Church of Minnesota, offers a Memorial Day Prayer:


Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history --
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?

Except that you have called us to worship you
in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your lovingkindnesses. . . .

We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things' going meaninglessly well.

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully (as it seems)
in accident or misadventure.

We remember with compassion those who have died
serving their country . . . .

Friday, May 23, 2003


This Week's Portion: B'Hukkotai (Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34)


The portion begins with two major religious principles: free will and divine reward and punishment ("If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments . . . . But if you do not obey Me . . . .").


Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, writes on Maimonides' reading of the relationship of the virtue of the nation and that of the individual:


"Maimonides draws a sharp distinction between the messianic era and the world-to-come. The former is natural and collectively experienced; the latter supernatural and individually attained. The messianic era creates an ideal set of circumstances in which each of us can pursue what the harsh reality of daily life denies us: the undistracted study of Torah. According to Maimonides, 'neither the prophets nor the rabbis yearned for the messianic era in order to rule the world or oppress the gentiles or enter into matrimony with them or wine and dine, but solely to be free to engage in Torah and philosophy.' A world at peace becomes the springboard for individual salvation."

Shabbat Shalom.


Optimistic/Realistic Neocons


Charles Krauthammer, speaking at Temple Beth Shalom, says he is "optimistic" about the Middle East:


"People say the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq will make the terrorists angrier and more likely to attack," he said. "Look, these people are as angry as you can get. You're not going to make them angrier. You want to make them deader."

Ultimately the United States wants democracy to spread throughout the Middle East. Democracies are not aggressive . . .

"All they want to do is play the slots, watch television and have a nice life," Krauthammer said.

"Anybody who says Arabs cannot be democratic are racists. Arabs can have democracy. They want democracy. That is why I am optimistic."

Fouad Ajami is less optimistic in "A Journey Without Maps:"


"In Iraq, mass graves filled by Saddam Hussein's brutal regime now turn up almost daily. Yet few Arabs outside Iraq have stepped forth to acknowledge the criminality of the order that had been in place in Baghdad; few have said a word of praise for the foreign liberators of Iraq. . . .

"A dozen years ago, after the first Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was in its death throes, but we spared it, left Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and began what turned out to be yet another futile pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian accord. Then, too, we fell for the idea that the American victory in the Arabian Desert had to be redeemed in the alleyways of Nablus and Ramallah. We took the bait that a great power's authority requires a Palestinian solution.

"Into the camp of the victors, we brought the Palestinians and the Jordanians who had shouted themselves hoarse in favor of Saddam Hussein. We took them unreformed and unrepentant. Our leverage would never be so great again, our leaders believed then. In the years that followed, anti-American terrorism grew more brazen, and the masters of al Qaeda took our measure. Last week, Secretary Powell arrived in Riyadh to promote peace and instead found himself inspecting a scene of carnage, the latest heartbreaking testament to the furies that now blow through Arab lands."

Victor Davis Hanson, in another of his astoundingly perceptive articles, is both pessimistic and optimistic:


"Millions of Muslims collectively murdered by Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, the Taliban, the Assads, Qaddafi, and an array of autocrats from Algeria to the Gulf seem to count as nothing. Persecuted and often stateless Muslims without a home in Kurdistan or Bosnia gain little sympathy — unless the Jews can be blamed. It is not who is killed, nor how many — but by whom: One protester in the West Bank mistakenly shot by the IDF earns more wrath in the Arab calculus than 10,000 butchered by Saddam Hussein or the elder Assad. . . .

"What in God's name, then, are we to do with this nonsense? . . . .

"Get tough with Israel? Taking 39 scuds, pulling out of Lebanon, offering 97 percent of the West Bank, and putting up with Oslo got them the Intifada and female suicide bombers.

"The fact is that the only alternative after September 11 was the messy, dirty, easily caricatured path that Mr. Bush has taken us down. For all the reoccurring troubles in Afghanistan, for all the looting and lawlessness in the month after the brilliant military victory in Iraq, and for all the recent explosions in restaurants, synagogues, and hotels — we are still making real progress. . . .

"Two years ago nuts in caves talked about Americans who were scared to fight; now the world is worried because we fight too quickly and too well. There are no more videos of Osama bin Laden strutting with his cell phone trailing sycophantic psychopaths. Yasser Arafat is no longer lord of the Lincoln bedroom, but shuffles around his own self-created moonscape.

"Two years ago Syria and Lebanon were considered sacrosanct hideouts that we dared not enter — or so a sapling ophthalmologist from Syria threatened us. Today we tell the custodians of terror there to clean it up or we will — and assume that eventually we must. . . .

"Two years ago the Cassandra-like trio of Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, and Fouad Ajami were considered outcasts by disingenuous but influential Middle Eastern Studies departments; now they — not the poseurs in university lounges and academic conferences — are heeded by presidents and prime ministers.

"No, we are making progress because we have sized up the problem, know the solution — and have the guts to press ahead."


The New Palestinian Authority


Mahmoud Abbas, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, gives an Egyptian newspaper the inside scoop, as reported in yesterday's New York Times:

"Mr. Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, has been in Gaza in recent days trying to build support for his new government. . . .

"Mr. Abbas was quoted as saying Yasir Arafat remained the top Palestinian leader despite Israeli and American moves to isolate him.

"Mr. Arafat 'is the president elected by the Palestinian people and he is the chairman of the whole Palestinian Authority,' Mr. Abbas told the Egyptian newspaper Al Musawar."

"We do not do anything without his approval," he added. "I will not allow any serious differences between Arafat and me."


Thursday, May 22, 2003


Are the Settlers "Fanatics?"


Barbara Lerner is back from a one-month stay in Israel, including a trip to visit the Israeli settlement in Hebron ("The taxi driver, a Moroccan Jew, blanched when I told him where I wanted to go, but for 100 US dollars today, no Israeli driver refuses").


Her report addresses the common characterization of the settlers as "fanatics:"


"Hebron makes a lot of Israelis uncomfortable. Those who still vote Left — about 20 percent in the January 28 election — demonize Hebron's Jews. They call them 'fanatics,' 'thugs,' and 'racists,' and the Western press echoes them, but few other Israelis believe it. Most who turn away from Hebron do so because . . . they see it as a lost cause and they hate feeling helpless. Many Israelis on the right don't accept that either. They think Hebron is worth fighting for because they see Hebron's Jews as democracy's canaries in the mine — and are convinced that a Palestinian state committed to denying Jews the right to live and pray in peace would never let the rest of Israel live in peace either."

Her description of the massacre last November of Jews from Kiryat Arba walking home from Sabbath services in Hebron, as they did every Friday night, after praying at Marat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, is chilling.


