Jewish Current Issues

Search this site powered by FreeFind

Friday, January 30, 2004

This Week's Portion of the Portion: Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time.

In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. Remember this day on which you went free from Egypt, the House of Bondage; how the Lord freed you with a mighty hand.
(Exodus 12:17-18)

Rabbi Vernon Kurtz notes that there is a central message in this portion:

It was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who wrote that "when the Voice of G-d spoke at Sinai, it did not begin by saying, 'I am the Lord your G-d Who created heaven and earth.'

It began by saying, 'I am the Lord your G-d Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.'

The most commanding idea that Judaism dares to think is that freedom, not necessity, is the source of all being.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Bringing the Boys Home, and Protecting the Ones Still Alive

Daniel Gordis has a Dispatch From Israel on today's return of three dead Israeli soldiers, and the homicide bus bombing in Jerusalem. It should be available on his website shortly. It is a post of surpassing beauty.

Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Souad came home today.

I remember the day they died. And I remember the day that they died again. They were killed, we now know, 1210 days ago in the attack in which they, or their bodies, were captured.

The number 1208 was mentioned today by Hayim Avraham, Benny's father, as the number of days that they survived without knowing. Now, he's getting his son back. Not alive, but back.

And for the first time in 1208 days, he and his family will go to sleep knowing with certainty that Benny is dead, that he's not in the hands of the same sorts of "people" who blew up a bus full of children and civilians in the heart of Jerusalem today, or who for more than three interminable years kept the most basic humanitarian information -- that the boys were dead -- from their suffering families.

Those families will go to sleep now knowing that their boys are not suffering. That they didn't suffer, at least for long.

* * *

A father of one of Israel's POW's (not one of the three returned tonight) came to [my son] Avi's class last year. He talked about how his son was captured, and what they're doing (and have been doing for more than twenty years) to try to get him back. . . .

[A]t the end, one of the kids asked him if he's worried that they're torturing his son. No, he said, he didn't think about that. "But when I get into bed each night," he continued, "I worry that maybe he's cold."

Avi talked about that for days. And on the rare occasion that he still lets me tuck him into bed at night, I think about that, too. You know, at moments like that, that we just have to bring the boys home. No matter what.

The entire post must be read.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry posts a video of today's bus boming on its web site. The text accompanying the video reads:

"The anti-terrorist fence could have prevented this massacre.

The sheer absurdity cannot be ignored. While Palestinian terrorists continue to murder Israelis, the pro-Arab majority at the UN is forcing Israel into the dock at the International Court of Justice over the fence. Thus, the supporters of terrorism condemn the victims of terrorism for simply trying to protect themselves.

All those who criticize Israel for building the fence should take a good look at this morning's pictures from Jerusalem."

Lynn B. has a post here and another one here that are definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Just So We're Clear: They Mean What They Say

Omer Bartov, professor of history at Brown University, has a lengthy article in this week's New Republic, entitled (on the cover) "Hitler is Dead, Hitlerism Lives On."

There is a history . . . which connects the anti-Semitism of Al Qaeda members planning mass murder in Hamburg in the 1990s to the anti-Semitism of Hitler fantasizing about mass murder in Munich in the 1920s.

It is not difficult to find. The charter of the Hamas movement, issued in 1988 as the fundamental document of this Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, must be read to be believed.

It contains, among its fundamentalist Islamic preachings, the most blatant anti-Semitic statements made in a publicly available document since Hitler's own pronouncements. . . .

Hamas has its own expansionist goals, for it plans to control the entire region of the Middle East, promising in turn "safety and security . . . for the members of the three religions" as long as they agree to live "under the shadow of Islam." . . . . Meanwhile "Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. . . . Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there."

Hitler could not have put it better.

* * *

Hitler taught humanity an important lesson. It is that when you see a Nazi, a fascist, a bigot, or an anti-Semite, say what you see. . . . If a British newspaper publishes an anti-Semitic cartoon, call it anti-Semitic.

If the attacks on the Twin Towers were animated by anti-Semitic arguments, say so.

If a Malaysian prime minister expresses anti-Semitic views, do not try to excuse the inexcusable.

If a self-proclaimed liberation organization calls for the extermination of the Jewish state, do not pretend that it is calling for anything else.

The absence of clarity is the beginning of complicity.

Comments can be read or made here at Little Green Footballs.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Does Europe Have a Clue?

Nelson Ascher, writing in EuroPundits, notes that the French headscarf problem is larger than they think:

The truth is that the French, so adept of talking about "root causes" when they're discussing terrorism perpetrated against Americans or Jews, choose, whenever their own problems are concerned, to deal only with the top-most leaves of any tree . . . .

The headscarf affair is typical of this approach. It's almost comical to think that by forcefully removing a piece of cloth, by unveiling Muslim girls' faces, some change will take place inside their heads. . . .

