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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Hanukkah in Iraq

Rich Galen posts an Iraq Travelogue in "Good Morning, Mesopotamia" about his trip to Tikrit to view Saddam's hole and interview the troops who captured him:

The work I was there to do, was to interview a group of young soldiers from Golf Troop, 10th Calvary Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.

They happened to have been the soldiers who provided the cordon protection around the area where the operators grabbed Saddam. . . . Every young man we interviewed was thrilled to have been part of the capture of Saddam--HVT #1. That stands for "High Value Target" number one.

But they weren't happy about it because of what it meant to them individually. To a man, they were happy because it brought praise to their unit. . . .

David Letterman is in Iraq. . . . The best line of his riff was: "We were surprised that Saddam surrendered so meekly. Michael Jackson put up more of a fight." . . .

While I was in Tikrit, I stayed with a friend named Bob Silverman who is the State Department foreign service officer charged with trying to create a functioning society in the middle of Saddam's home territory.

Celebrating Christmas and, in Bob's case, Chanukah, in Iraq is a bit weird because we are a car ride away from the events which are being celebrated. A long car ride, and several millennia away, but still.

I helped Bob light the Menorah candles one night. We had 20 percent of a minyan, but we decided God would appreciate and accept the effort:

(Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Monday, December 29, 2003

A Great Teacher Moves to Israel

James L. Kugel, Professor of Classical, Modern Jewish, and Hebrew Literature at Harvard -- author of "The Bible As It Was" and numerous other books -- is profiled by Janet Tassel in the current issue of Harvard Magazine.

Kugel -- whose course "The Bible and Its Interpreters" attracted nearly 900 students -- is moving to Israel, where he "will teach twice as much and earn less than half what he makes [at Harvard]."

"It's very different in Israel," he says. "Students all have very good backgrounds in Bible; around here the fact that I know a lot of the Bible by heart seems to strike students as unusual, but in Israel a lot of people know as much as I do, and oftentimes the students correct me!

Most of my students in fact are Bible majors, who want to go on to teach; the Bible is taught in high school and it's part of the matriculation exams that high-school students have to take.

Students have to declare a major before they start university; no Core courses, no shopping around and deciding their concentration after a year or two. Don't forget the average student there, because of army service, starts college when he or she is 21, 22 years old."

Tassel's profile has this description of Kugel's views of bible study and historicity:

Says Kugel, "The question that Jews have always brought to the reading of Torah is, 'What is it telling me to do?' . . . . Historical accuracy was never the focus. . . . But by the nineteenth century, the principal concern of biblicists had evolved into "What really did happen?" . . . .

Many saw this work as a kind of archaeology of the biblical text itself, digging through the accumulated body of past interpretations in order to excavate the original, unadulterated Bible. As one practitioner put it in 1901:

The valleys of biblical truth have been filled up with the debris of human dogmas, ecclesiastical institutions, liturgical formulas, priestly ceremonies, and casuistic practices. Historical criticism is digging through this mass of rubbish . . . searching for the rock-bed of the Divine Word, in order to recover the real Bible.

However, continues Kugel, "biblical bedrock has proven to be an elusive item, and far less adamantine than had been imagined. Moreover, we have been shown time and again that the process of paring books down to their original units . . . hardly yields the sort of purified sacred corpus that [scholars] had hoped for."

As Kugel sought to make clear in both the course and its offspring, The Bible As It Was:

[What] we have come to see is that biblical scholarship, far from peeling off layers of debris from atop a long-buried, pristine building, has accomplished something rather different.

It has revealed to us that a building in plain sight, whose dimensions had been familiar to us for two millennia, was actually put together over the course of the preceding millennium from building blocks many of which were originally hewn for quite another purpose; that it was assembled in different stages by different hands;

and . . . that the architects who finally put it together and made of it a usable edifice were something like collagists or the "junk sculpture" artists of the 1960s -- whose creative eye could turn the front bumper of a Buick into a giant lady's smile, and combine that with other finds of metal and of plastic into a mammoth countenance worthy of our reverence.

"The upshot of all this," he continues, "and indeed of the whole general course of biblical studies in this century, has been . . . not only a greater respect for those final architects whose quirky vision helped to assemble these diverse fragments into an entity that made sense and was usable, but also a decrease in some of the energy and urgency that characterized the quest for 'original meaning' in an earlier day."

Kugel wears a kippah on campus as a "constant reminder, both to ourselves and anyone else who may notice, of our Jewishness and our devotion to God."

He . . . seems to reject any suggestion that his absolute assumption of God's existence is somehow pre-modern, and that we moderns have "happily freed ourselves" from this or that misapprehension held by earlier civilizations.

On the contrary, as he writes elsewhere, "we ought at least to be prepared to entertain the opposite hypothesis as well, that however much progress the intervening centuries have brought in some domains, they have also led us to lose a way of seeing that existed in former times."

By "way of seeing," he suggests something a great deal more than simply another point of view. As he writes in Great Poems of the Bible:

[P]erhaps people were actually enabled by this way of seeing to observe things that we no longer observe today.

It is difficult for one who reads the Bible carefully, and takes its words seriously, not to arrive at such a conclusion: something, a certain way of perceiving, has gradually closed inside of us, so that nowadays most people simply do not register, or do not have access to, what had been visible in an earlier age.

Friday, December 26, 2003

This Week's Portion of the Portion: Mikketz (Genesis 41:1 - 44:17)

Then their father Israel [Jacob] said to [his sons]:

"If it must be so, do this: take some of the choice products of the land in your baggage, and carry them down as a gift for the man [Pharoah's chief] -- some balm and tonic honey, gum, ladanurn, pistachio nuts, and almonds. . . .

"And may El Shaddai dispose the man to mercy toward you . . . ."
(Genesis 43:11).

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman notes in "Gifts for Chanukah -- and Egypt" that Israel's [Jacob's] list begins with "the choice products of the land" -- zimrat ha'aretz, literally "the song of the land" -- and asks "Why would Jacob send a song?"

I flash ahead a few thousand years to an interview just this month with distinguished Yale professor Jaroslav Pelikan.