Reviewing Fiction: A New Palestinian Peace Plan


Mark Steyn, writing in The New Criterion, reviews "O Jerusalem," a recent play by A. R. Gurney Jr. about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The review is not on the web, but an excerpt is, courtesy of Jay Nordlinger's "Impromptus" column yesterday:


""The trouble with writing a play that hinges on a brand-new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is that there comes a point when you have to reveal what that plan is. . . . Most of the peace plans still in play are pretty shopworn, the romance long since drained out of them: a return to 1967 borders with some adjustments and abandonment of settlements, etc. The sort of stuff that gets Thomas Friedman squealing orgasmically before Crown Prince Abdullah would seem dull and technical in a drama. So instead Gurney gives us his own peace proposal, via Amira's terrorist son: a Federated Republic of Israel and Palestine.

"Well, give him credit. At least he doesn't bother paying lip service to a 'two-state solution,' which, for many if not most Palestinians, is an intermediate stage to a one-state solution."

Wednesday, May 21, 2003


An Israeli's View of the Road Map


Daniel Gordis has a new dispatch from Israel, about daily life in the midst of terror. He describes the profoundly mixed feelings of Israeli centrists about the "road map."


On the one hand:


" . . . we should be happy to get out because we want to believe (even if we know better, and most of us do know better) that it's a shot at peace. And we don't want to control or occupy another resentful population. And we hate what it's doing to too many of our kids when they have to serve in the army there. And there's no reason to keep pouring millions of dollars that we don't have into infrastructure there, only to be forced to eventually hand it over to the Palestinians. And if we care about democracy . . . we've got to make sure that we have a distinct Jewish majority here, so maybe we should give back not just big chunks of the West Bank and Gaza, but get rid of the heavily Arab populated parts of the Galilee, too."

On the other hand:


". . . why would anyone believe that it will lead to peace? When has Arafat ever said, in Arabic, to his own people, that Israel has a right to exist? And what do we do with the fact that it's Sharon's meeting with Abu Mazen that has unleashed this latest round? . . . And what do we do with the obvious pattern that, as soon as our forces leave those areas, even more things explode? Are we really going to leave our own security interests in the hands of Arafat and Abu Mazen (who has no power anyway)? And what will we do if the West Bank becomes a sovereign foreign state, but terrorists are still infiltrating us from there? Then what? . . . And do we really imagine that the Galilean Arabs would be willingly handed over to Palestine? . . . They'd much rather live in the Jewish state than the Palestinian one."

Worth reading in its entirety. To sign up to receive Gordis' future dispatches by email, send a blank email to gordis-subscribe@topica.com.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Wars Have Consequences


Jay Nordlinger -- whose "Impromptus" on National Review Online is one of the best columns currently on the web -- comments on the Moroccan bombing, which targeted a Jewish site and adjacent ones:


"Morocco is just about the only Arab country left with even a tiny Jewish community. These communities have been 'cleansed' from all others. . . . This is one reason I get a little nervous when commentators go off about the 'settlers' — those little Jewish enclaves in the disputed territories (excuse me, on sacred, inviolate 'Arab land'). Of course, there are 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel . . . . But Jews in the territories are evidently an intolerable offense. Does that bode well for a Palestinian state — a 23rd member of the Arab League that will be scrupulously Jew-free?"

Danny Rubinstein, a liberal commentator for Ha'aretz, writes that Israel is "Moving Toward Permanent Control of the Territories."


"This new Israeli reality in the territories is first of all the result of the Israeli government and apparently most of the Jewish public having lost faith in the Palestinian Authority and its institutions. The Israeli defense establishment and other government agencies simply do not trust the Palestinians and are not prepared to give them any powers -- not on security matters or any other matters."

The result of the current Palestinian war to cleanse the West Bank will be to shrink still further the boundaries of any eventual Palestinian self-governing authority. It will be smaller than what the Arabs could have settled for in 1947 (when they rejected a sliver of a state for the Jews -- and chose war instead), or in 1948-1967 (when they controlled the entire West Bank -- but chose war instead), or in 2000 (when they rejected a state on almost all of the West Bank -- and chose war instead).


There are consequences to losing wars. When they end, the map (as opposed to the "road map") is different.


And, at the beginning of the 21st Century, it is important that a terrorist war not only lose, but be seen to lose -- or its success will form a model whose consequences will extend far beyond the sliver of a Jewish state. The United States cannot proceed "as if it does not have a dog in this fight."


Monday, May 19, 2003


Memories of the Spanish Civil War


Bruce Hoffman has the lead article in this month's Atlantic Monthly: "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism" -- a report on his visit to Israel to review the military, intelligence and security steps against terrorism in that country.


Hoffman writes that the "organization and the operations of the suicide bombers are neither limited to Israel and its conflicts with the Palestinians nor unique to its geostrategic position."


". . . after a five-day visit to Israel last fall, Louis Anemone, the security chief of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, concluded that New Yorkers -- and, by implication, other Americans -- face the same threat. 'This stuff is going to be imported over here,' he declared . . . . Anemone even argued that 'today's terrorists appear to be using Israel as a testing ground to prepare for a sustained attack against the U.S.' . . . .

" . . . In rhetoric disturbingly reminiscent of the way that Palestinian terrorists describe theri inevitable triumph over Israel, Abu Gheith [al Qaeda's chief spokesman] declared, 'Those youths that destroyed Americans with their planes, they did a good deed. There are thousands more young followers who look forward to death like Americans look forward to living.'"

The Atlantic also has an interview with Hoffman here.


Another Mitzvah Hero


Carolyn Blashek -- remarkable one-woman support group for the U.S. military in the Middle East -- is profiled in The Los Angeles Times: "Valley Mom Gives Troops a Lift by Mail."


Blashek, a congregant at Ohr HaTorah, has "single-handedly sent 100 packages in the last two months to U.S. troops serving in the Middle East." She has received an avalanche of emails and letters thanking her.


"I have this understanding now, on a very deeply felt level, how important it is to the troops to know that people back home do care for them."

Yasher Koach.


"For You, A Little Enlightenment"


David M. Bader has a (relatively) new book -- Zen Judaism -- about a "growing movement . . . a unique way to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha, ideally without gaining quite so much weight."


"The Buddha found that, through meditation, it was possible to reach Nirvana . . . . This realization came as the Buddha sat in the lotus position on the Immovable Spot under the Tree of Enlightenment for forty-nine days in a row, after which he enunciated the Four Noble Truths:

ONE: Life is suffering.

TWO: The cause of all suffering is selfish craving and attachment.

THREE: There is a way to end all suffering, which I am about to explain.

FOUR: I have no feeling in my legs."

Very funny book.

Friday, May 16, 2003


This Week's Portion: B'Har (Leviticus 25:1 - 26:2)


The portion covers principles of land use ("in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord") and land tenure ("the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine . . . you must provide for the redemption of the land"), and includes the requirement to "count off seven weeks of years . . . forty-nine years . . . [and] sound the horn loud" for the jubilee.


Rabbi Laura Geller writes that these instructions about "God's Belongings" were spoken by the Lord at Mount Sinai:


"What happened at Mount Sinai? The story isn’t so clear. Our tradition teaches us that we were all there, every Jew who ever was or ever will be . . . . Some commentators believe that we heard God speak the Ten Commandments; others believe that we heard only the first two, because they are the only ones given in the first person. Still others believe that all we heard was the first word of the first commandment: "Anochi — I am." . . . . [Others] that all we heard at Mount Sinai was the first letter of the first word: alef — a silent letter. All we heard was Divine silence, or perhaps God’s breath. And as we breathe, we understand that God is in us as well.

