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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘approach’

Trump’s Approach To Russia Is Weak And Dangerous

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

There is real danger in Donald Trump’s statements and attitude toward Vladimir Putin and Russia.

“Putin likes me,” glowed Trump in a July 25, 2016 tweet. He elaborated a few days later on ABC’s “This Week”: “He has said nice things about me over the years,” he said. “I remember years ago, he said something, many years ago, he said something very nice about me.”

I think this raises serious questions about whether a Trump foreign policy toward Putin and Russia would be personality-driven as much as (if not more than) policy-driven.

That’s not an unfair assumption to make, and not just in the case of Trump. Any student of international relations knows that personalities and relationships among leaders can influence and even drive policy. It was certainly a factor in the fatal miscalculations in U.S.-Russian relations made by Franklin Roosevelt.

“I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department,” FDR oddly boasted to Winston Churchill on March 18, 1942. “Stalin hates the guts of all your people. He thinks he likes me better.”

“He likes me.” Sound familiar?

Stalin showed his “like” of FDR by rolling over Eastern Europe. Not until literally days before he died did FDR finally admit he had been wrong about Stalin.

“Averell [Harriman] is right,” FDR sighed to Anna Rosenberg on March 23, 1945. “We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.”

FDR’s tragic mistake was thinking the Russian leader liked him and thus would “work with me for a world of democracy and peace” (yes, FDR actually said that about Stalin).

And yet, FDR, mistaken as he was, never suffered the significant personality issues that plague Donald Trump. Trump’s ignorance of policy and lack of any firm grounding in a set of bedrock principles is outdone only by a strikingly excessive sense of self, which would make a President Trump easily open for exploitation by a cynically manipulative foreign leader like a Vladimir Putin – a leader who learned the art of manipulation in the KGB.

Let’s recall what happened with Barack Obama, who likewise was convinced that Putin and the Russians liked him.

On September 17, 2009, our freshman president horrified our post-Cold War allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet Bloc captive nations, by canceling plans for a joint U.S. missile shield.

Poles ever since have harbored a deep fear that Obama will not defend them. They see Obama as a weak leader, one whom the Russians realize they can roll right over.

Which brings me to Ukraine. What unfolded in Ukraine was blanket aggression by Putin. Obama had bent over backward to assuage the Russians. And how did Putin thank him for the friendship and goodwill? He invaded Ukraine, surely knowing his accommodating pal in the White House would not do anything to stop him.

Naturally, the neighboring countries around Ukraine were immediately worried. The Estonians were worried. The Latvians were worried. The Poles were worried. The Poles feared not only a Putin invasion; they feared Obama would not lift a finger to help them, even though Poland is a member of NATO.

I’m reminded of a very different worldview toward the Russians by another president.

“If you were going to approach the Russians with a dove of peace in one hand, you had to have a sword in the other,” said President Ronald Reagan. “We had to bargain with them from strength, not weakness.”

Reagan’s motto toward Russia was dovorey no provorey, Russian for “trust but verify.”

That was not what Obama did. He approached Putin with a dove in one hand and a bouquet of roses in the other – and with plenty of promised “flexibility.” Obama showed weakness, not strength. And the Russians exploited it.

Reagan took pride in the fact that the Russians did not gain “one inch of ground” while he was president. Indeed they did not – and this was after they had picked up nearly a dozen satellite states in the immediate years before Reagan was elected, under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

Which brings me back to Trump. Surely the KGB-trained Putin and his advisers have discerned how obviously easy it is to get Trump on your side. You simply say nice things about him. Just suggest that you like him and you will have him. He is easily flattered, and the Russians are shrewd flatterers.

That being the case, I really worry that Putin would play Trump like a fiddle, maybe even more than he played Obama.

Trump enthusiasts will recoil at the suggestion that their alpha-male strong-man would not stand up to Putin and the Russians if he became president. But I don’t share their confidence at all, especially given Trump’s ongoing soft assessments of Putin’s annexation of the Crimea.

If Putin moved further against Ukraine or even Poland, would a President Trump blithely look the other way because “Putin likes me” and because they have a friendly relationship? Poland is a NATO member, but Trump’s attitude to NATO has been cavalier at best.

Donald Trump needs to remember what Ronald Reagan said. You approach the Russians, and especially a Russian like Vladimir Putin, from a position of strength, not weakness.

