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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘conservatives’

There’s No Such Thing as Judeo-Christian Values

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Back in 2008, David Klinghofer, who used the be the Forward’s token Republican, published a book titled How Would God Vote?: Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative. I seriously disliked his book, not because I see anything wrong with Conservatism or Conservatives – my most admired politicians have been Sam Nunn and Henry “Scoop” Jackson – but I couldn’t stomach the liberties Klinghofer was taking with rabbinic tradition, to produce a book that, in my opinion, belonged on the shelves of a Presbyterian, and not a Jewish library.

My good friend and publisher Larry Yudelson and I decided, in the summer of 2008, to write a rebuttal which we titled, aptly enough: How Would God REALLY Vote: A Jewish Rebuttal to David Klinghoffer’s Conservative Polemic.

Larry contributed most of the entries, I was responsible for, I believe, 5 out of the 15. One of my major peeves regarding Klinghofer’s book was his view on the  liaison between Christians and Jews.

In his opening chapter, “With God or Against Him,” Klinghoffer sets up a premise that’s hard to follow, not because of its complexity, but because of what we on the Lower East Side would call a mishmash of concepts:

It should go without saying that my political reading of the Bible is my own, drawing on the oldest biblical interpretive tradition, claiming roots that go back three thousand years and found in the Talmud and other ancient rabbinic texts. Yet Scripture’s vision of the ideal society does not belong to Jews alone. 

The paragraph reminded me of the old Jewish joke, which is better spoken, but since I don’t know most of you personally, you’ll have to do the voices in your head:

A gentile professor of Judaic Studies in Iowa finds out that to really learn the Talmud he must go to the Boro Park section of Brooklyn and find himself a teacher. The professor flies over and knocks on a basement door and this little Jew comes out. Upon seeing him, the professor asks to be taught the Talmud, but the little Jews says, “I can’t teach you Tal-mud, you got a goyeshe kop, you just don’t think Jewish.”

The professor insists. The little Jew says, “OK, solve this problem, and I’ll teach you:

“Two people go down a chimney. One stays clean, the other gets completely schmutzig, filthy. Which one washes up?”

The professor eagerly answers, “The dirty one, naturally.”

The little Jew wails: “Goyeshe kop, goyeshe kop! I told you I can’t teach you anything. Listen, the schmutzig guy sees the clean guy. Schmutzig doesn’t see any problem. But the clean guy sees the schmutzig guy and figures he must be just as dirty, so he goes and washes. I told you, you got a goyeshe kop. I can’t help you.”

The professor begs for another chance, and the little Jew gives in, suggesting a new problem to solve:

“Two people go down a chimney. One stays clean, the other gets completely schmutzig. Which one of them would wash up?”

The professor says, “Sure, I know this one, it’s the clean fellow.”

At this, the little Jew wails, “Goyeshe kop, the clean one takes a look at the dirty one and says, Moishe, you’re all schmutzig, go wash already! Enough. I really can’t help you, mister, you got a goyeshe kop.”

The professor begs for one last chance, and the little Jews says, “Fine, one last chance, I’ll give you a completely new problem, then you’ll leave me alone:

“Two people go down a chimney. One stays clean, the other gets completely schmutzig. Which one of them washes up?”

At this point, if you’re telling this joke, it’s all physical stuff, as the poor professor from Iowa freezes, unable to decide which of the two conflicting solu-tions to choose. The little Jew can’t stand it anymore and interjects, “Goyeshe kop, who ever heard of two people going down a chimney and only one of them gets schmutzig?”

For me, this joke illustrates the essence of Rabbinic Judaism. Hardly interested in developing uniform answers or dogmas, Rabbinic Jews love dispute, which enshrines all opinions. We actually celebrate the Talmud’s pluralism with the declaration: These and these, too, are the words of a living God (Eruv. 13b, Gitin 6b, to name just two out of hundreds).

How can Klinghoffer say that he represents a tradition of 3000 years of rabbinic interpretation and in the same breath claim that there’s such a specific thing as “Scripture’s vision?”

When you read Klinghoffer’s book—keep in mind the image of the little Boro Park Jew, his hands raised to the heavens, wailing: “Goyeshe kop!” Because, to be honest, someone who has internalized the free spirit of our rabbinic sages would not seriously try to classify them either as right-wing conservatives, or as left-wing liberals.

The legal foundation for rabbinic law is found in Deuteronomy 17:8-10:

If some issue is beyond your understanding, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, as it might be a matter of controversy for you, then you will go up to the place which God chooses, and inquire with the priests the Levites, and with the judge that will rule in your days. And they will show you the sentence of judgment. And you will follow their sentence, given in the place which God will choose, and you will observe to do ac-cording to all that they instruct you.