"What happened at Mount Sinai? Each of us heard God in our own way, and our lives are a response to how we understand what we heard."

Rabbi David Wolpe writes on "The Omer's Significance:"


"What is the deep significance of counting the omer? Isaac Herzog, the late chief rabbi of Israel, wrote that barley is a maakhel behema, a food fit for beasts. It is animal food. Why then do we offer it up in the Temple? . . . .

"The Talmud teaches that the purpose of the mitzvot is to refine human beings. That which begins as an animal instinct can, through the guidance of Torah, be refined to an expression of the Divine. The barley offering, which begins as a food for animals, must be sifted and refined, and then offered to God. . . . We are animals, but we are not only animals. Sifted and refined, we are worthy to approach God."

Shabbat Shalom.


Thursday, May 15, 2003


Movies and Religion


The Matrix Reloaded -- the sequel to The Matrix (1999) -- opens today. It is one of the relatively few movies with a "Philosophy Section" and articles by college professors on its website.


Glenn Reynolds writes about the movie in Tech Central Station as "A Religious Experience:"


"Quite a few people are wondering if The Matrix is really a vehicle for Christian thought:


'There's two ways to look at this from a Christian perspective,' says Glenn Yeffeth, editor of the book Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix. 'One is that it's retelling the story of Christ,' he says. 'The other way to look at it is a very violent film filled with garden-variety blasphemy that exploits people's resonance with the Christian narrative to fool people into a story that is fundamentally atheistic.'

"Well, that narrows it down. But, as with the Klingon language and Jediism as a religion, there's no question that quite a few people believe in this stuff. . . . Does science fiction compete with religion as a source of moral guidance in the public sphere? The answer, I think, would have to be 'yes.'"

Reynolds (the InstaPundit) may be right, although "compete" may not be the precise word. Two terrific recent sci-fi movies -- "Contact" and "Minority Report" -- nicely framed and dramatized what are essentially religious and moral issues.


Adam Gopnik has a long article about the movie ("The Unreal Thing") in the current issue of The New Yorker. David Denby's review of the 1999 original is here.


The Associated Press says "Sci-fi fans, philosophers, Buddhists, and evangelical Christians are finding resonant themes in 'The Matrix.'" But David Frankfurter, professor of history and religious studies at the University of New Hampshire, adds another view. "I'd resist the notion of [Neo] as having anything to do with Jesus," he is quoted as saying in an article in The Christian Science Monitor. "He's the classic hero figure from early Jewish literature."


Sinai Temple in Los Angeles will sponsor a dialogue about the movie for college students and young professionals with Rabbi David Wolpe.


Wednesday, May 14, 2003


Some Books About the Bible


Jonathan Yardley reviews "God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible" by Adam Nicolson -- the story of how a committee, working over seven years, produced "a work of genius:"


"The King James Bible, Adam Nicolson writes, 'can lay claim to be the greatest work in prose ever written in English.' True enough, so far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. The King James Bible is the greatest work ever written in English, period. . . . [I]t is a work of such majesty, passion and literary power that even the greatest of Shakespeare's tragedies must bow before it."

Janet Maslin reviews the book in the New York Times: "The Word of God, Written by Committee." Nicolson descries the "descent to dreariness" represented by the 20th-century New English Bible:


"'Language which is not taut with a sense of its own significance, which is apologetic in its desire to be acceptable to a modern consciousness, language in other words which submits to its audience, rather than instructing, informing, moving, challenging and even entertaining them, is no longer a language which can carry the freight the Bible requires,' [Nicolson] writes."

A modern effort to translate and comment on the Torah -- the first five books of the bible -- was published last year by a distinguished committee of rabbis and scholars, led by Rabbi David Lieber: Etz Hayim: A Torah Commentary. Publishers Weekly describes the book as a "monumental achievement:"


"The first new Torah commentary for Conservative Judaism in over 70 years, Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, boasts an all-star editorial cast. Harold Kushner's d'rash (interpretive commentary) explores the importance of social justice in Judaism, while Chaim Potok's contributions attempt to ground the Torah historically by ascertaining its meaning to the ancient Israelites. A special section edited by Elliot Dorff and Susan Grossman investigates the Jewish legal tradition and its foundations in the Torah; biblical scholar Michael Fishbane offers commentary on the haftarah (Torah portions to be read in the synagogue throughout the year). This commentary is a monumental achievement, incorporating recent archaeological findings, textual interpretations and (for the first time) the opinions of female rabbis."

Norman Podhoretz -- who, before he was a neocon, was a liberal; and who, before he was a liberal, was a student of the Bible, with a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature from JTS -- captures the language and messages of the biblical prophets in "The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are" -- reviewed last Sunday in the Los Angeles Times. An excerpt from the book is here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003


Cherie Blair and the Secret Cabal


Mark Steyn notes in The London Telegraph that accusations Tony Blair is secretly controlled by a cabal of Jewish advisers "takes the heat off George W. Bush" -- who:


"is apparently simultaneously secretly controlled by a cabal of sinister Jews, a cabal of fundamentalist Christians, a cabal of Texas oil barons, and a cabal of devious neoconservatives who are also Jews, but, demonstrating the cunning one traditionally associates with the Hebrew, have taken to going around under a new name . . ."

Sarah Honig has another excellent column, this time on Cherie Blair's genteel anti-semitism and the garden in which it grows.



Council on Foreign Relations Debate: Martin Indyk vs. Daniel Pipes


The Council on Foreign Relations last week held an hour-and-a-half debate between Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel in the Clinton Administration and currently Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum.


The subject was "Should Washington Actively Promote an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Settlement?" (Pipes thinks it is premature; Indyk thinks it is overdue).


The Council has posted on its website a complete transcript of the spirited and informative debate. It is worth reading in its entirety. But here are the highlights of the two presentations:


Daniel Pipes' Opening Statement:


"I would argue to you that 1993 was a happier time in Arab-Israeli issues than 2003. The seven years of diplomacy between 1993 and 2000, the Oslo diplomacy, actually worsened the situation. . . .

"In fact there was a terrible logic in the course of those seven years: That as the Israelis made concessions, gave autonomy, turned over tax revenues, permitted various developments in the Palestinian Authority to take place, Palestinian ambitions against Israel -- rather than being tamped down by finding their own satisfaction in their own autonomy and economy and culture and politics -- in fact what happened is the Palestinians became more displeased with the continuing existence of Israel. So there was this terrible logic, in that the more that Israel gave, the more anger it found directed against it. If there was a cycle of violence, this was it. Israeli concessions led to more rejectionism on the Palestinian part.

