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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘between’

Kerry to Labor Party Leader: If No Deal by March, US Pulls Out

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry may look like he’s pulling all the stops in pushing an Israeli-Palestinian deal, but, according to newly elected Labor party chairman MK Yitzhak Herzog, the U.S. can also read the writing on the wall. Herzog told Maariv that should there be no significant movement by the end of March, “it looks like the U.S. will take a step back and lower its profile” on the negotiations.

At the same time, Herzog was quick to point out, Kerry is filled with optimism regarding the chances of the current talks, telling his Israeli supporter on the left that both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have made brave and significant concessions.

Kerry’s main point in his meeting with Israel’s opposition leader Herzog was to find out how many hands would be raised in the Knesset in support of the Netanyahu concessions.

“He asked us not to enable the toppling of Netanyahu should he lose parts of the right” in his own coalition, “who will decide to vote against him once there’s progress in the talks,” a source in Herzog’s circle told Maariv.

The ever-present danger in volatile votes like this, is that once the prime minister loses the support of a sizeable portion of his own coalition members, the next move is in the hands of the opposition leader, who calls for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. At this point, if the same coalition members are angry enough, they add their votes to the opposition and take down the government.

Herzog wasn’t going to do that over the “peace process.” But the question remains whether Netanyahu really ahs the votes supporting the uprooting a constantly shifting number of Jews from Judea and Samaria (that number has gone from 150,000 down to 80,000 – neither of which have much reality to them, because the Palestinians want everything and the settlers won’t budge either, at least not without riot police bashing their faces in, which could spell the end of Netanyahu’s marriage with the right).

The same source said they were surprised by the seriousness of the current phase in the talks, and the fact that they now include all the “heavy” subjects, such as the right of return for Palestinians from around the world into Israel proper, the status of Jerusalem, Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and, presumably, land swaps of settlements and Israeli Arab cities.

According to Maariv, based on information from senior political officials, Kerry plans to set up a direct meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas moments after the American “framework” document is finalized.

Kerry “is determined to hold a political summit meeting between the two leaders, as soon as he succeeds in getting agreements for that famous document,” the sources said.

Mind you, the “framework document” is expected to be merely a list of all the issues about which both sides disagree. Also, the document will not require the two sides to sign it, merely to acknowledge that, indeed, they disagree on those issues.

That’s not a lot to ask for. But there’s a reason for this strange document, which presents as success something which should have been the opening notes of the talks, rather than the sum total of their achievements after 7 months. Kerry intends to use this manufactured “success” as a basis for issuing a one-year extension to the talks, which are slated to conclude—based on the Secretary’s time limit—this February.

No one beats the State Department in smoke and mirror acts (Defense concentrates more on dog and pony).

Which makes our own headline here, based on the revelations in Maariv, about as hokum as anything the Secretary has been scheming. Kerry imposes a deadline, then creates a means to schlep out the deadline ad infinitum, then threatens to take his ball and go home in March, but by the time March rolls in the teams will be deep in phase two – and achieving nothing.

Rationality, Not Rational

Friday, August 9th, 2013

“V’zeh yihiye mishpat haKohanim me’et ham me’et zivchei hazevach im shor im seh vnatan l’Kohen hazroah zerah v’halechaim v’hakevah.

The most frustrating conversations are with those with whom we have deep fundamental disagreements. If conducted in the right spirit, without personal animus and with sincere dedication to the pursuit of truth, they can be very rewarding. When we surround ourselves only with those who see things exactly as we do, we limit our growth. When we surround ourselves only with those with whom we have fundamental disagreements, we never get past the same discussions. We need a balance between the two.

I have a dear friend, a moral philosopher who is a Torah observant Jew. Our fundamental disagreement, one which we can never get past, concerns the relationship between God’s Law and God’s morality. Because the answers to such momentous questions lie at the heart of one’s hashkafa, we need to explore them periodically, testing the current state of our thinking for validity and coherence.  Parshat Shoftim gives us such an opportunity.

After stipulating that the Kohanim receive Divine gifts in place of a tribal portion of the land, the Torah enumerates the Matnat Kehuna. When the meat is slaughtered for consumption, they receive the right shoulder, the two bones of the lower cheek, and the stomach or gullet. The Ramban contrasts the midrashic reading on the significance of these body parts to that of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The former identifies each of the body parts with a feature of the zealous act of Pinchas. The right shoulder representing the shoulder with which Pinchas took the spear in his hand, the cheek bones representing the prayers he verbalized, and the stomach representing the organs of his victims, penetrated by his spear. In other words, the Matnat Kehuna are not a sinecure for the Kohanim but a reward for the acts of their ancestor. In Moreh Nevuchuim, however, the Rambam offers a more direct explanation: each of these organs is the most select of the animal’s body parts, the shoulder being the most select of the extremities, the stomach of its innards, etc. The Matnat Kehuna represent then the recognition that the best goes to God, in this case through the Kohanim who have been designated to serve Him.