In other words, if something comes up which is too difficult for you to decide on your own, go ask somebody who knows.

This dovetails nicely with the Mishna’s recommendation: Aseh l’cha rav, “Appoint for yourself a master and a mentor.” This phrasing indicates that you are an intrinsic part of the equation and that the arbiter you choose should be one who knows and understands you and your circumstances.

These two combined ideas, that you should seek advice on stuff you can’t figure out for yourself, and that the advice you seek should come from someone who knows you, suggest that the average Joe in Torah Land is a highly intuitive person and well versed in the law, who follows his personal notions and personal path, except when he gets stuck.

We are encouraged to act independently and intuitively concerning the entire gamut of Torah law—in matters large and small. The phrasing of the text (Deuteronomy 17:8) is ki yipaleh mimcha, lit.: “Should it be too wondrous for you.” This suggests a reliance for deciding proper behavior based on relative intuition, rather than strict knowledge.

This extremely individualized approach to morality and the law is profoundly emphasized when the Mishna describes wealth as a function of an individual’s assessment of his own satisfaction, rather than some arbitrary number of gold pieces in his coffers. In the Mishna’s view: Eizaehu Ashir? Hasame’ach b’chelko. “Who is wealthy? One who is content with his share.” (Avot 4)

Indeed, I would define the rabbinic view on politics as the sanctification of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Contentment. (Could this be characterized as a conservative idea?)

If the Torah envisions us as independent thinkers, each pursuing a personal definition of material well being, how could it possibly advocate a party line, whether conservative Republican or liberal Democratic? It stands to reason that, at its core, the Torah would encourage us to examine which of the two choices best matches our individual political needs and aspirations and vote accordingly.

In that sense, abortion is not a “yes” or “no” issue, to be decided on a strictly dogmatic basis, but an issue that reflects conflicting public and private needs. Likewise, every topic Klinghoffer deals with in his book, from women’s issues to gay marriages to state-run schools to taxes to war, should be examined not according to dogma, but according to needs.

This pragmatic approach to politics rejects ideological litmus tests from the left, too. (This is why the American political system, with its direct voting for a local representative, is much more in line with rabbinic tradition than the Israeli system, in which one votes for a slate, often one based on ideology.) Government’s job is to help improve my living conditions, not my morality.

Klinghoffer writes:

As an Orthodox Jew, I offer this book as a call to arms to America’s mostly Christian conservative voters.

And:

John McCain was right when he said, in a 2000 interview on beliefnet.com, that our “nation was founded primarily on Christian principles. ” That fact should have practical consequences.

Klinghoffer proceeds to contrast these views with those of whom he dubs the “New Atheists.” But I suspect that inside the Orthodox Jewish world, Klinghoffer would have a hard time convincing anyone of the need to apply “practical consequences” to the Christian principles upon which this country was, supposedly, founded.

He would likely hear angry grumbling on topics like the Crusades, during which Christian zealots decimated Jewish communities. He might hear a thing or two about how the Inquisition applied its Christian values to destroy the thriving Jewish centers of Spain and Portugal. Or he might hear about the European Holocaust and our annihilation at the hands of our faithful Christian neighbors. Pope Pious XII’s name might pop up in that context, as an example of how conservative Christian leaders responded when Jews were swept away in rivers of their own blood.

But even if we were to forgive Klinghoffer’s imperfect awareness of Jewish history, the very assumption of such a thing as universally accepted Christian principles is patently wrong, just like the notion that the U.S. Constitution is based on them.

Klinghoffer must be familiar with historian Brooke Allen’s popular book Moral Minority (Ivan R. Dee, 2007), in which she shows that the six most important founders—Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton—were Enlightenment-style deists, who rejected the notion of making religion a basis for political life.

They valued the separation of church and state. They devoted a passage in the US Constitution to eschewing religion as a basis for political life. They talked about God the “Divine Author” (Washington) or the “Superior Agent” (Jefferson). The Founding Fathers weren’t atheists—nobody was in the 18th century. (Nobody except Thomas Paine, that is.) But to suggest that someone like George Washington would look to the Bible to “apply practical consequences” to political life is tantamount to telling a lie—which we have on reliable tradition that our first president was incapable of doing.

Putting aside the argument over historical revisionism, try Googling “Christian principles” and see if you can come up with any meaningful consensus. I couldn’t.

Jewish principles are easier to pin down: Open a siddur (prayer book) and right after the morning service, you find Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith. They are short, compact, and easy to remember—and there is even a rhyming version for sing-alongs.