When asked what he would do if we were to discover extraterrestrial life in the universe, Pelikan responds, “I’d beam out Bach’s ‘Mass in B Minor’ with the message, ‘This is the best we humans are capable of. What can you do?’ ”

Pelikan represents a generation that believes Western culture is the best we humans have to offer. But Bach was German, and Jews remember that the Western musical heritage he represented did not prevent mass murder by Nazis.

So even if Jacob were alive today . . . and even if he appreciated the sublime B Minor Mass . . . he would hardly have chosen it as our human best.

What song, then, did Jacob send to Egypt?

Look again at the end of Jacob’s list, his prayer for God’s kindness. The song and the prayer are the same thing: the assurance that there really is a Divine presence. . . . At our best, we reach out to find Divine kindness lying at the heart of existence. . . .

Jacob knew better than to think that the Egyptian vizier needed pistachio nuts, peaches, honey and ladanum. So he offered the ultimate Jewish gift, the reality of Divine kindness. . . .

That’s the song Jacob sent to Egypt, the song we should beam into outer space, and the song we should take to heart as we grope our way through the bleak darkness of December nights.

The promise of God is the best of which we humans are capable.

David Curzon, author of "The View From Jacob's Ladder: 100 Midrashim," discusses Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams in light of talmudic principles of dream interpretation. He starts with the one that each dream must be interpreted in light of the person who dreamed it:

The wonderful and lengthy discussion of dream interpretation in the Talmud (Berakot 55a-57b) starts with the notion that dreams come from God and then moves on to the great injunction of Rabbi Hisda: "A dream un-interpreted is a letter unread." . . . .

Joseph had just been taken out of his dungeon and given a quick haircut and generally cleaned up and then brought into the presence of The Ruler of All Egypt. He didn't need to hear Pharaoh's dreams to be sure of one thing about his interpretation: It was going to be positive.

He said, without waiting to hear the content of the dreams: 'It is a dream of peace, my Pharaoh.' . . .

The same dream can be given quite different interpretations. The interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams in the story was the interpretation meant for Pharaoh -- but for us the dreams are Torah, and so we must derive meanings for ourselves from them.

For me . . . The river [in Pharaoh's dream] out of which the cattle and wheat came is the Torah. The fat cattle and wheat . . . represent midrashic interpretations of the text, which are plump with pleasure and meaning because they are fed from the abundance of the imagination.

The thin cattle and wheat represent unimaginative literal-minded commentaries, which can only derive from the Torah the skin and bones of prosaic meaning. Their displacement of midrash causes a famine among those who are hungry for religious significance.

The Torah is the dream of the Children of Israel, and a dream uninterpreted is a letter unread.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

A Hanukkah Miscellany

Excerpts from various posts about Hanukkah over the past week, most of them reflected in Jonathan Edelstein's learned discussion on his erudite blog (with hat tips to Yehudit and Imshin):

Richard Silverstein writes about his conflicted views of Hanukkah in "Hanukah: Festival of Light or Nationalist Triumph?:"

Hanukah is a graceful and lovely holiday.

Lighting candles and watching them burn brightly in the dark while the cold winter rages outside always struck me as a brave and beautiful ritual. The eating of hot, sizzling potato latkes, the spinning of the dreidel and the sharing of golden Hanukah gelt (chocolate money) is also great fun, especially for children. . . .

The Talmudic rabbis . . . felt even more uncomfortable about Hanukah than I do. When they met in Yavneh around 80 CE . . . to codify the books of the Bible, there were NO votes to include the Books of the Maccabees (the books which tell the Hanukah story). They are now included in the Apocrypha.

Not only did the rabbis feel extraordinarily uncomfortable with the gore and mayhem described in these works; but the development of the rabbinate itself was an act of rebellion against the corrupt Hasmonean rulers. Rabbis were a learned class who earned their positions not through heredity or privilege, but through learning and a type of democratic elective choice.

The rabbis tried to turn the Hanukah holiday inside out in terms of expressing its meaning to the Jewish people: instead of a holiday marking bloodthirsty deeds of nationalist fury, the rabbis created the mythical miracle of the Holy Temple's perpetually-burning lamp which only had a single day's worth of oil remaining; but which somehow managed to burn for eight days . . . .

Thus, Hanukah became a purely spiritual holiday focusing on the lights instead of Maccabean glory.

After the founding of the State of Israel, when Zionism came to dominate the thinking of world Jewry, Zionists turned Hanukah back into a holiday which highlighted the Maccabean struggle against tyranny and oppression.

Hanukah for them became the prototype of Jewish nationalist struggle against those who would destroy our people. They were, of course, thinking of the Hitler (as Antiochus the tyrant), the Holocaust and the creation of Israel as the modern successors to the Hanukah holiday. . . .

So tomorrow night, let us think of lights burning brightly against the winter cold. Let us remember in this coldest and darkest time of year, that the candles of Hanukah give us hope for brightness and warmth and the return of life in the coming Spring.

Anne Lieberman, writing to The Daily Camera in Boulder, responds to a Colorado University professor's assertion that the lesson of Hanukkah is to support the Geneva Accord -- and effectively shows the alternatives in Richard Silverstein's title are not contradictory:

Ira Chernus structures his advocacy for the Geneva Accords (Guest Opinion, Dec. 21) around a notion of Hanukkah that will leave readers with a misimpression of this Jewish holiday.

He describes it thus: "In the Jewish community this Hanukkah, when we celebrate a struggle for freedom, we are struggling to free ourselves from an old myth."

In fact, quite the opposite is true. The story of Hanukkah calls for our return to an "old myth," i.e. the cardinal principles of Jewish faith and practice.

The Greek/Syrian oppressors of the original Hanukkah story did not threaten the Jews physically, but spiritually.

They sought to annul the covenant between us and our G-d, by outlawing the obligation of circumcision, the study of Torah, the keeping of the Sabbath and the sanctification of the new moon (Rosh Chodesh), upon which the dates of all the festivals depend. . . .

For many of us, Hanukkah is not a matter of "struggling to free ourselves from an old myth." It is an enduring opportunity to engage in the timeless, ongoing war between sanctity and defilement.