This is not the only such explanation that the Rambam proposes. In Chelek Gimmel we find a broad selection of other mitzvot for which he offers rational bases. There is no question that the Rambam maintained that the mitzvot each convey a benefit upon Am Yisrael. At the same time, Jewish law retains its positivist basis for observance since these benefits are not the rationale for observance. The Rambam makes an important move that allows him to accommodate within his approach both the inherent rationality of the Law with its positivist basis for observance: the general outline of a particular precept is rational while its details need not be. In Chapter 26 (Pines translation):

“The generalities of the commandments necessarily have a cause and have been given because of a certain utility; their details are that in regard to which it was said of the commandments that they were given merely for the sake of commanding something.”

The Rambam cites shechitah as his prime example. As he elaborates in Chapter 48, the general mitzvah of shechitah is intended to allow the people to have the good food they require while protecting the animals they slaughter from a painful death. The general mitzvah then exhibits a rational purpose intended to benefit the people. The details, however, e.g., the particular simanim which must be cut, are “imposed with a view to purifying the people.” The Rambam is referring to a passage in Berashis Rabbah cited earlier that asks what difference should it make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu if animals are slaughtered by cutting their neck in front or in back? The Midrash answers: Say therefore that the commandments were only given in order to purify the people.”

The diyuk in the Midrash is clear: “What difference do the details make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? Say therefore that the [details of the] commandments were only given in order to purify the people.” The Rambam can therefore conceive of a functionalist law with a positivist rationale for observance. The generalities of the Law are rational; the details of the Law are positivist in nature. The fact that the Torah exhibits an interior rationality does not preclude an absolute mandate for observance. By asserting that the details serve the purpose of requiring commitment to law independent of rational understanding, the Rambam puts the halachic system firmly on a positivist footing.

When the Rambam declares the Torah a reflection of the rational Mind of God, he does not mean to assert that it has lost its essential character as commandment. Those who interpret Jewish law as a set of social policy prescriptions miss the distinction between rationality and rationale. This confusion plagued the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, leading those who saw Jewish legal sources as rational responses within a historical context to deny their binding nature. Similarly, those who cast Torah entirely as positivist decree may be victims of the same delusion, denying rationality in order to preserve rationale.

The ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ is Anti-Israel & Anti-Peace

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), classified as one of the ten worst anti-Israel organizations in the US by the Anti-Defemation League, partook in Harvard’s One State Conference, supports a Palestinian right of return, which remains the main obstacle to peace, and promotes the BDS Movement. According to a report published by NGO Monitor, they also seek to create a barrier between the American Jewish community and Israel with the goal of diminishing American support for the Jewish state. They work under the presumption that their Jewishness lends legitimacy to ideas that would otherwise not gain as much traction if uttered by a non-Jewish person.

As JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson reiterated, “I think part of our job as the Jewish wing of the [Palestinian solidarity] movement, is to facilitate conversations inside the Jewish community… So, I think it’s very important to think sort of how we plan a wedge… So, I think that the more and more we can sort of put that wedge in, saying the Jewish community’s not agreeing on these issues, the more we’ll make progress.” Heike Schotten, an activist in Boston’s JVP Chapter, further explained, “Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) […] drive a wedge between Zionism and Judaism, demonstrating by their very existence that not all Jews are Zionists.

soda stream israel

One of the Jewish Voice for Peace’s recent initiatives is to urge Sur La Table to stop selling SodaStream, a product originating from an Israeli company operating out of Judea and Samaria. As United With Israel has previously reported, SodaStream builds bridges for peace by offering Palestinian Arabs high quality jobs that can provide them with a decent standard of living. Additionally, SodaStream produces an environmentally sustainable product that allows for soda to be produced inside ones home. Despite these facts, at a Jewish Voice for Peace demonstration, JVP activists chanted: “Occupation is not green! Stop selling SodaStream! Occupation is not green! Stop selling SodaStream!”

According the Anti Defamation League, “While JVP’s activists try to portray themselves as Jewish critics of Israel, their ideology is nothing but a complete rejection of Israel.”

PLEASE CONTACT SUR LA TABLE AND ENCOURAGE THEM TO CONTINUE SELLING SODASTREAM!

Visit United with Israel.