Maybe Klinghoffer was spoiled by that gem of rabbinic marketing prowess and he figured the gentile prayer books offered a similar amenity. Fuggedaboutit. Everyone—from Marxist Catholics to Attila the Hun Evangelists—cites his own unique idea of Christian principles as the basis for his agenda. The Bible is a big book and there are enough verses to suit everyone’s moral preferences. You want a couple of examples?

The National Council of Churches Justice and Advocacy Commission offers the following “Christian Principles in an Election Year:”

1. War is contrary to the will of God.
2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation.
3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well being of our global neigh-bors.
4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society.
5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth.
6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good.
7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers.
8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick.
9. Because of the transforming power of God’s grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other.

On the other hand, a story on Ekklesia (“a think-tank that promotes transformative theological ideas in public life”) from April 15, 2003, informs:

The Rev. Pat Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Christian Coalition, said many Christians who support the war believe the biblical principles of loving one’s enemy means that precautions must be taken to minimize civilian casualties.

“…As long as we continue the course we’re on,” Mr. Robertson said, referring to the overall concern for Iraqi civilians, “we’re on solid ground, not only in terms of Christian, biblical concepts, but also in terms of public relations.”

As Iraqi casualties, by conservative counts, have reached a hundred thousand (not to mention the countless injured and an estimated two million displaced) one shudders at the projected magnitude of the butchery had the good reverend not insisted upon minimizing civilian suffering….

So, which are the authentic Christian principles that the U.S. is founded upon? “Welcome the stranger,” or “shoot every stranger that moves?” Klinghoffer is not very specific here, although I suspect that the kind of Christian principles he endorses would have driven Jesus into one of his famous table-throwing tantrums.

But even if, somehow, the Bible Belt’s Jesus Jumpers found common Christian principles with St. John the Divine’s watercress sandwich crowd—which is one big If—what resonance would these principles have with religious Jews?

Having conjured the notion of universal Christian principles out of whole cloth, Klinghoffer now moves on to another product of the American imagination: “Judeo-Christian values.”

…Pretending to fight “theocracy,” secularists are in fact attempting a radical redirection of American life that seeks to silence the authentic Judeo-Christian heritage that has sustained America since the country’s inception.

Klinghoffer should read Arthur Allen Cohen’s The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Harper & Row, 1969), which questions the appropriateness of the term, theologically and historically, suggesting instead that it is an invention of American politics.

Cohen thinks that there is simply no such thing as Judeo-Christian tradition. He points to the fact that the two religions have had separate theological agendas for the last two thousand years.

Or, if Klinghoffer prefers a gentile’s opinion:

The label “Judeo-Christian” tends to assume, at the expense of Judaism, that Christians and Jews believe essentially the same things. Besides glossing over the very real and important theological and liturgical differences, it tends to subsume Jewish traditions within an umbrella that is dominated by Christian ideas and practices. (Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership, by Douglas A. Hicks; Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Let’s be clear: Far from “sharing” one tradition, Orthodox Jews are prohibited from marrying Christians, setting foot inside a Christian church—and we can’t even drink from an open bottle of kosher wine that has been used by a Christian. We reject the Christian idea of salvation, we abhor Christian divine teachings on every subject, and we are repulsed and outraged by incessant attempts by Christian missionaries to bring us into their fold.

It is particularly disturbing when Klinghoffer makes statements which reveal his complete assumption of elements of New Testament Pauline ideology, for instance, the requirement that wives submit to their husband’s authority. There is no mandate on precisely how a woman should behave with her husband—Jews expect the happy couple to work it out for themselves. Also, while divorce may be a tragedy, and God cries, it is in no way banned—in Judaism, that is. The story in Christianity, and Klinghoffer’s “Judeo-Christian Biblical America,” is different.

Incidentally, we have more in common with Muslims than we do with Christians; Jewish law permits Jews to enter a mosque… but not a church.

To insist that we have some kind of bond with religious Christians because of similar core values, is to propagate a terrible lie. Christians who base their views on what they call the Old Testament, don’t view Mosaic law as an abiding legal text. The Church has abolished Torah law as part of its attempt to abolish the very idea of Jewish nationhood.

Pauline anti-Judaism seems not to be through the left hand as an implication of his Christology; rather his teaching on the law appears to be a spear in his right hand aimed straight at the heart of Judaism, that is, Torah… [Paul] does not disagree with individual Jews but with Judaism itself, saying that Christianity has replaced it. By attacking the law as such, Paul appears to attack not abuses and personal failings but the essence of Israel. (Paul and the Torah, by Lloyd Gaston; University of British Columbia Press, 1987.)