Dr. Paul Kengor

Why Did Kayin Kill Hevel? (Rabbi Goldin Gets It Wrong)

Monday, September 30th, 2013

My encounter with Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s “Unlocking the Torah Text” this weekend nearly gave me a stroke. And all I covered was his section on parsha Bereshis.

There were two terrible passages. We’ll deal with one now, and get to the other later.

In brief, I hold there are two incorrect theories of midrash. I call them the “moron approach” and the “skeptical approach.” The moron approach, beloved by idiots who think their stupidity proves their piousness, hold that our sages were merely receiving vessels who did nothing but repeat whatever they heard from their own rebbes. They say the midrashim, in their entirety, go back to Sinai, in one long game of telephone, with not one of the Sages ever making use of his own intelligence or creative powers to add or subtract from the original teaching.

This, thankfully, is not Goldin’s approach.

Instead, Goldin embraces the skeptical approach telling us that midrashim are not really interpretations of verses. Instead, they are something the Sages used to encode and transmit Deep Ideas. Here’s how he puts it:

Midrashim are vehicles through which the Rabbis.. transmit significant messages and lessons. As such, they are not necessarily meant… to explain the factual meaning of a Torah passage.

The Goldin passage I quote above is actually a (unattributed) paraphrase of something that the Ramchal says in Maamar al Haagadot. And let me make this clear: The Ramchal’s approach is a sound way of dealing with problematic midrashim. Trouble is, too many people use this approach to deal with midrashim that are not problematic at all. And this is precisely what Goldin does.

The Midrash he attempts, in this example,  to reveal as a vehicle for transmitting secret lessons is found in Berashis Raba, Berashis 23:16 where various rabbis are quoted discussing competing reasons for Kayin’s attack on Hevel.

In summary:

(1) The brothers divided up the world, with one taking the land, and the other taking the animals. When Kayin saw Hevel standing on “his” land he objected.

(2) The brothers divided up the land and the animals even-steven but both wanted the land where the future Bes Hamikdash would stand. So they fought

(3) The brothers both wanted Chava Rishona, and fought over her. (Chava Rishona is how the Midrash solves the problem of Eve’s two creation stories. The first Chava (the one created alongside Adam in Genesis 1:27) was rejected, and replaced by the Chava created from Adam’s rib in 2:21 leading Adam to declare in 2:23 “Zos Hapaam / This time [I am happy with the Chava]!”)

(4) Hevel had two twin sisters while Kayin had only one. They fought over Hevel’s extra sister (the existence of the twins are indicated by the superfluous word “es” in 4:1 and 4:2 where Kayin’s birth announcement is accompanied with only one “es”, thus one twin, while Hevel’s birth announcement has two appearances of “es” which to the Rabbis suggested two twins.

According to Goldin, none of this should be construed at an attempt to interpret and explain the Kayin and Hevel story. Instead the Sages are “expressing global observations” regarding the real reasons why men go to war, namely territory, religion and women.

And then he makes it abundantly clear that he hasn’t even taken the elementary first step of consulting the midrash in question, writing:

Fundamentally, the Rabbis make the following statement in this Midrash: We were not present when Kayin killed Hevel. Nor can we glean any information directly from the biblical text concerning the source of their dispute.”

Only, even the briefest glance at the text of the Midrash shows this is not true! The Rabbis are not making a statement in unison about Global Facts, nor are they sharing Big Ideas. Rather they are arguing about nothing more than the plain meaning of the verse.

Each of the four suggested reasons for the fight are based on something specific and anomalous in the text, as the Midrash itself tells us, namely the seemingly extra detail about where the fight occurred.

The verse says: “While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

Why mention the field?

(1) Because Kayin and Hevel split the world, with one (the farmer) taking the land, and the other (the sheep herder) taking the animals. In the field, Kayin objected to his brother standing on land, which he owned, so they fought.

(2) The word “field” is often a keyword for the Bes Hamikdash  (eg Micha 3:12) The brothers successfully divided up the entire world, but when they got to the field, ie, the Bes Hamikdash they fought

(3 and 4) Field is also a keyword for women. Both are, um,  plowed (Not my pun! Its in chazal!) and also because of Deuteronomy 22:25 where it says: “If a man finds a girl in the field.” So when the brothers reached the field, ie the woman, they fought.

None of this, by the way,  is a DovBear interpretation. All of it is right there in the plain text of the midrash – which Goldin would have encountered had he checked the midrash before embarking on his unnecessary attempt to “decode” it.

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