When we light the Hanukkah candles, we reiterate the Jewish worldview that reality is essentially spiritual, not physical. . . .

Spiritual warriors, light your candles! Hanukkah Sameach!

Naomi Chana -- "observant Reform" and professional academic -- has a nicely written piece ("Rock of Decades") on the most famous Hanukkah song:

In Temple Hometown, as a child, I learned one Hebrew verse ("Maoz tsur yeshuati . . .") and three English verses to what was translated "Rock of Ages."

The Hebrew I registered as pretty sounds; the English reinforced what I had been told was the True Meaning of Hanukkah, namely reliance on God's power combined with a healthy dose of anti-tyrannical Jewish activism. The English lyrics . . . ("Rock of Ages, let our song / Praise Thy saving power") . . . deliberately echoes an extremely Christian hymn which borrows the cleft rock from Song of Songs 2:14 and goes all Christocentric on it.

Our "Rock of Ages," on the other hand, stresses God's action in the first verse ("And Thy word / Broke their sword / When our own strength failed us") but switches quickly to a focus on the newly-liberated Jews singing in the Temple ("And His courts surrounding / Hear in joy abounding....") and concludes with a crashing paean to universalism and a nod to a helpfully vague messianic era: "Yours the message cheering / That the time is nearing / Which will see / All men free / Tyrants disappearing"). . . .

The Jewish "Rock of Ages" I learned was the brainchild of a Reform rabbi and cantor named Gustav Gottheil (1827-1903) who began his career in Germany and ended it in New York; he seems to have borrowed from a German version by Leopold Stein (1810-1882) about which I know very little.

The Hebrew "Maoz Tsur," on the other hand, is a late medieval Ashkenazic piyyut written by a fellow called (judging from his thoughtful acrostic signature) Mordecai. I hope it will not come as a shock to any of you that the Ashkenazim of the thirteenth century or thereabouts were not unduly concerned with spreading messages of liberation to their fellow (ahem) men.

In fact, the first verse of "Maoz Tsur" starts out with the fervent wish for "slaughter for the blaspheming foe," which I trust you will agree is a bit of a switch from "Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our shelt'ring tower."

The original six-verse poem is framed as a plea for God to restore the Temple and smite Israel's enemies; toward this end, God is reminded of His starring role in liberating Israel from Egypt (see also Exodus), Babylon (see also Ezra/Nehemiah), Persia (see also Esther), and Greece (see also, yes, Maccabees). . . .

The final verse sends chills down my spine in translation, and confirms that the poet is speaking not in the voice of the Maccabees but in that of his own, equally blood-soaked era: "For the triumph is too long delayed for us / and there is no end to days of evil."

Mordecai's charming ditty was set to a German folktune and sung just after lighting the Hanukkah candles by German Jews from at least the sixteenth century forward -- in one of the tinier ironies of history, the same melody was borrowed by Martin Luther for his hymns.

. . . "Maoz Tsur" represents a very interesting paradox. . . . I (like most of my readers) fit into neither song -- I can empathize with Mordecai's Ashkenazic anger and desperation, and with Gottheil's fin de siècle optimism and willingness to abandon tradition, but I do not quite agree with either.

Still, I love both songs, in the same exasperated way I love my family. And perhaps that explains a lot for me, personally; it's not like the two sides of my family have all that much in common either. But that doesn't help resolve the larger problem of what to do about the conflicting messages of "Maoz Tsur" and Hanukkah more generally. My default response to anything is to throw education at it, which is how I wound up with this post, but I'm not sure it helps.

Ron Wolfson has an explanation of the history and meaning of Maoz Tsur here.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Hanukkah: Celebrating . . . What?

Jonathan Edelstein posts an increasingly common reaction to Hanukkah -- a kind of Hanukkah backlash -- that minimizes its religious significance and deconstructs its historical context:

In the United States, Chanukah has become one of the two or three most prominent holidays in the Jewish calendar, largely because it falls in close proximity to Christmas. In fact, though, it's not a major holiday.

It isn't a yom tov, a holiday on which work is forbidden; when I taught at a Hasidic elementary school for a brief period a decade ago, the students didn't get Chanukah as a vacation. . . .

One of the paradoxes of Chanukah is that it is celebrated most avidly by assimilated Jews, who are most likely to live in non-Jewish neighborhoods and to feel the need for a substitute Christmas.

The irony, of course, is that Chanukah is a celebration of the victory of fundamentalism over assimilation. The heroes of the Chanukah story, the Maccabees, were religious zealots; their enemies were as much the outward-looking Hellenistic Jews as the Seleucid monarchy.

Imshin has a fascinating post that describes Hanukkah in Israel and reacts to Jonathan's post. She says that:

Here it’s just another “little” festival, as opposed to the biggies: the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur) and the three pilgrimages (Succot, Pesach/Passover, and Shavuot).

It’s popular because it’s fun. The candle lighting is fun; the Hannuka Gelt (money) is fun; the latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (doughnuts) are fun; the s’vivonim (dreidles/spinning tops) are fun. Kids sometimes get to go on organized marches round the streets carrying burning torches and that’s great fun.

Imshin nevertheless takes issue with Jonathan's description of the Maccabees as ultra-religious fanatics:

The idea of the Maccabees as the ultra-religious fanatics of old is not a new one for me. I’ve never really known what to do with it. . . .

Here we are judging people, who lived thousands of years ago, by today’s values. . . .

Things were quite different [back then]. . . . In those days, you were who you worshipped. Secularism didn’t exist. Nationalism didn’t exist.

Cultural genocide . . . was standard procedure for dealing with conquered peoples. . . . Spreading their culture among the natives was [the Greeks'] way of gaining and keeping control.

Lynn B. has a beautiful Hanukkah post that reflects both the historical and contemporary relevance of the holiday:

Chanukah is our second festival of freedom (the first, of course, being Passover). The redundancy speaks volumes about the importance of freedom in our tradition.

Freedom from oppression, both political and religious. Freedom to determine our own destiny, to use our own language, to worship our own God, to celebrate our own achievements and mourn our own failures.