". . . Do we want to try this again? No, I think we should learn from past mistakes. Indeed, I would suggest to the State Department that it open a Bureau of Lessons Learned, such as the Defense Department has. (Laughter) And I think one lesson learned would be that you don't go back and repeat the old mistakes. Pressing Israel for concessions did not work, it fed Palestinian ambitions against Israel. . . .

"I think we need to rethink our understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The general assumption is that this is a conventional conflict, it's about borders, religious sanctities, who lives where, armaments, water, and the like. I would argue to you in reality that this is not a conventional conflict; it is a conflict in which today, as in 1948, the existence of Israel is at stake. The goal therefore of the United States must be to win Palestinian acceptance of Israel. When that is achieved, diplomacy should rightfully begin. . . .

"In other words, my argument is not against the road map as such or the goals of the road map or Oslo or other points; it is against the concept that asking the Israelis to make concessions in order to win Palestinian acceptance is not going to work."

Martin Indyk's Opening Statement:


". . . [T]he Oslo process failed in that regard, but it didn't fail for the reasons [Daniel Pipes] suggested. There was a commitment, a solemn commitment made by Yassir Arafat himself, in writing, with his signature, to eschew violence, to oppose the terrorists, to pursue his objectives through negotiations. He did not keep that commitment, and that is why he is no longer a possible partner for an Israeli-Palestinian process.

" . . . . If Oslo failed, it wasn't just because the Palestinians saw that, the more Israel gave, the more they could gain through pursuing violence. It was rather that there was not a commitment, an honest commitment on Arafat's part, to give up violence. He maintained it as a tactic.

"And the interim process itself did not work. It didn't work because neither side got what they expected to get through the process -- what they had been promised to get. Israelis expected security, and they didn't get that. The Palestinians expected through the agreement that they would receive more territory in three traunches. That was part of the agreement, that the Israeli army would withdraw in a specific period of time, and that didn't happen either. And instead, settlements grew and grew. And so both sides were disappointed. The Israeli disappointment led them to want to jump over the interim process to a final status negotiation. That was an Israeli-driven process that led us to Camp David in the last year."

Daniel Pipes' Rebuttal:


"I think the key difference in analysis is about what went wrong in Oslo. . . . [Martin's] view is that the increased Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and I would presume other factors such as the . . . checkpoints and the general economic [conditions] were part of the disappointment. I note those, but I see those as secondary to a growing sense that Israel was vulnerable. I believe that the Israelis worked on the assumption -- and I believe that it's one that Martin shares -- that a magnanimity, that handing over land and tax monies and other benefits to the Palestinians would lead to an assuaging of this Palestinian sense of grievance, and a turning towards development of political institutions, the economy, culture and the like.

"The assumption was that if the Palestinians have their grievances met, they will turn away from violence, and more or less turn away from their grievances with Israel. I think the record shows precisely the opposite . . . .

"In the course of Oslo, because of Israeli actions . . . [and] the development of Post-Zionist thinking in the academy and through much of the [Israeli] culture . . . the Palestinian sense that Israel was vulnerable grew and grew. There were many such instances, but my Exhibit A would be the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon three years ago this month -- when, after having been hammered for something like two decades, the Israeli body politic said, 'Enough, we want out. We don't want to have 25 or so fatalities a year. Time to leave.' And despite the objection of the military, the Israeli forces did leave overnight on the 23rd of May, 2000.

". . . And the Israelis thought that this would do the trick. Well, it didn't. In the first place, there is Hezbollah on the border now. But more importantly, for these purposes, the Palestinians looked at this and said, 'Hmm, Hezbollah, by hitting the Israelis over and over again, hammering them for two decades, got what they wanted without any conditions, without anybody left there, with the Israelis lock, stock and barrel gone overnight, betraying their allies. What are we doing negotiating with them? . . .

"Two months later came Camp David, in which the Palestinians did not even respond to these extraordinary offers they were being given by the Israelis; and two months hence began the violence that still continues, a violence I believe was inspired by the vision of what Hezbollah had achieved in Lebanon. . . . The use of violence has not achieved what the Palestinians had hoped. It has not brought them closer to a state, it has harmed their economy, it has eroded their institutions, life is not good in the PA, and so there is a rethinking.

"But let me close by saying that the rethinking is a tactical rethinking. What Abu Mazen is saying is: 'Violence hasn't worked.' I don't hear anything -- or even if I hear it, I don't believe it -- that there is a true willingness to give up on violence on a permanent basis against Israel. That requires not [just] a few statements; that requires a protracted pattern of non-violent interaction with Israel in a consistent way. And that, I believe, is the precursor to negotiations, not some statements."

Martin Indyk's Rebuttal:


"There is no question that the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon inspired those on the Palestinian side who believed that using force was the way to get Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. But they were able to prevail in their argument in circumstances where the political process designed for an Israeli withdrawal in the context of reaching a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians had failed. . . .

"Our whole strategy -- and indeed, the Israeli strategy of Ehud Barak -- was to achieve an Israeli-Syrian deal in which an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon would be in the context of an Israeli-Lebanese agreement, which would have then put the Palestinians in the situation where Arafat . . . would have had no choice, with all the other states having made peace with Israel, but to accept . . . the generous offer that was made at Camp David and subsequently. The failure to get the Syrian deal actually led to the collapse of strategy. . . . And that's when those who were arguing we should use violence to get Israel to withdraw were given effectively the green light from Yassir Arafat.

" . . . . And here is the problem with Daniel's argument: . . . the Israelis cannot abide by the prescription that he puts forth. They are not prepared to wait all of this time until the Palestinians finally come to the realization . . . Israelis are not going to simply try to bear it. Their economic situation is very bad and they now, again, are looking for a way out. And so, the question becomes what do we do in those situations?

"I think there is another way. . . [W]e need a process that will ensure that a Palestinian leadership emerges that is responsible and capable of confronting the terrorists and stopping the violence. Then in order to do that, they have to have American engagement and they have to have something to point to in terms of the hope of a better future for their people.

"I'll give you an example, Daniel. Ariel Sharon wanted us to intervene in the first year-and-a-half of the Intifada. I was working with him for his first six months. So you have to take my word for it. But in those first six months, Ariel Sharon wanted active American intervention. . . .[E]verything about his behavior, as well as what he told me as the Ambassador at the time, indicated what he wanted. Let me give you an example. The discotheque bombing in June of 2000 killed 21 Israeli youngsters . . . . Ariel Sharon did not retaliate for that horrendous event. He stood back and he told his public 'there is wisdom in restraint.' . . . .

"That was his policy . . . until Passover last year and the Passover massacre, when he chose to go in and use military force to take care of the problem. But up to that point, he needed our intervention to press the Palestinians to stop, to press Arafat to stop. And he was willing to agree to a full settlement freeze, including natural growth, in order to achieve that.

"In other words, he was prepared to make political concessions in order to stop the violence. This is Ariel Sharon, not Ehud Barak. Our unwillingness to engage meant that he, in the end, had no option but to send his Israeli Army back into the territories where they remain to this day. . . .