[The Europeans] are utterly unprepared, structurally, intellectually and emotionally . . . to face the very grave threats that are already out there, on their streets. . . .

Jews in Europe nowadays have only one function, namely, to endorse anti-Zionism so that those who attack Israel may show that endorsement as living proof that they are not themselves anti-Semitic. But with the increasing erosion of the temporary and partial taboo against open anti-Semitism, these poor souls will soon discover that not even being rabidly against Jewish nationhood will keep them safe anymore. They can begin to say farewell to all those smart dinners with the local elites where they were treated as almost human. . . .

Islamism is a global phenomenon and, as much as the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem passes through Baghdad, so does the French headscarf problem. It won't be solved in France or anywhere in Europe. .

The last chance the Europeans have to avoid catastrophic civil conflict is American victory in remodeling, reeducating, reorganizing the wider Middle East. There's nobody who has as much to lose with an American defeat as the Europeans. It would be helpful if they at least recognized this obvious fact.

Robert Kagan struck a similar note in his essay in Saturday's New York Times:

Today most Europeans believe that the United States exaggerates the dangers in the world. After Sept. 11, most Americans fear that they haven't taken those dangers seriously enough.

Herein lies the tragedy. To address today's global threats, Americans will need the legitimacy that Europe can provide. But Europeans may well fail to provide it.

In their effort to constrain the superpower, they will lose sight of the mounting dangers in the world. In their nervousness about unipolarity, they may forget the dangers of a multipolarity in which non-liberal and non-democratic powers come to outweigh Europe in the global competition.

Europeans thus may succeed in debilitating the United States, but since they have no intention of supplementing American power with their own, the net result will be a diminution of the total amount of power that the liberal democratic world can bring to bear in its defense -- and in defense of liberalism itself.

Michel Gurfinkiel, writing in The New York Sun (reprinted in FrontPage Magazine), summarizes an alarming situation in "Anti-Semitism: The French Crisis:"

According to recent polls, anywhere from one-third to one-half of French Jews either feels threatened enough or unsure enough about the future to consider leaving the country or to advise his children to leave the country. . . .

[T]he fact that an important, democratic nation in Western Europe can be so quickly and so thoroughly undermined by anti-Semitism should also be matter of concern -- and a warning -- for all Western nations, including America.

Monday, January 26, 2004

It Will Be a Long War

Kenneth S. Stern, reviewing Kenneth R. Timmerman's new book, "Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America," in yesterday's Washington Post Book World:

. . . if Israel and all the Jews in the world disappeared tomorrow, Islamists would still be anti-American, especially with U.S. troops stationed in and, according to their world view, defiling Muslim lands and Islamist values.

Democratic countries are anathema to Islamists not because Islamists believe they are secretly run by Jews but because, as Timmerman himself notes, Islamists reject "all man-made laws and [view] democracy as a lower form of atheism because it puts the will of the people over the will of the Divine."

In fact . . . Timmerman quotes a training manual from al Qaeda that puts the "starting point of evil" not at the hands of the Jew but in the creation of a secular republic in Turkey in 1924 that, among other things, allowed boys and girls to go to school together.

Friday, January 23, 2004

This Week's Portion of the Portion: Va-Era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

God spoke to Moses and said to him . . . "you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord."

But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.
(Exodus 6:8-9).

Rachel Ain has a nice d'var Torah about preaching to the Israelites in the wilderness, while they were still "crushed by cruel bondage:"

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar teaches "Do not pacify your colleague when his anger is raging; do not comfort him when his dead lies before him; do not challenge him at the time he makes a vow; and do not intrude upon him at the time of his disgrace." (Pirkei Avot 4:23).

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar is teaching us an important lesson. We must not only be cautious with the words that we speak, but the context in which we communicate those words to our fellow human beings. For even if we communicate what appears to be uplifting news, if it is at a time of sadness or disgrace, our important message will not be heard . . . .

It is extremely difficult for many of us to be in the presence of those who are in pain or who are deep in despair. Many of us are uncomfortable with silences and want to remind people that "it will be okay, or things will turn around."

While these statements might eventually be true, we must be sensitive to the context in which we are communicating our message. We must allow our friends and family time to grieve. We must not tell them how to feel. We must not set our friends and family up for the potential to appear ungrateful, like the Israelites appeared to Moses and God.

Rabbi David Wolpe has a lovely reflection, based on a midrash about how the Jews in the wilderness -- when manna fed everyone -- gave tzedakah:

Tzedaka is often material, but not always. We give tzedaka through sharing our imaginations, our efforts, our love.

In the Ashrei recited daily, we speak metaphorically of God’s open hand. We, too, must open our hands, our minds and our hearts.

Tzedaka is the gift God expects us to give each other. Giving money, while essential, is only the beginning.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Europe's Crisis of Civilizational Morale

George Weigel, Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, has an interesting article in the February issue of First Things -- "Europe’s Problem—and Ours."