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have also joined in the struggle for the freedom of others. It's part of what we're taught, from a very early age, as a basic Jewish, and human, value.

If you know Jewish history, you know that we have a deep aversion to oppression. . . . And it's this aversion that, for better or worse, to our benefit or to our detriment, is ultimately going to lead to some sort of resolution of Israel's dispute with the Palestinians. . . .

This year, the Iraqi people are celebrating their own miracle of freedom, still in progress. Let's hope . . . that they'll continue to celebrate it, in peace, for many years to come.

So what does Hanukkah celebrate? Well, at least four things that -- taken together -- seem worthy of a major holiday.

First, it celebrates a remarkable event and period in Jewish history (supported by recent archeological findings, as this article notes):

It was Judah Maccabee who led the second century B.C. revolt against Seleucid King Antiochus IV, who had persecuted the Jews and desecrated their temple.

Judah's forces were successful, conquering Jerusalem and reconsecrating the temple in 165 B.C., a feat that is celebrated during Hanukkah.

The Hasmonean era [established by the Maccabees] ended in 63 B.C., when the Roman Emperor Pompey conquered Judea.

The Hasmonean period was the last era of Jewish independence in the land of Israel until the modern state of Israel.

Second, it celebrates religious and political freedom -- the issue emerging as the fundamental value in the post-September 11 world.

Third, as Imshin notes, it is fun -- a chance for children to participate in a religious celebration that involves the entire family (like Purim). (And if we import a Christian tradition of gift-giving into it, so much the better).

And fourth: it reminds us to trust in miracles -- and their source.

Because -- as Rabbi Irwin Kula has noted -- what are the chances of a people surviving 5,000 years, despite the destruction of their homeland and religious symbols, despite repeated military defeats, despite a virulent hatred that endures, despite assimilation, secularism, and countless other challenges?

Probably less than the chances of one day's supply of oil lasting eight days.

Friday, December 19, 2003

This Week's Portion of the Portion: Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1 - 40:23)

"My son's tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph was torn by a beast!"

Jacob rent his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and observed mourning for his son many days.

All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted . . . [and] his father cried for him.
(Genesis 37:33-35).

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz writes about Jacob's life as it leads up to this moment, when he thinks his son has been killed:

Jacob desires the fulfillment of blessing in his own life. Sadly though, his life proves to be just the opposite.

He is forced to flee home as a result of Esau's murderous intent.

Lavan deceives him.

He returns to the Land of Israel trembling as he is about to confront his brother Esau.

And then his daughter, Dinah, is the victim of rape. . .

Then, just as we . . . believe it cannot get any worse for our patriarch Jacob, tragedy strikes once again.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin reviews the mitzvah of comforting someone who cannot be comforted, and reports on his own trip (together with Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Kalb from Connecticut, and Lewis Faber) to Turkey -- to comfort those killed in the terrorist attacks on the Istanbul synagogues.

We had no idea if we would succeed in helping them much . . . but it was our religious, moral and national obligation to fly out to our brothers and sisters -- Jewish and Muslim -- who were killed by enemies of the Jews . . . .

Our encounters got only more painful and emotional. Our next visit was to the family of Israel Yoel Cohen Ulcer, a young man of 19, who had joined the volunteer security force of the shul . . .

His great-grandfather, a [cohain] just as Yoel was, blessed Rabbi Weiss with the traditional priestly blessing, which asks for G-d to grant peace -- how incredible to see that the hope of peace in such a sad place and sad time was still alive. . .

May G-d always allow us to comfort others, and allow them to give us strength and comfort from our woes.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hannukah.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Opiate of the People

Michael Crichton spoke recently to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on the religion of environmentalism:

I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. . . . And I think I know why.

[C]ertain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion.

Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people -- the best people, the most enlightened people -- do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form.

You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. . . .

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation . . . .

[But] the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. . . .

The truth is, almost nobody wants to experience real nature. What people want is to spend a week or two in a cabin in the woods, with screens on the windows. They want a simplified life for a while, without all their stuff. Or a nice river rafting trip for a few days, with somebody else doing the cooking.

Nobody wants to go back to nature in any real way, and nobody does.

Crichton’s point was made satirically in the South Park episode, “Rainforest Schmainforest,” which Brian C. Anderson summarized in his recent article in City Journal:

[T]he boys’ school sends [the class] on a field trip to Costa Rica, led by an activist choir group . . . [that] wants to raise youth awareness about “our vanishing rain forests.”

The rain forest itself is a nightmare: the boys get lost, wilt from the infernal heat, face deadly assaults from monstrous insects and a giant snake, run afoul of revolutionary banditos, and —worst of all — must endure the choir teacher’s New-Agey gushing:

“Shhh! Children! Let’s try to listen to what the rain forest tells us, and if we use our ears, she can tell us so many things.”

By the horrifying trip’s end, the boys are desperate for civilization, and the choir teacher herself has come to despise the rain forest she once worshiped: “You go right ahead and plow down this whole fuckin’ thing,” she tells a construction worker.

David Vogel, Professor of Business Ethics at U.C. Berkeley, wrote "How Green Is Judaism?” in the Winter 2001 issue of Judaism, noting the complex relationship of Judaism to environmentalism:

[W]hile Judaism may be consistent with many contemporary environmental values and doctrines, its teachings are not identical to them.

Specifically, Judaism does not regard the preservation or protection of nature as the most important societal value; it holds that humans are not just a part of nature but have privileged and distinctive moral claims; it believes that nature can threaten humans as well as the obverse; it argues that nature should be used and enjoyed as well as protected. . .

Judaism does not view nature as inherently benevolent. While recognizing the beauty and majesty of the natural world, it also perceives that nature can also be terrifying and threatening.

According to Jewish thought, human efforts to discipline or subdue nature do not, as many radical ecologists claim, stem from the urge to dominate nature but rather represent a response to the real challenges to human survival posed by the natural world. . . .

In short, the Jewish tradition is complex: it contains both "green" and "non- green" elements. It is both inappropriate to over-emphasize the former, as have some Jewish environmentalists, or the latter, as have some environmental critics of western religion.