"I think that the President himself is interested in trying to do something. He is intrigued by the appointment of Abu Mazen. . . . And he is listening, at least for the time being, to Tony Blair, who makes the argument that this would be good for post-war reconstruction in Iraq and American and Western interests in the region more generally. So I think there is a change in the President. . . . He's in fact told his advisors, I understand it, that he wants to do something big. They're all scratching their heads to try to figure out what exactly that should be. But it's not the roadmap. He's thinking about something more than that. . . .

"And I believe the channels are open between Abu Mazen and Sharon. They need to coordinate the steps . . . . Which checkpoints will be removed? Where Israel will move the army and the Palestinians will move their security forces in to maintain control. How much money and how quickly will be handed over to Abu Mazen and his credible finance minister so that the Palestinians can see an improvement in their lives that's delivered by Abu Mazen.

"It's those kinds of confidence-building steps that can be developed. And because there's confidence between Abu Mazen and Sharon, Sharon can take some risks, and he's willing to do that. . . . We have to be engaged directly in that effort, working with those two prime ministers. And that's the key. That's what's been missing for so long now, is our willingness to get involved in that effort. . . .

"Now that we, I think, have decided to engage, [the roadmap is] not a particularly useful mechanism. Why? Because I can tell you from bitter experience that, when you have four mediators, it's impossible to get anywhere. Because -- especially in the case of the E.U. -- they will always outbid us on the Palestinian side. And the Palestinians will always have an opportunity to do an end-run around us in the negotiations. So I think the E.U. has an important role to play, but it's not to lead the negotiations.

And it's not to lead the negotiations for a different reason as well. And that is what I was saying before -- about how to work with Israel. The model that you see most prominently advocated by the French, but unfortunately in recent days by the British as well, is a model which very much involves beating up on Israel. Pressuring Israel, that defines the problem as Israel. Israeli settlement activity, for instance, rather than Palestinian violence.

"And whether you agree or disagree with that, there's a critical result -- which is that the Israelis will not trust the E.U. to be the mediator in those circumstances, because they see it as biased and not caring about Israel's security interests. And therefore, the E.U., by adopting that kind of approach, renders itself irrelevant. It actually hurts our efforts rather than helping them. And so, as long as they're going to pursue that approach, we can't use them in the way that they could play a very useful role."

Questions from the Audience:


"What actions do you think we should take to change the Palestinian public opinion? How long do you think that will take? And how will you know when we're there?

Daniel Pipes: "To answer your last question first: how will we know we're there? . . . [W]hen the Jews living in Hebron need as little security as the Arabs living in Nazareth -- we've arrived. [That] says nothing about the future course, whether they're going to live under Israeli sovereignty or Palestinian sovereignty. It just says violence is in the past and no one is worried about it. . . . What the United States can do? There are many steps. Let me give you one illustration of how our lack of attention to the Arab rejection of Israel works out.

"There's an institution of the United Nations called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA. It has been in existence for over a half-century and its sole purpose, despite its general name, is to provide aid to Palestinian refugees. Those refugees, by and large, date from the late-1940s. Some from 1967. But the largest host is from 1948/49.

"It is well-known that there were many refugee flows in the aftermath of World War II. Koreans, Vietnamese, Germans, the subcontinent, Hindus and Muslims. Vast numbers, all of whom long ago have been settled. . . .

"The outstanding exception are the Palestinians. They were frozen in amber in early the 1950s as a means, as a dagger, against Israel. And they continue to be frozen.

". . . . [W]e are providing money to UNRWA. We are maintaining this refugee status. We should rethink this. We should look towards integrating the Palestinians in the Middle East, into the countries where they live. This is something that's not on the table, because we don't think about it. But if we're going to get a resolution, then these hundreds of thousands of individuals must find a home elsewhere than in Israel."

Martin Indyk: "As far as integrating the refugees, I agree with Daniel's basic point here, that it is really a shame on the Arab world, on the international community, that the Palestinian refugees have been used as pawns for so many decades, and that a solution has not been found for them, in the way that solutions have been found for other refugees. . . .

". . . And there, there has to be a solution for them, and that should be done as soon as possible. And I don't think it should wait for a final settlement."

Ambassador Indyk, I think a number of us are intrigued by your concept of a U.S.-led trusteeship. I was wondering if you could get a little practical with us and give us your perspective on openness in the Bush Administration to a parthway like this?

". . . I suspect that [the Roadmap] won't succeed, for reasons that we've already discussed. It . . . will essentially fail because the Palestinians do not have a government that is capable of acting as a responsible partner. And do not have a security force that is capable of confronting the terrorists. And those are the two things in which everything else hangs. . . .

And the purpose of the trusteeship is basically to have a third party international intervention that helps the Palestinians develop a responsible leadership, and the security capability. So if they can't do it on their own now, and I don't think they'll succeed, because of Arafat and Hamas, and so on, then that kind of intervention is useful.

"And as for the others that would join us, that would need to join us -- the Canadians, the Australians, the Brits -- I think, I don't think, I know, that they are actively considering this idea at the moment."

Martin Indyk's Closing Statement:


" . . . We need to empower Abu Massen, we need to show that his way can deliver. And it happens to coincide with a similar attitude on the Israeli side, which Daniel doesn't like. He dismisses them as being impatient, and suggests that what the Israelis need to do is basically suck it up for another decade or so.

"But . . . his recommendation is not a practical one. The Israelis want a way out of this conflict, too. They, too, are suffering from exhaustion. Their standard of living has dropped dramatically. Their unemployment has increased dramatically. Their scientific base is now eroding. One in five Israelis are living under the poverty line.

"There is a situation of despair in the Jewish state today which is very dangerous for Israel's future. I would argue -- more dangerous than the next suicide bomb. And that is why I think that there is a willingness on the Israeli side to work with us, as we try to empower Abu Massen and help him to stand up to the terrorist, and stop the violence, to lay a basis for a path to a resolution of this conflict."

Daniel Pipes' Closing Statement:


"Indeed the Israelis want out. No dispute there. But they're in a war. And when you're in a war, you don't have the option, other than giving up, of getting out. You either win or you lose. . . . I think it's very important to understand, this is a war underway, in which the Palestinians wish to destroy Israel, and Israel wishes to achieve its acceptance. One side is going to win, one side is going to lose. . . . If the Israelis decide midway through the war that they don't want to fight it, well, that's their prerogative. But then they well might lose it.

". . . [T]here is an environment of questioning. And Abu Massen has been at the head of it, saying the violence has not worked. And it clearly has not worked. Compared to two and a half years ago, the Palestinians are worse off in probably every way. But it's important to note that this questioning has resulted not from diplomacy but from losing a war. . . .

"Therefore, I think the conclusion is that they must continue down this road of rethinking it and not have open to them all sorts of benefits before they've come to the conclusion that violence does not work. I do not accept Abu Mazen's rethinking as strategic. I see it as tactical . . . He realized that for various reasons, he had to make changes vis a vis Israel and he did so. Did he in his heart give up the struggle? I don't think so. And I don't think so with either Abu Mazen nor broadly with the Palestinians.