Chief Rabbis & Politics

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I have never been a fan of chief rabbis. Anyone appointed by committees, politicians, or bureaucrats is suspect in my eyes. Perhaps my antipathy is rooted in the days when both Napoleon and the czar appointed state chief rabbis whom they approved of because they were likely to support their agendas. I can say with confidence that, in general, the greatest rabbis, whether intellectually or spiritually, have never been interested in public appointments.

I don’t mean to say that all chief rabbis have been duds. Israel’s Chief Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Isaac Herzog, and Uziel were great men by any criteria. Chief Rabbi Goren was a dynamic overachiever and a fearless innovator. Some, like Ovadiah Yosef, have been great scholars but poor spokesmen. But there have been too many others who were undiplomatic, corrupt, or ineffective. The reason can simply be put down to politics. When appointments are made by groups of political appointees (or self-appointed grandees) they invariably make the wrong decisions. Neither is public acclaim a reliable test of the best person for the job. Those who seek or need public recognition are rarely willing or able to take the tough and controversial stands that are the mark of genuine leadership.

Israel recently appointed two chief rabbis, both the sons of previous chief rabbis. I do not know either of them. But remarks I have seen attributed to them leave me deeply depressed that they will reflect a xenophobic, narrow perspective and shrink from trying to humanize the rabbinate. The political maneuvering, the arm twisting, the deals behind closed doors all point to a corrupt system. And once gain the innovative, the exciting have lost out. If a good man ever emerges it is despite the system not because of it. Nepotism is a poor way of producing great leaders. Yet throughout Jewish religious institutions nepotism is the norm rather than the exception. Yeshivot nowadays are often big family businesses (as indeed are most Chasidic dynasties).

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi and the other Sefardi. This in itself is evidence of how flawed the system is, that in a small religion such as ours religious leadership cannot work together. In addition, in Israel, there is a huge disconnect between the religious leadership and the common person, between the state rabbinate and the Charedi world, which has its own authorities. Indeed the Charedi world always rubbished and abused the state rabbinate until, in the desperate search for jobs for the boys and power, it began to infiltrate and then take much of it over. Once again it has ensured that its candidates have got the jobs.

One of the first words in Ivrit I learnt was “protektsia” (yes, I know it comes from Russian). “Vitamin P” meant you could not get anywhere in Israeli life, from top to bottom, religious or secular, without knowing someone or having someone pull strings in your behalf. So it was and so it largely remains. When this disease infects religion, it loses its moral authority.

But surely, you will say, Judaism requires one to respect one’s religious leaders. In theory this is so. The Torah commands respect for princes and scholars. Our liturgy is full of references to their importance. But there are two very distinct types of leadership in our tradition. The prophet and the judge emerged through merit. That’s probably why there were women judges and prophets. Rabbis as a rule were the result of meritocracy (the rabbinic dynasties that began with Hillel wanted to have their cake and eat it). On the other hand, the priesthood and the monarchy were both hereditary, and both failed. Most of the Jewish kings were idolatrous, evil men, and most priests showed more interest in money and power than Divine service.

Moshe typified the meritocracy. This was why he always defended himself by referring to his spotless record. It is true we say that in each generation we must accept the leader, Jephtah in his generation as the equivalent of Samuel in his. But I believe that has another meaning, of the need to accept the best we can get.

“Pray for the welfare of the ruling powers because otherwise humans would swallow each other up,” says the Mishna. That very Hobbesian idea underpins our modern secular states. But as Locke argued, if the king failed to do his job, you could and should get rid of him. This is why we pray for the State wherever we live, even as we may try our best to vote out whoever the current prime minister is. We in the West have recently experienced the irrational hysteria over a royal baby. I have no interest in ordinary people being elevated to positions of power or even symbolic authority simply on the basis of birth. There are enough inequalities in life of rank and wealth. I like the fact that we can vote people out of office as much as in. If I choose to respect someone, it is on the basis of the respect he or she earns, not the position they have been given. The diploma should be greater than the diaper.

I look forward to Elijah’s arrival. I hope he will not try to reinstate the monarchy. But I am pretty sure he will not insist on two kings, one Ashkenazi and the other Sefardi.

One of the reasons for so much disillusion with religion is precisely this disconnect between how its leaders too often behave and speak and their own purported religious values. The more we see how susceptible religious leadership is to money, power, and fame, the less good the religion they represent looks. I don’t care too much what politicians like Spitzer or Weiner get up to, and if people want to vote for them that’s their problem. But when religious leadership behaves like political leadership, something is very wrong.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/chief-rabbis-politics/2013/08/05/

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