Jews and Christians differ on every single fundamental principle—even on the meaning of core Scriptural texts. More crucially, Christians rely on the Old Testament for legal delineation; whereas Jews rely solely upon our rabbinic tradition. We never, ever turn to our Bible for legal guidance, only to our rabbinic literature. To suggest that our Sages had anything at all in common with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Carter or Pat Robertson is a slap in the face of 2500 years of scholarship.

“Judeo-Christian” is as valid a concept as happy-joylessness, or tall dwarves. Klinghoffer’s yearnings for this repugnant “ideal” is a deviant phenomenon without a trace of commonality in traditional Jewish thought, ancient or modern.

I have deep respect for religious leaders active in the interfaith arena, who seek to communicate and cooperate with Christians on political and social issues. But I resent Klinghoffer’s attempt to erect an ideological partnership between Christianity and its blameless victims.

David Klinghoffer attempts to rile up his readers through an attack on the “atheist left.” In the process, he manages to break away from the very rabbinic Judaism he claims as his base. This book will attempt to correct his errors, which are numerous, not in an attempt to persuade readers that God’s vote is with liberal lefties rather than with conservative righties, but, instead, to uphold our rabbinic tradition of multiple opinions. What this means in practice is that you can’t cry “God says so” in a crowded town hall meeting.


This article was originally published in How Would God REALLY Vote: A Jewish Rebuttal to David Klinghoffer’s Conservative Polemic by Larry Yudelson and Yori Yanover. Starting this week, readers can access the Kindle Edition for only $5.99.

Farrakhan: Disappointed in Obama

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Originally published at The American Thinker.

Fox Nation’s byline, “Farrakhan rips Obama,” was too good to pass up.

Have we just witnessed a chink in the armor of the Black Liberation Movement?  Did Louis Farrakhan, the Lord of the Nation of Islam finally confess a sin?

Let’s review what Farrakhan’s said:

“Clearly, we are in a dire condition… even though we in 2013 are celebrating a two-term black president — the brother simply has not been able to repair the damage caused by centuries of racism [and] greed, which has now run this nation over a fiscal cliff.”

I’m beginning to wonder about Fox. Farrakhan’s statement wasn’t a rip, it was a pander.

Poor Obama just can’t seem to overcome the mountain of guilt and shame that is needed to remake [his] people into the second coming of the “Great Society.”

Farrakhan’s last sentence was priceless:

“… centuries of racism [and] greed, which has now run this nation over a fiscal cliff.”

Ya gotta love the progressives!  The blame always rests with the enemy — that would be us, the conservatives.

We must digest these hallowed words of Farrakhan again so our noodles can catch up — let me offer a candid response:

Racism is packaged and sold by the progressives much like a commodity is traded on the Futures Market. It is promoted as a scourge on America and often derives its staying power in greed.  The commodity rises in value when the best promoters [like Farrakhan] are at play.  The political hacks that use racism to influence public emotions often see bigger turnouts at their elections.  Therefore, the problem appears to be unstoppable. ‘Racism and greed’ [at least as long as the progressives run the show] will forever be embedded in our fine nation.

Accept the obvious — for the conservatives feeling a sliver of hope that Obama is losing favor with Farrakhan or the black folks, fear not!

“Blacks were the only race or ethnic group to show an increase in voter turnout in November [2012].”

Whenever the the Democrats feel the slightest threat of losing their black voting base, out pops the racism card and a promise to spend more welfare money — then, with renewed vigor, the race hustlers are good to go for another round.

Better or Worse: Politics and Conceptions of Change

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future.

The fundamental political question is, “Do you believe things are getting better or worse?” Ruling parties tend to answer, “Better”, opposition parties tend to answer, “Worse”. The deeper answer to that question though lies in our perceptions of the past and the future.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization’s accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool’s errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It’s an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off. Examining the question points us to the sources of the problem. The places where the tree has grown wrong, the branches that have to be pruned so that it may live.

The power of this question is that it challenges the narrative of change. It asks us to examine that most basic premise that change is good. But beyond the narrative tangles of those in power and those out of power, is the larger echo of that question which asks whether the world overall is becoming a better or worse place.

This question has deeper resonances. Is history a wheel or a rocket shooting up to the stars? Are we on an inevitable evolutionary trajectory rising up or are we doomed to repeat dark ages, progress and then dark ages again? Beneath all the speculations and theorizing is the grim question, what becomes of us? Not us individually, but our societies, our nations, our civilizations, our accomplishments and our way of life.

Government Money

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Time and time again, the liberal defenders of government power have attacked any call for reform as a plot by the wealthy. Even now New York Times editorialists pound their keys about the “Concentration of Wealth,” invoking presidents from Andrew Jackson to Theodore Roosevelt. But in our America, the “Concentration of Wealth” is not found in the hands of a few billionaires. It is found in the hands of the government.