Go back in your mind’s eye to the fall of 1940, the fateful period that Winston Churchill called Britain’s "finest hour."

Having subdued the Low Countries and France, Adolf Hitler now turned his attention to the last remaining democratic power in Europe. Hermann Göring convinced Hitler that Britain could be bludgeoned into submission on the cheap, so the Luftwaffe unleashed a fierce aerial blitz intended to break the British will to resist.

Night after night, London burned. One of the most famous photographs from those desperate weeks was a nocturnal silhouette of St. Paul’s Cathedral, its great dome standing strong and unshaken against the smoke and fire swirling through the City of London. That grainy photograph stirs the emotions to this day, because it captures in one brilliant image the struggle of Western Civilization against the barbarism that seemed on the verge of overwhelming it. . . .

St. Paul’s in defiance of the Nazi blitz . . . come[s] to mind when I try to understand what has happened in Western Europe and what has happened to Western Europe in recent decades -- and when I try to understand why Europe’s approach to democracy and to the responsibilities of the democracies in world politics seems so different from many Americans’ understanding of these issues.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and particularly in the debate that preceded the Iraq War of 2003, Americans became acutely aware that there is a "European problem." . . . .

My proposal is that, at its most fundamental level, this "European problem" is best understood in moral and cultural terms. My further suggestion is that the "problem" is not just one besetting our European friends and allies; their "European problem" is our problem, too.

Worth reading in its entirety.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Swedish Exhibit: Art and Incitement

Calev Ben-David, commenting on Israeli Ambassador Tzvi Maz’el’s actions at the Swedish exhibition of art relating to genocide, writes in "Diplomat as Performance Artist" that artists intending to incite should not be surprised at the result of incitement:

The creators of that work, Dror Feiler and Gunilla Skold Feiler, have reacted with indignation to the fact that an artwork clearly meant to provoke and shock its viewers clearly succeeded in doing just that with at least one of them.

The Feilers now claim the intention of their piece was more to promote sympathy and understanding between the warring sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Exactly how the depiction of Maxim restaurant suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat as a "Snow White" . . . helps inspire such conciliatory feelings is presumably one of those ineffable mysteries of art.

Shmuel Sokol in "Holy War, Holy Art" makes a similar point in reverse:

Deputy Knesset Speaker Mohammed Barakeh . . . called the position taken by the Ambassador . . . "unacceptable." He stated that it was an attack upon art. . . .

Were this exhibit to be one in which Meir Kahane were glorified . . . Mr. Barakeh would be up in arms yelling about incitement. There is a double standard at work here that has nothing to do with the artistic expression of the human experience. . . .

Nelson Ascher, reacting to a post by Gregory Djerejian, questions why the work was selected for an art exhibit supposedly dealing with genocide. He says it is a part of "a symbolic war . . . that's in every way as ferocious as the real one."

[W]hat is a work dealing in its own way with the Middle East doing there exactly? To allow that work in that very exhibition means that the organizers agreed with the biased and one-sided thesis that there's a genocide going on in the region.

Now, we know genocides occurred in Armenia, Cambodia, Ruwanda and during the Holocaust. But the very fact of giving the contemporary Middle Eastern situation . . . a place in that forum is . . . to pass a sentence, an anti-Israeli sentence, an a priori condemnation of Israel . . . .

While we may defend the artist's freedom of expression, however unreasonable that expression is, that doesn't mean that the decision of those responsible for the museum might be defended in the same way, because it is their work to be judgmental, to choose and to be able to explain and justify their choices.

And I'm still waiting for them to tell us why have other works been refused and this one accepted, what are their criteria, what's the connection between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the exhibition's explicit theme, genocide, and so on.

That gets it right: the focus should not be on the art, or the artists, but on those who chose to place anti-Israeli incitement in an art exhibit on genocide. The European slide continues.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

What Could and Should Have Been Done

Nothing better today than to send you to Anne Lieberman's blog to read her post last night on the newly available World War II photographs.

Do not skip it. It's right here.

(Hat tip to Charles Johnson and LGF -- and the more than 300 comments in the thread).

Monday, January 19, 2004

Land of the Free

Daniel Gordis, Director of the Mandel Jerusalem Fellows and author, most recently, of "If a Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State," has posted another lengthy "Dispatch from Israel."

It concludes with him watching a slide show of an Israeli high school trip to Poland, with "the synagogues, many of which now stand empty . . . the communities that no longer exist . . . the concentration camps . . . the railroad tracks."

I was reminded of everything we'd seen in Paris last month . . . Jewish kids are fleeing public schools because the schools have acknowledged that they can no longer protect them from the violence which has now become endemic there.