For more on Jewish perspectives on the environment, check out this, and this, and this.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Wizbang 2003 Blog Awards

Charles Johnson's incredible Little Green Footballs has won the vote (over 12,500 votes cast) at Wizbang for “Best Overall Blog” for 2003.

If you want to see one of the thousands of reasons why Little Green Footballs won, go to this amazing post and thread -- read and scroll through it all the way.

People are bookmarking the thread so they will have it to read again. It is worth keeping nearby.

Congratulations too to two of the other 22 winners -- zionist and anti-idiotarian Meryl Yourish, who got the award for Best Female Authored Blog; and Israeli blogger and anti-idiotarian Imshin, who got the award for Most Egregious Omission [From the Original Nominations].

And remember this blog the next time they offer an award for using "too to two . . . 22" in a single sentence.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Viewing Israel in the Context of WW4

Nelson Ascher analyzes the current situation of Jews and Israel in "Good News/Bad News:"

OK. I admit it: things, from a Jewish standpoint, may now look as dark as a moonless, cloudy winter night.

There’s hatred all around, there are synagogues and Jewish schools burning, most of the world media is a cesspool of poisonous lies. Politicians everywhere, as well as intellectuals and all kinds of opinion makers, are denying the Jewish state’s legitimacy.

In other words, we’re back to normalcy.

For over half a century the sickness that had lasted for millennia seemed to have gone away. But it wasn’t really cured, was it? It was only expecting a weakening of the world’s immune system to make its comeback.

Why the hell is it happening? What is it we did wrong?

I mean, should Israel have been nicer to the Palestinians, supplying them directly with its own Semtex and then paying indemnities to the suicide bombers’ families? Maybe Israel should have allowed the Arabs to win some wars so that they wouldn’t feel so humiliated? Or the Jews could have returned all to Poland and Russia, even the Iranian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian Jews? . . .

A consensus seems to be developing to which not even the Jews are immune. According to it, it is the illegitimate existence of a Jewish state that is, well, the root cause of the resurgence of the anti-Semitism . . .

Now, let’s try to cast a cold eye on all this mess. . . .

And he does. Worth reading in its entirety.

Here is Ascher's take on where things stand in a broader context:

[T]he US army is now right in the heart of the Arab world and it’s there to stay. It didn’t go there just because Saddam was a nasty guy: the invasion of Iraq wasn’t an end in itself but a step in a much wider strategy.

That strategy presupposes that all neighbouring Islamic countries, with the possible exception of Turkey, are objective strategic enemies of the US. They know this, Israel knows this and they also know Israel knows this.

It is quite possible that for a year or so, until Bush’s re-election, those countries will be allowed to live inside a pre-911 dream-bubble. But bubbles are naturally fragile and whoever wants them to last as much as possible would better handle them with the utmost care.

As up to 1989 there was no way of understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict outside the frame of the Cold War, neither is it possible to begin evaluating it now without reference to WW4.

Saturday night, Saddam Hussein was captured by American troops without a shot. According to Reuters (and they should know), "[d]isbelief and gloom seized many Palestinians Sunday . . . "

Lee Harris writes that this is a tipping point:

The man who called upon his countrymen and fellow Muslims to sacrifice their own lives in suicide attacks, to blow themselves to bits in order to glorify his name, failed to follow his own instructions.

He refused the grand opportunity of a martyr's death, or even that of the hardened Hollywood gangster, determined that the cops would never take him alive. Instead, Saddam Hussein surrendered meekly . . . .

We . . . have done a great deal more than simply knock down a statue of a dictator -- we have vanquished a collective nightmare. We have turned the light on a bogey-man, and revealed him to be a broken old man, hiding fearfully in a six by eight hole. . . .

The capture of Saddam Hussein may not prove to be the turning point when, decades from now, we look back on this period; but, for right now, it certainly feels like it.

Friday, December 12, 2003

This Week’s Portion of the Portion: Va-yishlah (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, "We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him."

Jacob was greatly frightened . . . he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, "If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape."

Then Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, . . . Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother . . .

[H]e selected from what was at hand these presents for his brother Esau: 200 she-goats and 20 he-goats; 200 ewes and 20 rams; 30 milch camels with their colts; 40 cows and 10 bulls; 20 she-asses and 10 he-asses. . . . .

And so the gift went on ahead . . .
(Genesis 32:7-15)

Rabbi Joshua Heller in his D’var Torah says it is “with understandable anxiety that Jacob anticipates the meeting with his estranged brother:”

Jacob has not seen him in over twenty years, and, indeed, just after their last encounter, Esau had let it be known that he would surely kill Jacob as soon as family circumstances permitted . . . .

Jacob's distress is further intensified by the report that . . . Esau was coming to meet him with four-hundred men.

Jacob responds to the threat with a multi-tiered plan. He adopts a defensive military strategy, dividing his household into two camps . . . He addresses the spiritual dimension and prays for divine assistance . . . . Finally, he responds diplomatically by sending Esau a gift of flocks of animals to appease him, with a suitably conciliatory message.

Rabbi Lewis Warshauer notes that this story, which ends with a reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, differs from the earlier story of brothers, where Cain overpowers Abel and kills him. He says it reflects God’s admonition to Cain:

Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right, sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master.” (Genesis 4:7). . . .

Jacob had mastered himself in a way that Cain had not. . . . When Jacob re-encounters his twin, he does so not with the trickery of the past, but with extreme humility.

Jacob does not master Esau in their re-encounter; he masters the situation. He does not threaten Esau, and . . . deflect[s] a potential threat from him.

It is for this reason that Jacob is renamed Yisrael and that the nation that sprung from him took that name. The history of the nation of Israel is not one of mastery through conquest, but mastery of situations, including and especially adversity.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

A Tale of Three Fences

Calev Ben-David publishes a map in The Jerusalem Post ("The Other Side of the Fence") and asks readers to:

Examine how madly its borders twist and turn in an effort to separate two hostile peoples. Look carefully at the isolated pockets of Muslim population completely cut off from their brethren.

Ponder the hardships caused to the hundreds of thousands of families not lucky enough to be living in the areas assigned to their national camp.