The editorialists talk about the income gap and how much wealth is held by the top one percent of the country, but they are leaving something out. Their statistics deal with individuals, not institutions. And it is institutions which threaten our liberties, not individuals.

The top 10 wealthiest men and women in America barely have 250 billion dollars between them. That sounds like a lot of money, until you look at annual Federal budgets which run into the trillions of dollars, and the country’s national debt which approaches 15 trillion dollars. And that’s not taking into account state budgets. Even Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, with a population of barely a million, has a multi-billion dollar budget.

As the 10th richest man in America, Michael Bloomberg wields a personal fortune of a mere 18 billion dollars, but as the Mayor of the City of New York, he disposes of an annual budget of 63 billion dollars. In a single year, he disposes of three times his own net worth. A sum that would wipe out the net worth of any billionaire in America. That is the difference between the wealth wielded by the 10th wealthiest man in America, and the mayor of a single city. And that is the real concentration of wealth. Not in the hands of individuals, but at every level of government, from the municipal to the state houses to the White House.

While liberal pundits pop on their stovepipe hats, fix their diamond stickpins and cravats, and trade in 19th century rhetoric about the dangers of trusts and monopolies– the power in 20th century America lies not in the hands of a few industrialists, but with massive monopolistic trust of government, and its network of unions, non-profits, lobbyists and PAC’s. The railroads are broken up, offshore drilling is banned, coal mining is in trouble and Ma Bell has a thousand quarreling stepchildren– now government is the real big business. How big?

The 2008 presidential campaign cost 5.3 billion dollars. Another 1.5 billion for the House and the Senate. And that’s not counting another half a billion from the 527′s and even shadier fundraising by shadowy political organizations. But that’s a small investment when you realize that they were spending billions of dollars to get their hands on trillions of dollars.

Do you know of any company in America where for a mere few billion, you could become the CEO of a company whose shareholders would be forced to sit back and watch for four years while you run up trillion dollar deficits and parcel out billions to your friends? Without going to jail or being marched out in handcuffs. A company that will allow you to indulge yourself, travel anywhere at company expense, live the good life, and only work when you feel like it. That will legally indemnify you against all shareholder lawsuits, while allowing you to dispose not only of their investments, but of their personal property in any way you see fit.

There is only one such company. It’s called the United States Government.

It wasn’t always this way. There used to be limitations on executive and legislative power. But those limitations are gone along with the top hat and the diamond stickpin. Under an ideological cloak of darkness, politicians act as if they can do anything they want. Public outrage is met with alarmist news stories about the dangers of violence, as if this were the reign of the Bourbon kings,  not a democratic republic whose right of protest is as sacrosanct as its flag and its seal. Instead the republic is dominated by political trusts, party machines, media cartels, public sector unions and a million vermin who have sucked the cow dry and are starting in on its tender meat.

The Dreaded Drone

Monday, March 11th, 2013

At the end of last week we were consumed by the question of whether the President of the United States can order a drone strike on an American in the United States.

But why ask that question only about a drone?

Suppose that Obama decides that he wants Rush Limbaugh gone once and for all. He gives the order and B-52s from the 11th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana are dispatched to put an end to the talk show host once and for all.

The B-52s arrive over Rush Limbaugh’s Palm Beach compound in under two hours and begin to pound away at his 2 acre estate dropping 2,000 pound bombs until absolutely nothing is left standing. Every building has been destroyed, the staff is dead, the golf courses are wrecked and there is no sign of life.

The 11th returns to base and receives a congratulatory call from Obama on a job well done.

Why can’t this happen?

For one thing it doesn’t make much sense. If Obama ever gets that determined to take down Rush, Team O will put together some ex-Feds turned private investigators to plant evidence of a Federal offense and then bring in the FBI. It’s a lot cheaper and less likely to make even Obama’s most loyal lapdogs balk at wrecking Palm Beach.

Federal prosecutors have nearly as good a track record at getting their man, innocent or guilty, as drones do. And they raise a lot fewer questions. Even mad dictators in totalitarian states aren’t known for sending air strikes to take out individual critics. Not unless they have no control over the territory that they are in.

So why not send in the B-52s to get rid of Rush Limbaugh? Because despite last week’s filibuster, military operations in the United States are far more restricted than law enforcement operations. The odds of a member of the United States Air Force killing you outside of a bar fight is very slim, but the odds of a member of a local or state police force killing you are far higher.

When it comes to the Federal government killing Americans, the civilian law enforcement side is far more likely to kill you than a USAF Staff Sergeant taking out Taliban across the border in Pakistan.

Every Federal agency has its own SWAT Team which is why every Federal agency is also buying up huge amounts of ammunition.