Or a conversation at a Shabbat lunch table in which our Parisian hosts were discussing whether things were really as bad as everyone says, she insisting that they were, pointing out that a Jewish school had just been burned to the ground. And his disagreeing, say that "yes, they burned down a school, but only at night, and there was no one in it."

. . . Or, when we asked people what they were doing to combat all this, the answer was, not much. Because the French feel very vulnerable now, and the last thing that the Jews want to do is to call attention to themselves. . . .

When we got back to Israel on the way home, we collected our baggage and made our way through customs. . . . [O]ne of our group muttered, "finally, a normal country."

[A] few of us started laughing . . .[because] he was so right. We laughed because we were relieved to be out of Paris, relieved to be in a place that despite all its lunacy, is the place where we get to decide. Where we don't have to hide. And where, because of that, we're home.

Given Paris, with all its glory, its wide boulevards, museums, culture and even stability, or this place, where stability is nowhere in sight, I'll take this place. Every time. Any day. Because with everything that's wrong with it, it's still the only place where we can chart the course of our own destiny, where we don't have to leave our survival in the hands of others.

Worth reading in its entirety.

Friday, January 16, 2004

This Week's Portion of the Portion -- Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

[W]hen Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian . . . . (Exodus 2:11-12).

Rabbi Elazar Muskin takes the position in his D'var Torah that Moses' action was praiseworthy:

The 19th-century biblical commentator, Rabbi Ya'akov Tzvei Mecklenburg, in his "Haketav Vehakabbalah," states that it is wrong to read this verse as if Moses simply took the law into his own hands; tried the man on his own, convicted him and killed him.

Rather, Moses looked around to see if anyone else cared. The attack on the Jewish man took place in clear daylight in the midst of the community. Moses looked around to see if anyone of importance would stand up and protect the Jew.

He looked everywhere but he couldn't find an "ish," a man. Ish always is used in the Bible to refer to an important dignitary. But none came to save the Jew. Moses did what he had to do under the circumstances.

Rabbi Irwin Kula thinks the situation and the lesson is more complicated:

The tradition has difficulties reconciling the image of Moses as the teacher of Torah with Moses as a man of force. . . .

One rabbi tells us, "Moses struck the Egyptian with his fist and killed him." But the other sage explains, "Moses overpowered his enemy by uttering God's name." These two different interpretations reflect a debate with profound contemporary implications . . . .

For 1800 years, rabbinic Judaism in the face of exile and political powerlessness developed a rich and creative culture of learning, piety and prayer. . . . waiting for the "appointed time," when God would redeem us from the suffering condition of exile. To assume power was to rebel against God -- we were, so to speak, to use God's name. . . .

The existence of the State of Israel and the radical shift from political powerlessness to power prevents Judaism from being exclusively described as a culture of learning and prayer. We now must bring covenantal consciousness beyond the circumscribed borders of home and synagogue into the realm of power and politics.

If only it were that easy.

Are the peacemakers those who produce "agreements" negotiated in Swedish or Swiss cities, or those who build a wall?

Are the statesmen those who credit the good faith of the "other," or those who prepare for the worst?

Is the transfer of Palestinians to one of the other 22 Arab states -- particularly the one next door in which they are a majority of the population -- a moral act, as "New Historian" Benny Morris argued last week in a stunning interview in Ha'aretz, and as Israeli Minister Benny Elon has proposed in his Right Road to Peace plan -- or is it "ethnic cleansing" that a moral people in the 21st Century cannot consider?

These questions do not answer themselves. The lesson of this week's portion is simply that they have to be asked. Moses' act is not self-evidently moral or immoral. He killed a man who was beating a Hebrew: was it murder or justifiable homicide?

We can be proud our tradition requires that we ask such questions before we exercise power -- and demands that we try to bring a "covenental consciousness" to them.

Shabbat Shalom.

UPDATE: Rachel Barenblat has a nice d'var torah on Moses' action that relates it to Martin Luther King Day this Monday.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Palestinian Future Could Have Been Different

Uzi Landau, a Knesset Member since 1984 who serves as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and previously served as Minister of Internal Security, made a presentation on December 17, 2003 at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem.

He reviewed the number of times that the Palestinian future could have been different:

They could have had a state after the UN partition resolution in 1947, but they rejected it and launched a war.

Between 1947 and 1967 there was no claim for a Palestinian state; nobody had even a hint about the existence of a Palestinian nation, and Israel had no settlements in Judea and Samaria.

But Judea and Samaria were used as bases for terrorist activities against Israel proper. The 1967 war started because there was a belief on the part of the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, and the Syrians that from those borders they could easily destroy Israel -- borders termed by former foreign minister Abba Eban as “Auschwitz borders.”

Only after 1967 did the Palestinians start to make their demand for a Palestinian state and to start to speak about occupation. Yet when they speak among themselves about occupation, they speak about Israel occupying Tel Aviv and Haifa, not Judea and Samaria.