" . . . Only when the Palestinians give up their dream of destroying Israel can they make real progress. And until that time, the diplomacy that takes place is, I think, fundamentally futile. That was the case during the seven years of Oslo. I firmly believe it will be the case next time, too. The premises need to change."

The entire debate is worth reading -- and saving for future reference.

Monday, May 12, 2003


The Roadmap in the Rear View Window


Aluf Benn, writing in Haaretz on Secretary Powell's visit, observes that: "Just 11 days have passed since publication of the road map . . . and already it appears to have disappeared from the diplomatic discourse."


He says the U.S. "has decided to put the road map to one side and focus now on reciprocal steps on the part of the Israelis and Palestinians that will lead to a renewal of the political process" and distinguishes this from the international diplomancy the first President Bush used:


"The administration of Bush Jr. has adopted a different approach to the one taken by his father's administration. When the peace process began in 1991, after the Gulf War, Bush Sr. and his aides set out with a big bang - the spectacular international conference in Madrid. Now, in the wake of their victory in Iraq, the Americans are speaking of reviving the peace process, but in the opposite direction - from the bottom up. Instead of ceremonies and declarations from leaders, they would like to see Shaul Mofaz reaching agreements with Mohammed Dahlan that will gradually lead to a sense of calm on the ground; and in this way, the process will move forward step by step."

President George W. Bush made no mention of the road map in his Commencement Speech on the Middle East at the University of South Carolina on Friday. Instead, he set no dates or other timeline and repeated the performance-based formulation from his June 24, 2002 speech (requiring that Israeli settlement activity stop "as progress is made toward peace"). And he put the conflict in a broader context:


"The combined GDP of all Arab countries is smaller than that of Spain. Their peoples have less access to the Internet than the people of Sub-Sahara Africa. The Arab world has a great cultural tradition, but is largely missing out on the economic progress of our time. Across the globe, free markets and trade have helped defeat poverty, and taught men and women the habits of liberty. So I propose the establishment of a U.S.--Middle East free trade area within a decade . . . .

"Making the most of economic opportunities will require broader and better education, especially among women. . . . And, ultimately, both economic success and human dignity depend on the rule of law and honest administration of justice. . . . As trade expands and knowledge spreads to the Middle East, as women gain a place of equality and respect, as the rule of law takes hold, all peoples of that region will see a new day of justice and a new day of prosperity. . . .

"If the Palestinian people take concrete steps to crack down on terror, continue on a path of peace, reform and democracy, they and all the world will see the flag of Palestine raised over a free and independent nation.

"All sides of this conflict have duties. Israel must take tangible steps now to ease the suffering of Palestinians and to show respect for their dignity. And as progress is made toward peace, Israel must stop settlement activity in the occupied territories.

"Arab nations must fight terror in all forms, and recognize and state the obvious once and for all: Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors."

Thomas Friedman, writing in yesterday's New York Times, faults George Bush (just off two wars in two years) with a lack of "energy, focus and toughness" in the Middle East, and then gets even more hysterical about the current process:


"Mr. Bush's speech on Friday laying out a vision for a new Middle East, based on free trade, was excellent. But from the start, his administration has been long on road maps and short on drivers. If Mr. Bush is going to travel the road he has paved, he is going to have to step up his Middle East diplomatic game, with sustained energy, focus and toughness.

"He will have to halt the attacks on Colin Powell from the Pentagon and make clear, for once, that he stands behind his secretary of state; tell both the Christian right and the Likud-run Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that he is not going to let them block his path by their support for the lunatic Israeli settler movement; and tell the Arab leaders it is put-up-or-shut-up time: that means helping to ease out Mr. Arafat and taking steps to accept the Jewish state."

The lunatic Israeli settler movement? The Likud-run Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations?


This is "Amen Corner"-type stuff that is (or should be) below Friedman.


The Human Toll of Withdrawal from the Settlements


Yossi Klein Halevi writes about "The Meaning of 'Painful Concessions'." He says that while most centrist Israelis, including himself, reluctantly support withdrawal from some of the settlements, Israelis are deceiving themselves that it will be without significant pain:


"The deception begins with the sterile phrase, 'land for peace.' 'Land' implies a pristine landscape, devoid of human presence. In fact, the formulation means a destruction of worlds -- neighborhoods and homes, schools and synagogues, hangouts and hitchhiking stations. It isn't 'land' and it probably won't be 'peace' . . . .

"The human toll that will result from the destruction of organic communities is incalculable. After the Sinai town of Yamit was destroyed in 1982, many never recovered; for some, the result was depression and divorce. At its peak, Yamit contained perhaps 5,000 residents. Increase Yamit by tens of thousands and you can begin to imagine the implications for Israeli society that will result from a similar uprooting -- the real word is 'transfer' - in Judea and Samaria."

The World Union of Jewish Students has a primer on settlements here. The ADL has a map of the settlements and other information regarding them on its site.


Haaretz reports today that settlers vowed to establish a new settlement near the site in the West Bank where Palestinian gunmen killed settler Gidon Lichterman and seriously wounded his six-year old daughter in an ambush last week. Haaretz also publishes a long background report on the settlements.

Friday, May 09, 2003


This Week's Portion: Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:33)

The portion begins with the Lord's instruction to Moses to say to the priests: "None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin . . . ."


Rabbi Ed Feinstein writes about life in Israel today amidst terrorism, and the extraordinary heroism of those who endure it to keep their state, without hatred or despair ("Different Heroes"). He finds solace in the deeper meaning of the above instruction:


"The Chasidic master, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, read the verse as a warning against the defilement of the soul. The soul is defiled, its essence violated, when it is infected with the bitterness and rage that comes with senseless suffering and tragedy. . . . The Ishbitzer taught that those who . . . would serve God are commanded to find the resources to resist the defilements of despair and darkness. Despair is the ultimate denial of God . . ."

Rabbi Melissa Crespy also finds hope in this week's portion:


"We celebrate this week not only Shabbat, but Yom Ha-atz-maut - Israel's Independence Day. And while nothing can make up for the slaughter of millions of our people throughout history, we have hope today that most of our ancestors never lived to see: a reborn Israel - by no means perfect - but a place to which Rachel's children have returned and in which they are living full lives as Jews."

Shabbat Shalom.


Combatting Terrorism

The Atlantic Monthly publishes its June issue next week. The lead article is "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism" by Bruce Hoffman, Director of RAND Corporation's Washington, D.C. office and author of Inside Terrorism (1999). A preview of the article is here:


"First you feel nervous about riding the bus. Then you wonder about going to a mall. Then you think twice about sitting for long at your favorite café. Then nowhere seems safe. Terrorist groups have a strategy—to shrink to nothing the areas in which people move freely—and suicide bombers, inexpensive and reliably lethal, are their latest weapons. [Bruce Hoffman] travels to Israel and studies how authorities there have learned to recognize and disrupt the steps on the path to suicide attacks."