Of course I'm talking about the UN and US-sponsored 1995 Dayton Accord settlement that ended the conflict in Bosnia-Herzogovina. . . .

Backspin has the following take on the fence, with its high-tech barrier:

The border security fence is comprised of many sections totaling scores of miles. Some sections are concrete, others sheet metal.

The barrier is three layers deep in parts, fifteen feet high and surrounded by razor wire. The area around it is lit by spotlights, monitored by cameras, motion detectors and magnetic sensors, and patrolled by armed guards with attack dogs.

But enough about the USA border with Mexico, let's talk about Israel . . .

Earlier this week, the following news article appeared in The Manila Times:

NEW DELHI—Following the ancient adage that good fences make good neighbors, India is making good use of Pakistan’s offer of a cease-fire . . . . in disputed Kashmir to hasten the erection of a high electrified fence that it says will ensure the cessation of cross-border infiltration.

India’s leaders complain bitterly that the November 26 Eid cease-fire announced by Islamabad and accepted by New Delhi as part of confidence-building measures has been limited to the regular armies of both countries.

This has not stopped the infiltration of armed militants into the Indian side of Kashmir, New Delhi says.

“On our demand that infiltration be stopped and terrorist infrastructure be dismantled, there has been practically no response from the other side,” said Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani on Friday. . . .

Even before the cease-fire came into operation, India had announced that half of the 742 kilometers had been fenced and that the whole enterprise . . . would be completed by June 2004. . . .

The fencing is only part of multi-tiered system that includes mines and troops equipped with ground sensors, thermal imagers and night-vision equipment so that the army’s overall efficiency in interdicting militants has gone up significantly.

Pakistan has, in the past, objected to the fencing on the grounds that cease-fire agreements between the two countries . . . dating back to 1949 barred permanent changes pending a final settlement of the dispute.

Tony Blankley made the following points yesterday in "Good Fences Make Safe Neighbors:"

[W]e can be sure that the Israelis will not rely on security guarantees from the United Nations, Europe or even the United States (the cut and run mentality of President Bush's presidential opponents regarding Iraq remind the Israelis that betrayal may never be more than four years away in the United States.)

Nor can one blame the Israelis for not trusting in the good faith of the Arabs in Palestine and elsewhere — particularly now. . . .

. . . Instead of browbeating the Jews as they build their fence (or wall, if you prefer), we should encourage it.

Five thousand years of brutal and hate-filled history have ingrained in the Jews a profound sense of the practical. They have learned that well-intentioned, bright new ideas or utopian visions tend to lead to more dead Jews.

On the other hand, a sensible, well-built wall might result in fewer dead Jews. That is the beginning of a wise foreign policy for Israel.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Hate That Shames Us

Julie Burchill, who wrote last month about her decision to leave The Guardian in part because of its "striking bias against the state of Israel," has followed up with another article ("The Hate That Shames Us"):

[T]he EU's racism watchdog recently suppressed a report on the rise of anti-semitism because it concluded that Muslims were behind many incidents.

What sort of world do we live in, when racism is "allowed" to be reported only if it comes from the white and the right? . . .

Make no mistake, the Jews are not hated because of Israel; they are hated for their very modernity, mobility, lust for life and love of knowledge. Their most basic toast, "L'chaim!" (To Life!), is a red rag to those who fetishise death . . . .

"Not our Jews! Leave our Jews alone!" yelled the locals who turned out to fight the Mosleyites in Cable Street. It may be politically incorrect to call this ancient people "ours," but what the hell: they're tough, they can take it.

And they are still our Jews, in that if they are wiped out, in Israel or anywhere else, we will be wiped out, too, one day, all of the modern world and its achievements -- swept back into the Dark Ages mulch from whence we came.

Burchill's article draws nearly 100 comments at Little Green Footballs.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

An Old Sickness Returns to Old Europe

Amanda Ripley, writing in this week's Time Europe Magazine, has a story on anti-Semitic attacks in Europe (and attacks on other minorities), beginning with this incident:

The hardest part of the day for the 230 boys at the Merkaz Hatorah Jewish high school in Gagny, a middle-class suburb of Paris, had always been getting there.

During the train ride from home, the boys replaced their yarmulkes with baseball caps but were still regularly hassled by other French teenagers, usually of Arab or North African descent, who called them "sales juifs" ("dirty Jews").

Once the boys made it to the school, a bright steel-and-glass building surrounded by trees and tidy homes, they felt safe. No longer.

About 3 a.m. on Saturday Nov. 15, the school's brand-new building — due to open Jan. 5 — went up in flames. There are no suspects.

Jeff Jarvis saw a similar story in the New York Times last week and wondered what he would do:

If Europe, Old Europe, were truly concerned about its evil ghost of anti-Semitism rising again, I would do something.

If I heard that children are being told to hide their yarmulkes for fear of attacks, I'd go out and get myself a yarmulke and wear it proudly.

If I were Jacques Chirac, I'd go get a yarmulke and wear it. I'd urge all Frenchmen to wear a yarmulke.

But then, I'm not European.

(hat tip: Instapundit).

For the record, two days after the school burning, Chirac told reporters that "When one attacks a Jew in France, it's France in its entirety that is attacked. Anti-Semitism is contrary to all the values of France."

But there are still no suspects in the attack on France in its entirety.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Peace in Our Time (The Re-Run)

Daniel Gordis covers the Geneva Plan in his latest Dispatch from Israel. It does not give him a good feeling:

If I ever have to go to court, I want those Palestinian negotiators on my side. And I hope that Yossi [Beilin] represents my opponent.

The plan does not recognize a Jewish state, does not give up a right of return, requires tangible concessions from Israel for ambiguous promises from the PLO, and is unenforceable. And it's deja vu all over again.

On giving up the Temple Mount, Gordis wonders "what it does to the psyche of a people to pray for two thousand years for the privilege of returning to a place, only to willingly give that place up?"

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former commander of the IDF's National Defense College, publishes "The Geneva Accord: A Strategic Assessment." He thinks it is a strategic disaster:

A self-appointed Israeli negotiating team . . . conceded almost all the security arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza Strip sought by past Israeli governments. . . .