That means that you are far more likely to be shot by a SWAT team from the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General than by a drone operator from the 3d Special Operations Squadron in New Mexico (Motto: Pro Patria, Pro Liberis – For Country, for Freedom.)

The DOE’s private police force has the authority to use lethal force, conduct undercover operations, including electronic surveillance, and may not have drones, but does have 12 gauge shotguns and far more authority to use them on you than the Staff Sergeant in New Mexico does.

The Department of Energy has two SWAT Teams. The National Parks Service has four. And if any of them do shoot you, it will not result in congressional hearings or collateral damage. Law enforcement officers kill hundreds of Americans every year. One more won’t be a big deal. And the militarization of the police and the proliferation of Special Response Units in the Federal government are a far more serious concern than being taken out by a drone while sitting in a Starbucks.

Military operations in the United States are fairly tightly constrained and while that line has blurred at times, it’s still a much more difficult and controversial process. Today’s military is far less likely to be deployed against civilians than in 1932 when General Douglas MacArthur and Major George Patton led a fixed bayonet charge across Pennsylvania Avenue to dislodge unemployed protesters to protect President Hoover. And that is because Federal law enforcement has been militarized to such a degree that it can cope with just about anything short of a full-fledged civil war. And whatever it doesn’t have now, it will soon enough.

But let’s get back to the B-52s bombing Rush Limbaugh’s mansion. We all know that’s not likely to happen. But the idea of flesh and blood pilots climbing into planes and dropping bombs across Palm Beach has too much reality to it. The power of the drone is that it appears to be inhuman. It’s a new technology and it can do anything.

Well Intentioned, but Wrong to Condone Homosexuality

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

It seems that the gay marriage is becoming ever more acceptable in society. From an NBC news website:

In a move described by one scholar as “inconceivable” just two years ago, 75 Republicans have signed the brief to be filed in the case of Proposition 8, a California law banning same-sex marriage, The New York Times reported. The nation’s high court will hear arguments on the law in late March.

Four former governors, including Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet, such as former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, signed the brief, the Times reported. Some of those, such as Meg Whitman, who ran for California governor in 2010, had once opposed same-sex marriage.

I have stated my position on this issue many times. Even though it seems inevitable that it will become the law of the land – I am opposed to legalizing gay marriage. This has nothing to do with how to treat people who have same sex attractions. My position on that is clear. They should be treated as equals among us. And there ought not be any discrimination or disparagement of them. Nor should we judge them. It is not our job to judge what other people do in the privacy of their own homes. Even if we suspect sinful behavior. What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is between them and God.

When it comes to interacting with openly gay people, we have an obligation to treat them with the human dignity that every one of God’s creations deserve. They are no less created in God’s image than people who are attracted to the opposite sex. Who we are attracted to does not define who we are. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, we ought to judge people by the content of their character. Being gay is not a character issue.

But that does not make gay sex permissible or excusable. The Torah is very clear about that too. It is a very serious violation of biblical law. There is no way around that no matter how compassionate we try to be. It is for this reason that I oppose gay marriage. Because the implication of that is to place a public imprimatur on behavior that is sinful. It is in effect koshering a forbidden lifestyle. Making gay marriage not just value neutral but something positive.

This ignores the underlying sinful behavior – completely removing it from the category of sin. By definition marriage gives a societal blessing a gay couple implying that that gay sex is as moral as heterosexual sex. We are saying via legislation that we approve equally of both types of behavior. Gay marriage does not only permit gay sex – it virtually endorses it as a completely legitimate alternative to heterosexual sex.

I don’t blame gay people for wanting to be treated as completely normal in every way possible. No one likes to be stigmatized – even a little bit. The homosexual community wants the world to look at them in the same way as they look at heterosexuals. As complete equals living a sin free lifestyle – same as heterosexual.

Much as I feel for their plight and their desire to be treated as normal, treating gay sex a sin free sex is not what the Torah intended by forbidding it.

This has nothing to do with how to treat gay people. But it has everything to do with how we treat gay sex. We cannot say it’s OK to have gay sex when it is not.

I know there are people who disagree with me on both sides of the issue. I have little patience for bigots who would deny human rights to a gay person and refuse to grant them any human dignity. But on the other side of the issue – sometimes one can have too much compassion and end up completely rationalizing away sex between two men. There is no doubt in my mind that it is a biblically forbidden act no matter what the circumstances are.

And yet well intentioned people are trying to rationalize the sin away entirety. This is the case with Rabbi Zev Farber. About a year ago he wrote an essay wherein he came up with a novel approach to gay sex that would completely take away any culpability for sin by two gay men engaging in it.