The Palestinians could have negotiated a different future for themselves in 1978 after the first Camp David accord signed between Israel, Egypt, and President Carter. After a transition period of five years they could have negotiated their future. It didn’t take place, of course, because they rejected Camp David.

Then in Oslo they signed a peace agreement with Israel. Obviously this would have led them to a state of their own. Yet after grabbing all the concessions, and after Israel had turned over control of all aspects of civilian life for over 97 percent of the Palestinian population, they started a new wave of terrorism.

When former prime minister Barak met with the Palestinians in 2000 at Camp David, he offered them unprecedented concessions. But these talks were followed by an extreme wave of terrorism that Israel is still fighting today.

Last year the “Roadmap” agreement was presented, in which the Palestinians also had to fulfill a number of commitments, the first and most important of which is putting an end to terrorism. It is tragic that when the Palestinians have the opportunity to negotiate a solution in which they will have the dignity of a state, they refuse to do so unless that state is going to be built on the ruins of the State of Israel. We are not prepared to agree to this.

The terrorists have learned that terrorism pays. They can sign whatever agreements they wish and it really doesn’t matter because they will not be made to carry out their commitments, and they can simply carry on with terrorism. Building the fence is to help protect us from that. The route of the fence is determined in part by following the best route that will keep most of the Israelis on one side of the fence.

If the Palestinians have any complaints about it, they can blame themselves -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, the PLO, and Arafat himself. The fence wasn’t there for 35 years; it is there now. . . .

Right after the Oslo agreement was signed in 1993, Israel’s minister of education changed the curriculum and declared the “Year of Peace” in Israeli schools. We taught every child, from elementary school to high school, that the Palestinians were no longer an enemy, they were neighbors. We taught our children that Arafat was no longer a terrorist, he was a partner.

By contrast, the Palestinians issued textbooks which taught that Israel is the enemy of mankind, that Jews are Satan on earth, that we are poisoning their wells, and that they should be prepared to become suicide bombers. Today we see the products of that educational system, as the majority of suicide bombers are between the ages of 16 and 28.

Yesterday Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement sent a 22-year-old mother of two to stand in line where Gazans wait to enter a border industrial zone, one of the last vestiges of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and co-existence, to kill as many people as possible.

The Palestinian "prime minister" Abu Whomever declined to condemn the bombing. The mass murderer made the traditional video that was aired after the successful atrocity:

Smiling at times in a videotape that showed her cradling a rifle, 22-year-old Reem Al-Reyashi said she had dreamed since she was 13 of "becoming a martyr" and dying for her people.

Reyashi, from a middle-class merchant family . . . [was] a high school graduate active in Hamas women's groups . . . .

Reyashi left behind a 1-1/2-year-old daughter and a 3-1/2-year-old son. "God gave me two children and I loved them so much. Only God knew how much I loved them," she said in the video, asking that her children study in religious schools.

The year Reyashi was 13 was 1995: The Oslo agreement had been signed on the White House lawn a year and a half before. Yitzhak Rabin was the prime minister. Shimon Peres was the foreign minister. Peace in our time was at hand.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Time of Our Singing

Richard Powers’ astonishing, magnificent novel -- “The Time of Our Singing” -- is out in paperback.

There are numerous chapters in this multi-leveled work -- part family saga, part meditation on time, reflection on race, appreciation of music, recounting of twentieth century American history -- that are worth the entire book.

In 1939, David Strom, a young German Jewish émigré teaching at Columbia, meets Delia Daley, a young black woman studying to be a singer. They eventually marry, raising children they hope will transcend race, religion, history -- who can be anything they want.

Here is an excerpt from a small scene -- a single brushstroke in this huge canvas of a novel. David has gone with his two young boys to Frisch’s bakery in New York:

In the bakery, Da[d] turns foreign. He and Mr. Frisch speak in a language not quite German, one I follow only in ghostly outline. . . .

Mr. Frisch asks me something I can’t understand.

“The boy doesn’t speak,” Da says. Although I speak fine.

“Doesn’t speak! How can they not speak? I don’t care what they are. What they look like. How are you raising these boys?”

“We are raising the best we can.”

“Professor. We’re disappearing,” the baker says. “They want us everywhere gone. They almost have succeeded in this. Our people need every life. Doesn’t speak!”

We leave, nodding and waving, making our peace with Mr. Frisch, Da carrying our magic foreign substance, Mandelbrot, under his arm.

This is food Mama can’t make. Only Frisch’s sells the exact Mandelbrot that Da used to eat before he came to the United States. To Jonah and me, it looks like a good, sweet bread, but hardly worth the long trip north. To Da, it’s from another dimension. A time machine.

The book sings. And you will not forget the beautiful, moving lesson of "Jewish physics" taught by David Strom.