It is true that there are a few elements that remain of what former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin insisted upon -- that Israel will have its military border along the Jordan River. Geneva provides Israel with two isolated, and hence worthless, early-warning stations.

But all of Rabin's other security requirements are dropped in Geneva . . . . The Geneva security arrangements are even scaled back from what appeared in the draft to which the Palestinians gave their agreement during the Barak period.

In essence, almost all of Israel's security requirements were exchanged for the idea of deploying a foreign military presence that will be supervised by an international committee . . . .

Jeff Jacoby writes that "Geneva is a blueprint for war, not peace." He says that:

[T]he fervent acclaim the accord has drawn resembles nothing so much as the jubilation that greeted the Munich Accord of 1938, when Neville Chamberlain agreed to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in order to placate Adolf Hitler.

Actually, this analogy is unfair to Chamberlain, on at least three grounds.

First, Chamberlain did not have, as an historical precedent, the disastrous consequences of appeasement. His appeasement policy was a respected one at the time.

Second, Chamberlain did not, after the disastrous consequences of his policy became evident, propose trying it again -- in the middle of a war.

Third, Chamberlain operated at all times as the duly elected representative of his people, not as a private citizen rejected by his fellow citizens even for a seat in Parliament.

The closest historical precedent to the Geneva Plan process -- an unelected person negotiating with a foreign country, reaching an "agreement" for the purpose of bringing international pressure on his own government -- is Jimmy Carter negotiating with the North Koreans in 1993 to reach an "agreement" banning nuclear weapons. (Note to self: check out how that worked out).

The Geneva Plan is an example of the pathology Ruth Wisse identified in her landmark article in 2001 -- "The Brilliant Failure of Jewish Foreign Policy" -- a state of mind that, seeking to avoid war, unwittingly invites it.

Israeli blogger Imshin has a more straightforward reaction:

I see the unelected Dr. Yossi Beilin is signing a peace treaty for us in Geneva today.

. . . maybe some people are very excited about the signing of this agreement, I just don’t happen to know any of them.

Please don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against peace treaties, I'm actually quite partial to them. I just don't see the point of this one.

Dr. Yossi Beilin explains that it's to show that we do have partners for negotiation after all. So I say fine, we have partners.

Now all we have to do is win the war we're fighting with them and then we can sit down and negotiate peace with them.

All of these articles and posts are essential reading.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Portion of the Portion: Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

Leah conceived and bore a son . . . . She conceived again and bore a son . . . .

Again she conceived and bore a son and declared, "This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons." . . .

When Rachel saw that she had borne Jacob no children, she became envious of her sister; and Rachel said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die."

Jacob was incensed at Rachel, and said, "Can I take the place of God, who has denied you fruit of the womb?" (Genesis 29:32-30:2)

Rabbi Melissa Crespy writes on the midrash about Rachel’s response to Jacob’s angry question:

[In] the midrash, Rachel says to Jacob:

“Didn't your father Isaac pray for your mother Rebecca, so that she would be blessed with children? . . .

“You may not be God, and you may not be empowered to give me a child by just sharing my bed, but you can pray for me, you can pray along with me!

“Your anger may be from your sense of frustration, but there is something more you can do for me. You can add your prayers to mine, and ask God for a child for us.

“Your father did it for your mother so that you might be born.

"The least you can do is pray for me, cry along with me — and perhaps God will hear both of our prayers.”

Rachel's infertility, Jacob's anger and the commentators' words . . . can give us insight into ourselves:

where our anger comes from — and how we might direct it in a better way; and how we can try to understand the pain our loved ones feel — and be better partners for them in their time of desperate need.

Daniel M. Jaffe writes a lovely modern version of the story Genesis 29:16 - 25) of Jacob finding that Rachel has been replaced by Leah as his bride.

In Jaffe's version, "Jack" is getting married in the morning to Rachel. He is worried -- not about a literal switch of persons, but rather "if the Rachel I'm marrying is the Rachel I think she is."

After a talk with a friend about his worries, he has a different perspective:

[He] looks in the mirror. What on earth does Rachel see in him? How lucky that she wants him.

Nice. Worth reading.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Thank God for the Fence

The Jerusalem Post reports that, in Israel yesterday, the security establishment registered 42 warnings of planned terrorist attacks.

Two members of the Palestinian Authority security forces were arrested on their way to an Israeli school and city, reportedly on order from Palestinian Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus:

A Shin Bet source said the two men left Jenin Tuesday morning and set out for Bardaleh, where they planned to cross into Israel.

"They told investigators that they had chosen the location as there is no security fence in the area," he said.

At about 2 p.m., acting on an intelligence tip-off, security forces arrested [one of them] after surrounding a mosque in the Israeli-controlled part of Bardaleh.

DEBKAfile says the two suicide bombers "were officers of Palestinian General Security Service which is under Arafat’s sole control" and posed as Jihad Islami terrorists when captured in the Bardala mosque.

Imshin, blogging from Israel as "just an ordinary Israeli working mother with everyday hopes and fears," has this post:

Two big suicide bombings were foiled today. The security fence (You know which fence, that Nazi Apartheid fence, that obstacle-to-peace fence) by Jenin stopped the terrorists from waltzing straight in.

They had to take the long way round, via the Jordan Valley, and that is why they were apprehended.

One suicide bombing was planned for a school in the town of Yokne'am. A middle school. Eldest is in middle school.

I don't want to talk about it.

This is not just another foiled terrorist attack. It is an attempted escalation in barbarism, as this report in Haaretz notes:

The IDF said it was the first time Palestinians are known to have deliberately targeted Israeli children.

Meryl Yourish has a long, appropriately outraged, post: hiding in a mosque, planning to attack a group of children? At what point does a Palestinian state lose its right to exist?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

What is Necessary for Peace

Christopher Caldwell, writing in this month's Commentary, reviews Yaacov Lozowick's remarkable new book -- "Right to Exist" -- which methodically sets forth a compelling moral history of Israel:

Lozowick treats Israel’s clashes with its Arab neighbors in straightforward chronological order, starting with proto-Zionist settlements of the 19th century and culminating with the suicide-bombing campaigns of the last three years. . . .

