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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘family values’

The Noise that Drowns Out all Peace

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Followers of the Passover story can rightly wonder why frogs were such a terrible plague. Was God really showing His power to the Egyptians by sending against them an army of reptiles? Would the nation that would eventually produced Cleopatra, who purportedly killed herself by grabbing a poisonous snake, really have cared?

But the true plague of the frogs was how the din of their incessant ribbetting robbed the Egyptians of all peace. We who inhabit the modern world have a unique understanding of the utter agony represented by a world that is never silent.

When the United States invaded Panama in 1989 to oust General Manuel Noriega, he took refuge in the Vatican Embassy. The United States Army brought huge loudspeakers and blasted AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” in order to drive him out of his refuge, a tactic that was also employed by the FBI at Waco.

Forty years ago John Lennon made the observation that when he grew up what was always heard in the background of homes was the soothing crackling of a fire, only to be replaced by the incessant noise of televisions that are always blaring in the background.

That noise has actually so much closer today with ear buds that pumps music directly into our eardrums. The net result is that we are rarely ever afforded any peace.

Even today harsh interrogations methods against terrorists involves keeping them up for days by constantly blasting music which drives them to the bring of insanity. Many argue that this is a form of torture.

The inability to ever shut out noise is a plague. But beyond the pain caused by the utter lack of peace there is the further consideration of the drowning out of the inner voice of conscience.

Each of us is immersed in a culture that throws various voices at us. Hollywood and the fashion industry hits us with the aesthetic voice, telling us that what most matters is beauty. Best to spend our time in front of a mirror and at a gym. Wall Street and Madison avenue hits us with the monetary voice which tells us that the most important thing in life is money and affording the material objects that will bring us pleasure. Washington and politics hits us with the power voice which tells us that the most significant thing in life is acquiring dominion over others. And the NFL and NBA hits us with the physical voice which whispers that life has meaning through great athleticism. We should be spending our time on the sports fields.

But beneath all these noises which are so central to the fabric of modern life and its aspirations is the inner voice of conscience which whispers to us that we are born for lives of compassion and goodness. It’s nice to be pretty. But it’s even nicer to be nice. It’s wondrous to be sporty and adventurous. But even more spectacular is to teach our child how to throw a spiral and catch a ball. Through doing so we grant our children a feeling of significance. It’s a blessing to be wealthy. But even more important is to live lives of charity and humility where we make others feel that they matter too.

There is no human being that is born without that voice and to the extent that it is lost it is because it is drown out by all the other voices that surround us.

The Egyptians, like all human beings, had an innate sense of morality and fair play. So how could they have enslaved a helpless people? Because the soul’s voice of fraternity and brotherhood was drown out by Pharaoh’s voice of dominion and power. As the Bible related, “Look, he said to his people, the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” The Egyptians allowed the foreign voice of the will to power to override the voice of sensitivity of compassion. In this sense, the racket of the frogs-plague was an external manifestation of what had already occurred. The Egyptians could no longer hear the inner song of their own souls. They could only hear the clamor of the artificial, external voice that slowly erodes our spiritual peace.

An American Tragedy in Steubenville

Monday, March 18th, 2013

A significant number of American values failures came together to create the tragedy in Stuebenville, where two teenage High School football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

Foremost among them is the American tragedy of sexualizing teen girls at an age where they are not yet women. Madonna sexualized herself in her mid twenties. Brittney Spears brought the age down to about eighteen. Not young enough for you? Miley Cyrus reduced it further to sixteen. One wonders when our culture will feel that even sixteen is not a young enough age to sexually exploit girls.

Then there is the issue of sports as an emerging religion where those gifted to be athletes feel a sense of entitlement that often has them crossing lines to their own detriment. The idea that two High School football stars would think it acceptable to post pictures of a nude sixteen year old to their friends on social media shows how they thought the normal rules did not apply them. And this would be true even if there weren’t the far more serious conviction on rape. How sad that two young men have ruined their lives and done so much damage to a defenseless victim.

Next is the growing culture of alcohol abuse by minors. Alcohol played a central role in this unfolding tragedy with the essential argument on the part of the prosecution that the girl in question was so drunk there was no possible way she could give consent. One wonders why our youth are so inclined to heavy drink. Is it mere experimentation or is something deeper at work? Are they already, at so young an age, as unhappy as adults who have been battered by life and are therefore drinking negative emotions away? After all, no one in America really portrays the teen years as a bowl of cherries.

I passed my later teen years in an all-male environment in Yeshiva where the focus of my life was study. I certainly was a lot happier than the co-ed environment in which I was immersed in my early teen years where peer pressure, popularity among the girls, and a general self-consciousness made my life less enjoyable than it should have been.

Then there is the general tragedy of the absence of responsible parenting in America. The biggest question for me in this heartrending story was where were the parents? Where were they when the three teens left one party at 12:30 am to go to another? Where were they to monitor extreme drunkenness on the part of people not old enough to vote?