The magazine also has an article by James Fallows entitled "Who Shot Mohammed Al-Dura?:"


"The image of a boy shot dead in his helpless father's arms during an Israeli confrontation with Palestinians has become the Pietà of the Arab world. Now a number of Israeli researchers are presenting persuasive evidence that the fatal shots could not have come from the Israeli soldiers known to have been involved in the confrontation. The evidence will not change Arab minds—but the episode offers an object lesson in the incendiary power of an icon."

Thursday, May 08, 2003


The Road Map and the Conditions for Peace

David Warren, in The Ottawa Citizen, writes that the roadmap will put "Israelis, Palestinians on Road to Another War." He describes the roadmap as:


"a rehash of all those 'confidence-building measures' that made the Oslo process such a farce. Like the preceding failures, it simply avoids the most difficult issues, leaving them to the end. It imposes a meaningless timetable, to be somehow reached with rewards for good behaviour but no penalties for bad.

"And the least funny part of this bad joke is that the U.S. will continue to co-ordinate its position with that of the other members of the 'quartet' -- Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. . . . All three of these 'peace partners' have recently demonstrated the political advantages to themselves of abetting anti-Americanism; none is trusted by Israel."

Stewart Ain quotes Zalman Shoval, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and currently an adviser to Ariel Sharon, on why the Palestinian's retention of their "right of return" demand -- not addressed in the road map -- is a deal breaker:


"Shoval . . . said the reason this is such a hot-button issue for Israel is that the road map calls for Israel to 'declare from the beginning' its acceptance of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. And the Palestinians, according to the road map, 'are not expected to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state.'

“'So Israel will declare its support for a Palestinian state now and the Palestinians say they will discuss the right-of-return in the final status negotiations,' Shoval said. 'This is totally unacceptable.'

"He pointed out that the road map actually refers to the Saudi peace plan, which mentions a United Nations resolution supporting the Palestinian right-of-return.

"'These points will have to be clarified, because without that, the road map does not move forward,' Shoval maintained."

Mahmoud Abbas reportedly told Palestinian reporters that Ariel Sharon's demand that Palestinians give up their right-of-return demand in order to have a Palestinian state "is one of the dreams we reject completely."


Well, of course. Because if the Palestinians can't exercise their "right of return" to Israel, they don't want a state.

They could have had a state in 1947, if they had accepted a Jewish state as well. Instead, they preferred a war. They could have had a state on the entire West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem at any time between 1948 and 1967, since the land was under their control. Instead, they preferred a war. They could have had a state in 2000 (with a capital in Jerusalem), if they had given up their "right of return." Instead, they preferred a war.


There is a pattern here. And it is much more fundamental than "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity."


As Abraham D. Sofaer --- State Department legal adviser (1985-1990) and principal negotiator of the 1989 accord between Israel and Egypt -- notes in an important article in the current issue of Commentary ("The U.S. and Israel: The Road Ahead"), the problem in the Middle East is one that the road map -- with its failure even to address the "right of return," much less prescribe its abandonment in exchange for a state -- does not deal with:


"However much it may exasperate those bent on 'bringing an end' to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, decades of war, terror, and hatred are not to be undone through declarations and deadlines. The problem is not one of borders and territory; it is not one of schedules; it is not even one of a Palestinian state. The problem is existential."

Better than the roadmap is Thomas Friedman's one-step peace plan: "if the Palestinians convince the Israeli center that they are ready to live in peace with a Jewish state, they will get a state; if they don't, they won't; the rest is commentary."

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


Independence Day


Israel in 1948; Israel in 2003; Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlen

Reuven Rivlen, Knesset Speaker, made an eloquent address yesterday during Israel's Independence Day observance. His speech revolved around the image of raising the Israeli flag:


"So much meaning is encompassed in this simple act. There is no symbol more pure to express our resurrection from the ashes, from the piles of ruins, from the blood.

"This raising of our flag expresses hope and determination, optimism and power, pride and even a small amount of protest against the whole world: 'Look and see: We are here! This is our place, and here we will stay'!

" . . . today, after our great and true dream of peace, of a little tranquility, has burst over our heads, and has been proved a terrible illusion. After the great sobering up, it seems that we are all returning to take a stronger grasp on our old and good Eretz Yisrael, of the songs, the culture, the symbols, and, of course, our blue and white flag.

"And it's true, everyone can feel it: we are once again gathering around our group bonfire; we are removing our robe of cynicism; we are returning closer to our Israeliness, in a sort of protest: against the situation, against the terrorism, against the broken dream of peace.

"Independence Day, despite the situation, or perhaps just because of it, has become again a day of popular, real and simple rejoicing, shared by us all; a day when we are not ashamed to express our love—as we once did—for this land, for our own state. . . . [W]e are filled with pride, with joy and with gratitude for what we have achieved here in 55 years."

You don't hear much about post-Zionism anymore.


Netanyahu on the Road Map

Benjamin Netanyahu, at the end of a long interview on his activities as Finance Minister, was asked about the Road Map:

"Turning to diplomacy, it seems that the road map is gaining momentum. What's your view?

"There's no illusion on the government table about who we're dealing with. That's why there's a consensus that we must agree on several things. First, not only the momentary cessation [or] suspension of terror - but real action on the part of the Palestinian Authority against the sources of terror.

"Second, we have to see that any political process is accompanied by an a priori recognition of the Palestinians of our right to exist as a Jewish state, and the abandonment on their part on this so-called right of return, which means the destruction of Israel.

"Third, it's important, if those two conditions are met, and if we can engage in a political process, to ensure that the Palestinian entity, whatever its configuration, does not enjoy those powers that can endanger the one and only Jewish state -- which means limitations on certain sovereign powers; for example, the importation of weapons through third perimeters would be in our hands, and the airspace would be in our hands as well.

"These are the principles that I think are agreed upon by the prime minister, by the ministers, and I think will serve us well if we stick to them. And there's no reason not to. I think the American people and administration understand these fears a lot better than they did a year ago. We need these measures to make sure we don't fall in a trap; Oslo was bad enough."

Tuesday, May 06, 2003


Fifty-Five Years of Triumphs and Tragedies

The Jerusalem Post editorializes "Israel at 55," being celebrated today:


"On Israel's founding 55 years ago, our population stood at 806,000. It is now 6.7 million -- an eight-fold increase. Three million people have immigrated to Israel since 1948, including a million since 1990 and, perhaps most remarkably, 31,000 in the past year. . . .

"It would be better if, as we remember our fallen and celebrate our independence, we would no longer have to guard our kindergartens, coffee houses, and malls. It would be better if the US and Israel had more support from other democracies, given that we have been attacked and are fighting back. But it is better to be in a fight that has a chance of bringing lasting peace than in a 'peace' built on denial, leading only to war."

The Post also prints Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech, which marks Israel Independence Day and Memorial Day as one:

"On Remembrance Day, as is customary in Israel, memorial candles will be lit in every home, and in every heart the flame of memory for a fallen warrior will be kindled -- a precious family member or beloved friend who is gone. For there is not one person in Israel who has not lost someone close or familiar over the years, nor is there anyone in Israel who does not remember."