While acknowledging that there has been an evolution of sorts even among Haredim with respect to treating gay people with compassion, he felt that both an Agudah Statement as well as an RCA statement fell short of treating gay people fairly. The implication of both statements is that gay sex is still forbidden and that they must live celibate lives to avoid sin. Here is how he stated his problem:

I once suggested the following thought experiment to a colleague: “If, for some reason, it became clear that the Torah forbade you to ever get married or to ever have any satisfying intimate relationship, what would you do?” My own reaction to this question is: although part of me hopes I would be able to follow the dictates of the Torah, I have strong doubts about the possibility of success, and I trust that my friends and colleagues would be supportive of me either way.

His point of course is that it is unnatural if not impossible to ask a human being to deny his sex drive no matter what his sexual orientation is. And yet gay sex is a forbidden act according to the Torah. The vast majority of educated opinion is that gay people cannot change their sexual orientation. His solution is to apply a Halachic principle called Oness (pronounced Oh-Ness) Rachmana Patrei. If one is forced to commit a sin, the Torah exempts him from any culpability. The obvious question is, why should a voluntary act of sex (of any kind) at any given moment be considered forced?

Rabbi Farber argues that when there is no Halachic outlet at all to satisfy one’s natural sex drive then at some point that drive takes over and must be satisfied. That makes it an Oness – forced. When a gay person succumbs – he therefore is absolved of any guilt. He is in effect forced by his own God given nature to act in a way that would be forbidden to heterosexual men.

The problem is that this argument eliminates the sin of gay sex in it’s entirely. Heterosexual men would hardly violate that law. And gay men are exempt from it. So why would the Torah even mention it? Furthermore this argument can be used for pedophiles too. It is well known that pedophiles too cannot not control their attraction to children either. Oness Rachmana Patrei! There are of course reasons to forbid sex with minors. But the Onesss is still there… and we should not discriminate based his sexual orientation. Is there a soul anywhere that would agree with that?!

To Rabbi Farber’s credit, he does not advocate gay marriage in Judaism:

To be sure, calling something oness does not make the action halakhically permitted; it is not. Moreover, adopting the oness principle does not mean that halakha recognizes same sex qiddushin (Jewish marriage) – it does not.

The bottom line for me is that I think he errs in his use of the Halachic device of Oness Rachmana Patrei. And I also believe that he errs in suggesting we encourage “exclusivity and the forming of a loving and lasting relationship-bond as the optimal lifestyle for gay Orthodox Jews who feel they are oness and cannot be celibate.”

It is completely wrong to encourage a lifestyle that is conducive to sinful behavior. But I agree that we ought not be judgmental about it when we see it.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

From the US to Israel, Conservatives Stumble

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

The disastrous results in Israel’s election are yet another example of the Right cannibalizing itself. It’s not the first time this happened in Israeli political history or American political history or European political history. It’s an ongoing theme whose motto is still, “No enemies to the left.”

What the “mainstream” conservatives fear most of all is a drift to the right. Some of this is the whimper of whipped dogs. Every party to the right of Stalin has had to spend decades fending off accusations that it was the second coming of the Third Reich, the KKK and Genghis Khan. The Pavlovian training has taken hold and every conservative echelon is expert at going into damage control mode when it senses that its own right might do something that would give the left fuel for their accusations.

But there’s another factor at work here. It’s cultural. Mainstream conservatives have become another arm of the urban technocracy. They want many of the same things that liberals do, but with less regulations and more tax shelters. They aren’t interested in major changes, only the minor ones that will keep the system going. Even when they are dedicated reformers, their vision extends no further than a bunch of high tech cities full of immigrants going to universities and then inventing things.

They are competent, rather than imaginative. The Left repeatedly outmaneuvers them because the Left is always pushing to the Left, while they are content to put a chair against the door and wait for those crazy hippies to get off the LSD, cut their hair and give up. But to their surprise the Left never does.

The leaders of mainstream conservatism aren’t angry, and they dismiss the people who are as loons. When the left does something oppressive or defeats them, they don’t get mad, they get ironically amused. They make detached observations citing Trollope. They are as much a part of the jet setting elite, as their liberal colleagues, and they have an exit strategy, whether it’s Singapore or Thailand.

They aren’t liberals themselves, but their conservatism is an outmoded thing that was only fit for a conservative society. In a conservative society, they are the old guard. In a liberal society, they are still the old guard, standing for the values of moderation, civility and not getting too worked up about things that can’t be changed. In a liberal society, what they conserve is not conservatism, but the liberalism of their youth.

The one thing that worries them is the ascendance of the right. They don’t much like their own base. It’s angry, noisy and ignorant. It doesn’t understand the rules of the game. And it represents a threat to their careers.