Many African-American young men are not raised with a father’s guiding hand. I was astonished, therefore, at the honesty displayed by Malik Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, when he said in a CNN interview that he had walked over to his son right after the guilty verdict and told him he loved him, essentially for the very first time. “I haven’t been involved in Malik’s life like I should have been at those early years. And I want to stress that parents should be more involved in their child’s life… be a parent and not a friend.”

No one is better qualified to address this issue than President Obama who also grew up without his father and is by all accounts a very loving and involved parent himself. The President has addressed the subject only lightly, but it’s time that he make this an all-out campaign.

But the greatest tragedy made manifest in Steubenville is the attitude of teenage men toward girls. Immanuel Kant wrote that the definition of immorality is treating a fellow human being as a means rather than an end. The abomination of American slavery was that a white child was taught to see a black child as a walking bale of cotton. Slavery trained a white man to see a black woman as lacking the same spark of the divine that lent him his humanity. When he looked upon the woman, she was stripped of her own dreams, her own opinions, her own aspirations. She was nothing but an extension of the white slave owner’s drives and ambitions. Like a third arm she existed to simply to do his chores.

Who Needs the Family

Monday, February 25th, 2013

For most of human history the family was the basic social unit of the species. Family was a way of passing down genes, beliefs and wealth. It was a retirement plan that you paid into by keeping your children alive long enough for them to grow up and support you. It allowed the individual to pass on his ideas to people who would care about them because they were part of their heritage. Family was a collective endeavor, small enough to reflect the individual. It was a practical and philosophical aim that made life beautiful and meaningful.

But who really needs it anymore?

The basic practical functions of the family have been replaced by the nanny state. It is the nanny that takes over the care and teaching of the child as soon as possible. And when their parents grow old, it is that same nanny that oversees their care and death.

Governments have come to serve as undying guardians of human society, ushering new life into the world and ushering old life out of it. New parents are as likely to turn to the government for help as they are to their extended family. When their child is old enough to look around for a career, it is the government that they expect to provide the education and the jobs. And when they grow old, the child can keep on working at his government job and paying off his student loans knowing that the government will be there to make all the difficult and expensive decisions about their care.

With all that taken care of, who needs parents or children anyway?

People once had children to pass on wealth, genes and beliefs. But wealth is now thought to be the collective property of society, which is taxed to death or often just given away on some quixotic quest to stamp out disease in Africa or illiteracy in Antarctica. The thought of passing on genes carries with it a tinge of racism for the European and European-descended populations whose birth rates are dropping, but raises no such concerns for minority groups with high birth rates. That only leaves beliefs, which are also thought to be the collective property of the society and the state. Public education, mandatory in some countries, means that the best way to reproduce your beliefs is not to have children, but to get a job as a teacher.

The family has been displaced and replaced. In some places it is even repressed. Like an old station wagon, it idles by the side of the road, while its former ownersdrive away in their new sleek electric government compact car built for two or a micro-car built for one into a wonderful childless future of unfunded pensions, social collapse and death panels.

Marriage rates have dropped sharply. Not only is divorce more commonplace, but many couples aren’t even bothering to marry at all. And many of those who do marry don’t bother having children. Childfree is the new Zero Population Growth, not on behalf of the planet, but on behalf of the self. Modern society has made the price of children extremely expensive and many couples have found it easier to end the family with their own deaths.

The future of the West has been aborted or never conceived. It has been broken up, divorced and never married.

The state gave its citizens the impression that it could fulfill all the functions of a family far better than the real thing. Its appeal was the power of bigness, the stability of a system too big to fail and rooms full of experts working night and day to improve on the fallible family. With its vast industrial social services bureaucracy, the state would be able to provide a more stable social safety net, save everyone money on health care, educate their children, care for their elders, perpetuate their values, protect their income, safeguard their way of life and usher in a bright new future.

Unfortunately not only can’t the state do any of these things better than the family, but it can’t do them at all without the family. And the family has collapsed, falling apart into disassociated lonely individuals, looking for their father and mother, their children and their future, in the great soulless body of the state.

Bill Clinton as Father of the Year

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

The news that Bill Clinton was chosen as father of the year by The National Father’s Day Council has brought for the scoffers. Really, the dude with Monica Lewinsky? The man who humiliated his wife?

They’re wrong. A man can be an imperfect husband and still be a great Dad. In fact, it’s become something of a national crisis. There are way too many men who love their kids more than their wives when, in truth, a healthy marriage dictates that the relationship between the parents always has to come first.

Countless wives who have come to me for counseling complain that they are married to indifferent, unromantic, selfish husbands. Yet, when I ask them, “Does he neglect his kids the way he neglects you?,” the majority of the time they say, “Actually, no. He’s a great Dad.” Even women who have divorced their husbands and told me what miserable marriages they were in will then tell me that, remarkably, their ex continues to be an engaged and loving Dad.