Monday, January 12, 2004

More on Last Week's Portion: Death, Rachel and Ritual

Rabbi Mordecai Finley's d'var Torah -- "Final Lesson" -- describes one of his first lessons as a rabbinical student, serving in a rural part-time student pulpit, visiting a man dying in a hospital:

I had no idea what rabbis or anyone said to someone who is dying. It was just before Rosh Hashanah and I thought maybe he would want to hear the shofar, so I brought it along with my prayer book.

When we got to the hospital . . . I walked into the dying man's room. He was having trouble breathing and looked angry. He said, "What's that in your hand?" I told him it was a shofar, and I asked him if he wanted to hear it.

He told me that if I wanted to be helpful, I could throw my shofar and my prayer book out the window and bring him a gun so he could put himself out of his misery.

What happened after that between Rabbi Finley and the man is very much worth reading.

Richard Silverstein, reacting to Rabbi Crespy's d'var Torah on Friday on the death of Rachel, emailed a link to his translation of "To Die Like Rachel" -- a Hebrew poem by Dahlia Rabikovitch. (Richard's blog is here).

Elan S. Carr, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, published an article last week in the Miami Herald, in which he described the experience of Hanukkah in Baghdad:

"Banu hoshekh legharesh'' -- We have come to banish darkness. Thus begins a famous Hanukkah song, and no phrase better encapsulates the holiday's deeper meanings.

This year, as a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq, several colleagues and I lit a Hanukkah lamp and uttered those words in a place that had never before heard them: the former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein, in the capital city of a new and free Iraq.

One is hard-pressed to imagine a holiday whose themes are more resonant with the events unfolding here: a spectacular military victory, the defeat of a despot, the resanctification of what had been desecrated. . . .

Elan Carr's grandfather was once one of Saddam Hussein's prisoners -- arrested with other leaders of the once large Iraqi Jewish community, paraded through the streets in leg irons, and summarily incarcerated in torture chambers like the ones Carr visited in Baghdad:

It is the defeat of this sort of profanity that Hanukkah celebrates, for what can be more ungodly or profane than torture, mass murder and genocide? Such evil had been a staple of life in Iraq. But not anymore. We have come to banish darkness. . . .

As my colleagues and I remember the Maccabee bravery of yesteryear and the resanctification of the Temple, we pray also for the brave and indefatigable people of Iraq, who day by day are rekindling their flames of hope and resanctifying their great land. They are banishing the darkness, and we wish them Godspeed.

(Hat tip: Tnoggs).

Friday, January 09, 2004

This Week's Portion of the Portion: Va-Yehi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26)

And Jacob said to Joseph . . . "[W]hen I was returning from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, while I was journeying in the land of Canaan . . . .

Noticing Joseph's sons, Israel asked, "Who are these?" And Joseph said to his father, "They are my sons, whom God has given me here."

"Bring them up to me," he said, "that I may bless them." . . . So [Joseph] brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them.

And Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see you again, and here God has let me see your children as well."
(Genesis 48:3 - 11).

Rabbi Melissa Crespy, in mourning for her 38-year old brother, having buried both her parents in the last eight years, reflects on Jacob's loss of Rachel amidst the joy of seeing Joseph, and has a moving d'var Torah about the rituals of mourning:

. . . though the gut-wrenching pain has gone, the sense of deep loss -- especially at poignant moments in life -- still remains.

How can we find some nehama -- some comfort for these losses? . . .

I've argued with God a lot in the past weeks (and years). But ultimately, the words Jacob blesses his son and grandsons with have deep resonance for me . . .

I pray that God -- in God's way -- continues to be a shepherd for my brother's and parents' souls; that God is taking care of them and that they somehow feel the warmth and embrace of God's love.

And I pray, that God will continue to be a shepherd for me -- and all who suffer loss -- to guide us in how best to mourn and to continue living life fully, despite our tremendous sense of loss and pain.

I pray that I will always be able to walk in God's ways -- and to pass on to my children the sacred rituals and morals which God has commanded of us.

I pray that in teaching my children about God and our beautiful Jewish way of life, I will bring some comfort to myself, and honor to the memory of my brother.

David Curzon has a new translation of the poetic testament that Jacob addresses to his sons (Genesis 49:1-27).

Rabbi David Wolpe has a nice reflection on the power of rituals -- and how the memory of ritual remains years after the ordinary moments in life have vanished.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The First Jewish President

Julia Gorin doesn't think a Jewish president is a good idea -- but notes that, like the French Knight, we already got one:

I always thought it was too obvious to spell out, but apparently it isn't: A Jew in the White House would not be good for the Jews.

Because the tendency of Jews in power is to bend over backwards to prove evenhandedness -- an opportunity that most often presents itself in the context of the Middle East. . . . the first result of which is . . . [a] policy that sells Israel down the river.

We saw it in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, when Henry Kissinger advised President Nixon against a massive arms airlift to Israel (advice Nixon declined).