An Israeli soldier carries flags in the Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem yesterday.


"The Poretz May Die . . . the Dog May Die"

Sarah Honig begins a new bi-weekly column in The Jerusalem Post today.

She starts her column -- "Can Sharon Teach the Canines to Croon?" -- by recounting a Yiddish folktale with the above punchline.

The article is worth reading for the folktale, and for the use she makes of it in discussing the roadmap.


With a Little Help From Our Friends

Gary Bauer, in his end-of-day email for May 5, writes about a large crowd at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. last week:


"There was a remarkable event at the Israeli Embassy on Friday that I was
honored to play a role in. Over 800 activists and leaders of Christian
ministries gathered with the embassy staff and the Israeli Ambassador for
a morning of speakers, prayers and singing in support of Israel. . . . I was gratified to speak
to the gathering, along with Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in
San Antonio, Texas. But clearly, the highlight of the event was the
emotional response of Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, who left his prepared
remarks to speak from the heart about what Christian support for Israel
has meant to him and his besieged nation. And last night, I spoke to
2,700 Christians and Jews at Faith Bible Chapel in Denver, Colorado on the
same issue. . . .

"I hope your local church is addressing the obligation Christians have to stand
with our Jewish brothers and sisters. If you want to do more on this in
your church, contact us at the numbers at the end of this report or reply
by e-mail to this message."

Bauer's email cites the biblical basis for Christian support for Israel. It does not relate to conversion.

Monday, May 05, 2003


Yom Ha'Atzmaut -- Israel Independence Day

A report on Israel's observance of its Independence Day, which begins this evening, is here.

Since the War of Independence, 21,540 soldiers and security personnel have fallen, with 254 killed since Remembrance Day last year (in proportion to the U.S. population, the equivalent would be nearly 1,000,000 people).


Am Yisrael Chai

Mike's Place, the site of the latest Palestinian murders on April 29 -- near the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv -- will hold a memorial service at 5 p.m. (7 a.m. PDT) on Tuesday, May 6, on the eve of Israel Independence Day.

The service will be broadcast online and will remember and celebrate the lives of Dominique Hess, Yanai Weiss, and Ran Baron.

After the service, Mike's Place will reopen for business.


Still More Reasons to Be Visiting Israel

Amy Klein writes about the decline in tourism to Israel and asks "Whose Loss Is It Anyway?" She says it is not just Israel's, but ours:

"We are entering the third year that college students have never been to Israel. Without that firsthand knowledge, they are vulnerable not only to losing the battle on campus, but to assimilation and intermarriage, because they might not have found the Jewish connection that Israel often provides. So, too, for the b’nai mitzvah youngsters, the backpackers, the post-college students, the midlife crisis couples, the retirees and the grade-school children of sabbatical professors, all the types who used to venture to Israel — with programs or on their own — who each discovered in Israel what it means to be Jewish.

"There’s something about the Jewish State that gives people a Jewish identity, and it can’t be replaced by a summer in Europe, a movie night on college campus or an Independence Day program in Hebrew school."


Requiring Specific Steps to End Incitement

StandWithUs.Com has posted an "Anti-Incitement Petition" to be sent to the White House, State Department and Congress.

The petition notes that the "road map" requires that "[a]ll official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel" but does not specify the incitement to be ended. The petition specifies measurable, verifiable steps the Palestinian Authority needs to take to end incitement against Israel and Jews.

A description (and pictures) of the current incitement is here.

StandWithUs is looking for 10,000 online signatures by May 31 (here are the names of the current signatories).


Friday, May 02, 2003


This Week's Portion: Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 - 20:27)

The portion is "one of the richest and most exalted in the Torah," according to Etz Chaim.

It includes the laws of holiness, cutting across all categories of life -- including leaving the edges of our field for the poor and the stranger, avoiding placing a stumbling block before the less fortunate, rendering fair decisions, refraining from incising any marks on ourselves, and keeping the sabbath. "The Torah is holy not only because it comes from God but because it leads to God. . . . Everything we do has the potential of being holy."



Rabbi Shlomo Riskin discusses "The Greatest Law of All" -- "You shall love your neighbor like yourself" (Leviticus 19:18):


"Hillel the Elder maintained the command is to be observed more by what we refrain from doing than by what actually we do. When a would-be proselyte came before Hillel asking to be converted on the condition that he be taught the entire Torah while standing on one leg, Hillel responded, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah; the rest is interpretation, which you must go and learn.'”

David Curzon also writes on "Loving Neighbors as Yourself:"


"W. H. Auden, in an early poem, offers a sly critique of the problems posed by the attempt to put this commandment into practice: 'You shall love your crooked neighbor/With your crooked heart.'

There are many ways of elaborating the general idea, to be found in all religions, of treating your neighbor decently. Confucius, a mentsh if there ever was one, puts the Golden Rule this way in Book Five, Section 12, of the Analects: 'Tzu-kung said, What I do not want others to do to me, I have no desire to do to others. The Master said, Oh Ssu! You haven't quite got to that point yet.'"

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, May 01, 2003


Grief, Determination and Hope at Mike's Place

Mike's Place, the site of the latest Palestinian murders in Tel Aviv, has established an online guestbook for condolences, as well as pictures of the beautiful Dominque (Caroline) Hess, murdered in the attack.

Many people from all over the world have entered their names and a message -- not only from Israel, but from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Chile, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Australia, France, Ireland, and other countries, including these entries:


"What is this great evil? How did it steal into the world? From what seed, what root did it spring? Who's doing this? Who's killing us? Robbing us of light and life. Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known. --- My condolences are with all of you and your families." -- Ed Stern, New York City

"My heartfelt condolences to all victims, injured and their families and friends. Never give up your struggle and brave fight against evil and scum. I will be coming to Israel myself this summer - now more than ever. Don't let stinking [expletive deleted] rule our lives and let us all, and especially all Israelis, resist the power of fear. Am Israel chai - l'olam!" -- Torben, Hannover, Germany.

"Dominique, and others, you were not supposed to die so young. I never met you but I've seen pictures on this site and you were beautiful, young and strong. May you serve as a symbol of strength hope and love to us all and we will never forget you and your sacrifice. . . . Mike's Place -- I've never been to you before, but I am coming to visit . . ." Michal, Philadelphia.

As these atrocities mount, we have become inured to the scope of death wrought by the Palestinians -- since each new incident involves "only" a few deaths.

So we should stop for a moment and reflect on this: Since September 2000, when the Palestinians started their new and vicious war, 763 Israelis have been killed, and 5,134 have been seriously injured.

To appreciate the magnitude of these numbers, it is necessary to consider that Israel has a population of 6.5 million people. The United States has a population of 291 million. Given that ratio, 763 Israeli deaths and 5,134 injured translates in scope to the death of 34,350 Americans, and 231,132 casualties.

And even those numbers do not begin to measure the scope of the damage to the lives of the survivors and the bereaved, or the effect on children who must ride the bus to school every day.

All this after the offer of a state, on virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza strip, with a capital in Jerusalem.

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