They may draw cartoons and sing a few songs, but they aren’t revolutionaries. They don’t want a culture war. And they don’t really want to change the way things are. They may not approve of the politics of their children, and they gasp in horror at debt ratios and proposals to privatize things, but overall they like the way things are. And they imagine that it can remain that way, hanging forever in mid-air, never going further left or further right, a perfect balance that will endure for all time.

They have a simple arrangement with the Right. They pledge allegiance, faintly, to its beliefs, mouth the right words during elections, promise to ban abortion, build settlements, and then they shake their heads ruefully and go back to the club regretting the necessity for participating in this clown show. Between elections they sometimes put their intellectual firepower at the disposal of these ideas, though never when these ideas appear to be polling badly, especially with the young.

In exchange the Right, the real Right, those angry people with quaint ideas about personal freedom, moral revival and national greatness, are expected to know their place. And their place is behind the sawhorses at the rally and in line at the voting booth. When that changes, then they attack their own right with far more vehemence and violence than they ever employ against the Left.

The Left does not worry them all that much. In a way the left has become their career. The opposition defines their work. Its radicalism ensures that they will always have a base, no matter where that base comes from.

You Can’t Out-Liberal the Liberals

Monday, January 21st, 2013

So after a long bout of mocking Mitt Romney for saying that he sought out binders full of qualified female appointees, complete with protesters outside one of his campaign offices dressed in binders, the appointed hour came and the new cabinet of the man who was too good for binders of women was white and male.

There was some awkward fidgeting in the media. A few suggestions that maybe there should be a little more diversity. And that was followed by the new official talking point that diversity doesn’t matter, it’s all about the impact of the policies. Suddenly the Party of Affirmative Action began making conservative arguments for merit and representation, over racial preferences.

To some this was proof that liberals don’t really believe in anything. And that’s true and it isn’t.

Modern American Liberalism is the movement of a wealthy white upper class meant to suppress the working class and the mercantile class. Think of it as the revenge of the barons against the merchants and the wrath of the old New England elites against the Nouveau Riche. It adopted the Jewish and Catholic immigrants who accepted its values and codes. It even occasionally brings in more exotic figures, like Barack Obama, so long as they have gone to the right schools and share their values.

Liberals champion multiculturalism, they enact diversity requirements and push through immigration, and then they send their children to private schools and buy houses in white neighborhoods. They are mostly unaware that they are doing this. They’re just doing what comes naturally. Like most people, liberals are most comfortable among their own kind.

Their kind is not so much a racial group, as it is a cultural one. If you’ve ever set foot in a liberal stronghold, then you can already recognize the very expensive casual wear, the cars with progressive bumper stickers, the beaming helicoptered children, the reusable bags and the other markings of the American upper class. The one that may spend 5 years slumming it in a big city, gathering tattoos and experiences, before retreating to the traditional comforts of a posh suburb and a high end do-nothing non-profit job.

They emphasize minorities, but most minorities, especially after the passing of the melting pot that another generation of liberals implemented, don’t fit all that well into the cultural liberal landscape. It’s why Obama plays golf, even though he’s bad at it. It’s why his campaign staff and his cabinet leans toward the same white males who still run most things, including liberalism.

Liberals have varying degrees of awareness of this, ranging from aggressive denial to passive denial, much as conservatives have some degree of awareness that FOX News personalities are likely more liberal than they pretend to be. And like most such conflicts, the information gets filed away in favor of focusing on a more immediate problem.

The diversity that could be seen in a photo of Cheney on September 11 or Romney’s appointments are completely meaningless because you cannot win an argument with a liberal by being more liberal than him. It’s fun to try, but it doesn’t actually work for the same reason that you can’t be more Catholic than the Pope.

The liberal program is not just diversity. It’s a grander and vaster program. And those who promote the program can violate any single aspect of it, without facing any consequences or contradictions, so long as they remain valuable players.

Bill Clinton could act out the bad part in every sensitivity training video. Obama can pay women less. Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton can make racist jokes. Obama can govern through Executive Orders and start illegal wars. So can any Democrat. None of that matters because they’re all plays in the big program. And the “Big Program” means a new world with good stuff for all. Accomplishing it means ignoring the little sins that would lead to any little person being lynched, jailed or denounced.

Liberals are busy lining up to defend Chuck Hagel, a former Republican who hated homosexuals, opposed abortion and on most issues, aside from foreign policy, was fairly conservative. But that doesn’t matter because Hagel is now on Team Prog. Local interest groups may object, but the liberal purpose in having Jewish or Gay or Female auxiliaries is so that they can support the larger program. When they don’t support it, they’re told to shut the hell up.

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