We saw it again under the Clinton administration, which included . . . Jewish National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and once-Jewish Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It was the policy of this guilt-ridden group to forge ahead with the peace process "no matter what" -- a euphemism for making only the Israeli side accountable for its concessions in the Oslo agreement . . . .

This, after Candidate Clinton in 1992 offered the following story in answer to how he would handle Israel: He was at yet another deathbed, this time of a dying Baptist minister, who supposedly made Clinton promise that whatever he did, he was not to let Israel down. The Jews ate it up; the story didn't even have to be true.

. . . Recall that in 2002 Bill Clinton told a Jewish group in Toronto that if Israel were invaded, "I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die." So not only was he the first black president; he was also the first Jewish president.

Actually, George W. is the first Jewish president -- as demonstrated by this exchange of correspondence.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Quartet Is About Two Pints Short

Bret Stephens, writing in The Jerusalem Post on "Europe and Israel: What Went Wrong?," notes that:

One of the ironies of Europe's ever-hardening position toward Israel is that is has harmed the peace camp here.

In Europe, the Geneva Accord was seen as a valiant effort to break the diplomatic deadlock and shine a light of hope. In Israel, it was seen as a piece of European impudence and cemented architect Yossi Beilin's political position as a European stooge.

Israelis have also abandoned the belief that Europe has anything to offer. Its diplomacy is mistrusted. So is its word. Israelis could accept the fact that Europe "tilted Palestinian," just as America "tilted Israeli." That's the way the world works.

But part of the point of "tilting" is that you can maneuver your client into delivering the vital concession. America has done its part with Israel. Other than extracting the occasional kind word from Arafat, Europe has yet to do its part with the Palestinians.

Ilka Schroeder, EU Parliament member, in an address entitled "The European Union, Israel, and Palestinian Terrorism," says the EU's position is actually related to its proxy war against the United States:

"The Europeans supported the Palestinian Authority with the aim of becoming its main sponsor, and through this, challenge the U.S. and present themselves as the future global power.

"Therefore, the Al-Aksa Intifada should be understood as a proxy war between Europe and the United States. . . .

"The primary goal of the EU is the internationalization of the conflict in order to underline the need for its own mediating role . . . . The Palestinians are playing the ugly role of being the cannon fodder for Europe's hidden war against the U.S."

Max M. Kampelman, in today's Wall Street Journal, reviews the record of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner U.N. on Israel:

In 1948, the U.N. recognized Israel as a new state and member. Shortly thereafter, Israel's Arab neighbors -- refusing to accept the U.N. decision -- invaded Israel.

Since that time, and until quite recently, neighboring Arab states have publicly considered themselves in a perpetual state of war with Israel, and have acted accordingly. How has the U.N. responded?

Since 1964, the Security Council has passed 88 resolutions against Israel -- the only democracy in the region -- while the General Assembly has passed more than 400 such resolutions.

The U.N., an organization committed to peace, permitted Yasser Arafat to address its General Assembly in 1974 with a pistol on his hip, and subsequently formed -- under U.N. auspices and with U.N. funding -- three separate entites with large staffs which advance the Palestine Liberation Organization's anti-Israel agenda: the Division for Palestine Rights; the Committee for the Inalenable Rights of the Palestinian People; and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices Affecting the Palestinian People.

No Arab state has ever been chastised by the U.N. for actions against Israel and for its defiance of the 1948 U.N. resolution.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Predicting the Future

Michael Crichton has another fascinating speech about science, junk science, technology and politics -- and the inability to predict the future:

Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about?

Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horsesh-t? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. .

Remember, people in 1900 didn't know what an atom was. They didn't know its structure. They also didn't know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet, interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS . .

None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn't know what you are talking about.

Nor would they have predicted two world wars (three, counting the Cold War), the Holocaust, the State of Israel, or a barbaric war of suicide bombers against a U.N. member, with the U.N. supporting the bombers.

(hat tip: Glenn Reynolds).

Friday, January 02, 2004

This Week's Portion of the Portion: Va-Yiggash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27)

Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone withdraw from me!"

So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. . . . Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still well?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dumfounded were they on account of him.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come forward to me." And when they came forward, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. . . .

. . . They went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, "Joseph is still alive; yes, he is ruler over the whole land of Egypt."

His heart went numb, for he did not believe them. But when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. "Enough!" said Israel. "My son Joseph is still alive! I must go and see him before I die."

. . . Joseph ordered his chariot and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel; he presented himself to him and, embracing him around the neck, he wept on his neck a good while. Then Israel said to Joseph, "Now I can die, having seen for myself that you are still alive."
(Genesis 45:1 - 46:30).

Rabbi Lewis Warshauer has a nice D'Var Torah on this passage:

The reunion of Jacob and Joseph marks a turning point in their relationship and in Jacob's own story. The multiple and boomeranging ironies of Jacob's career come to a climax -- and then recede.