I’m reading The Patriarch, David Nasaw’s magisterial book about Joseph Kennedy. What the biography shows is that Kennedy was a deeply anti-Semitic, compulsively adulterous, misogynist. But boy did he love his kids. A man who put making money before almost all else, the exception was dropping everything whenever his kids were ill. To be sure, there were horror stories like the lobotomy of his daughter Rosemarie. But by and large, though he was an awful, philandering husband who  his wife with endless affairs, he was extremely attached to his kids.

Which brings us to Bubba.

A few months ago, while I was sitting at the JCC in Manhattan at a lecture that featured my friend Rabbi Marc Schneier of Westhampton and was moderated by Chelsea Clinton, I was suddenly disturbed by a rush of men with noodles coming out of their ears. Bill Clinton came in and sat in the seat right in front of me. His daughter was on stage and he wanted to see her. He arrived very quietly and was clearly there to show his daughter support. Then, this past Summer, Clinton toured a country very close to my heart, Rwanda, for his Clinton Global Initiative. In so many of the pictures he is walking around with one hand on his daughter’s shoulder. Not even his biggest critics deny that he is a loving and involved father who has given his daughter great confidence in herself as a woman, even as he has, most assuredly, caused her pain by acts of unfaithfulness that hurt her mother, all the more so because they were so public.

The two are not incongruous. You can be a great father even if you’re not exactly the greatest spouse.

Of course, it’s best to try and be both.

Is Christianity’s Notion of Abortion Based on Mistranslated Text?

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

For four decades abortion has dominated the social values-debate in America and deeply divided our nation into factions of pro-life and pro-choice. This year Republicans paid a huge price at the ballot box for extreme positions, like not allowing abortion even in the case of incest or rape, with two Republican Senate candidates going so far as to speak of ‘legitimate rape’ and divinely-sanctioned pregnancies that result from rape.

What is lost in this discussion are the Biblical underpinnings of abortion and how this is not primarily a legal issue but a religious one. Opponents of abortion do not look to the Constitution to cement their opposition but the Bible, and, as such, it is worth reviewing the Biblical text pertaining to abortion, which yields surprising results.

The Hebrew Bible makes only one reference to abortion, and this is by implication. Exodus 21:22-23 states: “And if two men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, accordingly as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, though shalt give life for life.”

There is a significant parting of the ways in the interpretation of this passage between Judaism and Catholicism which will, in turn, mark the much more lenient rulings on abortion of the former and the much more severe views of the latter.

According to the ancient Rabbis, the text is to be read simply as written. The Bible talks of a woman who is hurt by a man in a fight and loses her child. Monetary restitution is paid for her miscarriage. But if the woman dies, then one must take a life for a life. The passage does not say that a fetus is alive but that the mother is.

The words if “no harm follows” the ”hurt” to the woman refers to the survival of the woman following her miscarriage. In that case, there is no capital guilt involved since the woman did not die and the fetus is not considered to be fully alive. The attacker is therefore merely liable to pay compensation for the loss of her “fruit,” her fetus. “But,” the Bible continues,” if any harm follow,” i.e., if the woman, rather than her fetus, is fatally injured, then the man responsible for her death has to “give life for life.”

The interpretation is straightforward and matches the Hebrew original precisely. According to the Jewish interpretation the Bible only says that the woman, rather than her fetus, is living.

This interpretation that a fetus is not fully alive and the destruction of a fetus does not carry a death penalty is also borne out by the rabbinical interpretation of the verse defining the law of murder: ”He that smiteth a man, so that he dieth, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:12), which the rabbis construed to mean “a man, but not a fetus.”

These passages clearly indicate that the killing of an unborn child is not considered as murder.

But the Christian tradition disputing this view goes back to a mistranslation in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Bible that sometimes contains significant errors (see my book Kosher Jesus for a comprehensive list). There, the Hebrew for ”no harm follow” was replaced by the Greek for “[her child be born] imperfectly formed.”

This interpretation, distinguishing between an unformed and a formed fetus and branding the killing of the latter as murder, was accepted by Tertullian and by later church fathers and was subsequently embodied as canon law and in Justinian law. In the Christian interpretation, therefore, both parts of the verse are referring not to the mother’s life, but to the fetus’s. And the verse concludes you must ‘give life for life,’ meaning, a fetus is fully alive and destroying a fetus constitutes murder punishable by death.

This is the source for the Catholic position of viewing a fetus’s life as being the equal of a mother’s life and, therefore, even if the mother’s life is at risk one cannot perform an abortion as it constitutes murder.

Judaism, however, strongly disputes this interpretation which is not faithful to the Hebrew original. Therefore, the Talmud declares (Ohalos 7:6): If a woman is in hard travail [and her life cannot otherwise be saved], one cuts up the child in her womb and extracts it member by member, because her life comes before that of the [the child]. But if the greater part [or the head] was delivered, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for the sake of another.” A fetus is only alive when it is born, not before.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/is-christianitys-notion-of-abortion-based-on-mistranslated-text/2012/12/13/

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