He dwells, for example, on the 1929 massacre at Hebron, in which local Arabs killed a tenth of the centuries-old Jewish community. The victims were not Zionist newcomers, and Israel was not yet a state.

Therefore, Lozowick concludes, there must have been some significant tradition of anti-Semitic violence in Palestine that existed independently of the Jewish state, and it is reasonable to assume a relation . . . to the expulsion of virtually all Jews from Arab lands after 1948. . . .

Similarly, in describing terrorist incidents carried out by Jews in the 1930’s and 40’s, Lozowick shows no indulgence for the perpetrators but insists on noting the Jewish response to such violence.

When the Irgun bombed Arab marketplaces in 1938, it was condemned by a Jewish community that felt itself dishonored.

When the Stern gang assassinated Lord Moyne, the British minister of state, in Cairo, the perpetrators were hunted down by the Hagana (then an underground Jewish militia) and were delivered to the British.

Weeks after irregulars murdered villagers at Deir Yassin in 1948, David Ben-Gurion ordered an attack on the freighter Altalena as it arrived in Tel Aviv with arms for the Irgun.

And so forth, down to the murder of Muslim worshippers in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein in 1994.

Palestinian acts of terror, by contrast, as we have seen over and over again in the last years, win overwhelming support in polls of Palestinian opinion whenever Arab-Israeli tension rises.

The barrier to peace is not the settlements. It's not the fence.

It's not the failure to release even more Palestinian prisoners.

It's not the absence of the latest goodwill gesture demanded from those against whom the current barbaric war is waged.

It's something that goes back much further, back before 1929. And peace will come when the Arabs conclude there is not just one blessing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Julie Burchill is leaving The Guardian, which she says is characterized by the "Good, Bad and Ugly" -- the Ugly being:

. . . what I, as a non-Jew, perceive to be a quite striking bias against the state of Israel.

Which, for all its faults, is the only country in that barren region that you or I, or any feminist, atheist, homosexual or trade unionist, could bear to live under.

. . . I don't swallow the modern liberal line that anti-Zionism is entirely different from anti-semitism . . . . Judeophobia . . . is a shape-shifting virus, as opposed to the straightforward stereotypical prejudice applied to other groups (Irish stupid, Japanese cruel, Germans humourless, etc).

Jews historically have been blamed for everything we might disapprove of: they can be rabid revolutionaries, responsible for the might of the late Soviet empire, and the greediest of fat cats, enslaving the planet to the demands of international high finance. . . .

If you take into account the theory that Jews are responsible for everything nasty in the history of the world, and also the recent EU survey that found 60% of Europeans believe Israel is the biggest threat to peace in the world today (hmm, I must have missed all those rabbis telling their flocks to go out with bombs strapped to their bodies and blow up the nearest mosque), it's a short jump to reckoning that it was obviously a bloody good thing that the Nazis got rid of six million of the buggers.

(Hat tip to AndrewSullivan, via D.B.) Andrew Sullivan says that:

I like the term "Judeophobia." It's the common thread between old-style anti-Semitism and new-style "anti-Zionism" that somehow manages to find excuses for murderers of civilians -- as long as the civilians are Jews.

The Jerusalem Post publishes the EU report on "Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union" -- commissioned and then suppressed by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenohobia.

. . . it can be concluded that the anti-Semitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed above all either by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists or young Muslims mostly of Arab descent . . . but also that anti-Semitic statements came from pro-Palestinian groups . . . as well as from politicians . . . and citizens from the political mainstream . . .

. . . a group of countries was identified with rather severe anti-Semitic incidents. Here, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK have to be mentioned. They witnessed numerous physical attacks and insults directed against Jews and vandalism of Jewish institutions (synagogues, shops, cemeteries).

Phyllis Chesler's new book, "The New Anti-Semitism," is the subject of important articles in magazines of both the left (Tikkun) and right (FrontPage Magazine). Both articles are worth reading.

Monday, December 01, 2003

A Mensch in Cowboy Boots

George W. Bush went to Iraq for Thanksgiving Day. Here is how the Dallas Morning News described the event in its editorial Friday:

Thanksgiving Pilgrimage: Mensch in Cowboy Boots Merits Praise

President Bush's secret pilgrimage to the front took the entire world by surprise, even members of his own staff.

He sneaked out of the White House in the dead of night, leaving in an unmarked car, and slipping onto Air Force One through the back door. Mr. Bush flew 13 hours to Iraq, landing under cover of darkness, with all the lights of the plane out, to make it less of a target for terrorist missiles.

That is, frankly, incredible.

As the nation saw, Mr. Bush received an uproarious welcome from 600 shocked and awed soldiers. The troops cheered so forcefully they nearly brought the most powerful man in the world to tears. . . .

There is a Yiddish expression to describe a man who acts this way: mensch. Leo Rosten defined it as "someone of substance, someone to emulate, someone of noble character."

George W. Bush of Texas showed yesterday what a mensch looks like in cowboy boots.

Here is how George Bush described the moment pictured above, talking to reporters on the plane ride back:

. . . it was an emotional moment to walk in that room. The energy level was beyond belief.

I mean, I've been in front of some excited crowds before, but this was -- the place truly erupted and I could see the, first, look of amazement and then look of appreciation on the kids' faces.

Alaa, an Iraqi blogger, wrote an open letter to President Bush as follows (via LGF):

It gives us pain that the visit is so short and that the masses cannot in the present circumstances come out to give you the welcome that you deserve, but the day will come, the day will come (God's Willing).

Yes the day will come when the millions will come out to welcome the best friend that the Mesopotamian people have ever had, and he will be amongst the most devoted and allied people that America will ever have.

The bones in the mass graves salute you, Avenger of the Bones.

Anne Lieberman has a roundup on her blog on Friday of sophisticated European opinion on Bush's trip (all negative). The Paper Formerly Known as the Paper of Record prints seven letters on Saturday, five of them negative.

They're "farbiseners," as the Dallas Morning News might say.