The young Jacob experienced a mother's favoritism and a brother's murderous fury. The mature Jacob favored a son, but in doing so, provoked the anger of his other sons and thus harmed the one he wanted to favor.

Yet Joseph, precisely because of the harm his brothers did him -- and that his father had set in motion -- has ultimately benefited. Not only has he become lord of Egypt, but has gained the power to save and protect his family.

Joseph at the same time both rejoins his family and rises above their background of preferences and jealousy. Jacob, now much older, cannot transcend the thought of death -- the death his son almost suffered, and his own end. He can no longer teach life to his sons.

Joseph takes up that task; when he discloses his identity to his brothers, he assures them that he is breaking the old pattern of injury and revenge. He excuses them for selling him into slavery, and infuses his story with divine purpose:

It was to save life that God sent me on before you. (Genesis 45:5).

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

We Need to Start 2004 By Reading This

Victor Davis Hanson has the lead article in the January issue of Commentary: "Iraq's Future -- and Ours."

It is another brilliant piece, with an appreciation of what has been accomplished so far, an analysis of the current situation, and an urgent caution regarding the future stakes:

[L]et us begin by putting the matter in perspective.

The reconstruction of Iraq is proceeding well: electrical power, oil production, everyday commerce, and schooling are all in better shape than they were under Saddam Hussein.

More saliently, none of the biblical calamities confidently anticipated by critics of the March invasion has yet materialized. Those prophecies of Armageddon featured thousands of combatants killed, hundreds of oil wells set afire, mass starvation, millions festering in refugee camps, polluted waters in the Gulf, "moderate" Arab governments toppled, the "Arab street" in a rage, and a wave of 9/11-style terror loosed upon the United States.

We are an impatient people. In part, no doubt, our restlessness is a byproduct of our own unprecedented ease and affluence. Barbarians over the hills do not descend to kill us; no diseases wipe out our children by the millions; not starvation but obesity is more likely to do us in.

Since we are so rich and so powerful, why is it, we naturally wonder, that we cannot simply and quickly call into being a secure, orderly, prosperous Iraq, a benign Islamic version of a New England township? . . .

But . . .[w]hat is truly astonishing is not our inability in six months to create an Arab utopia, but the sheer audacity of our endeavor to send our liberating troops into the heart of an ancient and deeply chauvinistic culture that over the past decades had reduced itself to utter ruin.

Saddam Hussein and his sons spent those decades gassing their own people, conducting maniacal wars against Iran and Kuwait, launching missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia, despoiling the Mesopotamian wetlands and driving out the marsh people, and systematically murdering hundreds of thousands of innocents. Real progress would have meant anything even marginally better than this non-ending nightmare, let alone what we have already achieved in Iraq. . . .

Now, however, after one of the most miraculous victories in military history, we demand an almost instantaneous peace followed by the emergence of a sort of Iraqi Continental Congress. . . .

Not all of our problems are problems of perception, but at least a few are. What would have been the reaction of the New Yorker or the New York Review of Books had the coalition forces shot 500 looters to restore order and save the infrastructure of an entire people, or had we kept the Iraqi army intact to curb lawlessness, or had a no-nonsense provisional government of exiles ensured that the trains were to be running on time?

Instead of hearing now about chaos and quagmire, we would be reading about poor families whose innocent teenage sons had been caught in crossfire, or about Baathists with dark pasts entrenched in the new military, or about the counterproductive American obsession with order rather than with pluralist democracy. . . .

[W]e must acknowledge the nature of the wider war against terrorism, and of the dark times we are in. . . . Even apart from the toll in Israel and Iraq, all of the deadly terrorism since 9/11 -- against the synagogue in Tunisia, against French naval personnel in Pakistan, Americans in Karachi, tourists in Bali, Israelis in Kenya, Russians in both Moscow and Chechnya, and foreigners in Saudi Arabia, the suicide car bombings in Morocco, the Marriott bombing in Indonesia, the mass murder in Bombay, the killings in Turkey, and so forth -- has been perpetrated by Islamic fanatics and directed at Westerners, Christians, Hindus, Jews. . . .

In this respect, our efforts are better seen in comparison to World War II than by analogy to Panama or Serbia. . . . [We are] in a war to rid the world of the contemporary avatars of Nazism and Japanese militarism . .

In an era of the greatest affluence and security in the history of civilization, the real question before us remains whether the United States -- indeed, whether any Western democracy -- still possesses the moral clarity to identify evil as evil, and then the uncontested will to marshal every available resource to fight and eradicate it.

In that sense, our willingness to use unremitting force to eliminate vast cadres of proven killers, in Iraq and elsewhere, is a referendum on modern democracy itself.

Essential reading. The complete article -- and there is much more in it -- is here.