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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

This Ain’t Torah

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Harassment and exploitation (not only in the area of sex) are expressions of abuse of power. This must be the common denominator to jealousy, lust, and ambition, which, according to the Mishna “remove man from the world.”

The most serious aspect of the Rabbi Motti Elon scandal is the fact that it emanated from a cult, defaming Judaism and the Torah itself, God forbid. I’ve been watching and hearing criticism of the path of the Torah – because of this news item about a sect that’s following its charismatic leader whose every word and action are subject to their adoration.

The phenomena of such unworthy leaders are typical of almost every such cult.

The despicable acts of indecency are not the problem here, they’re merely the symptoms. The problem is the cult, its mentality and dynamics.

We must make it clear that a cult not only does not represent the Torah and its followers – it is absolutely anti-Torah. It is wrong, detestable, despicable and an abomination.

Now we must admit a few unpleasant facts:

This kind of cult is typical of our generation, very in and new-age.

The fact that someone’s guru hasn’t yet made an appearance as a defendant on the nightly news does not mean the guru phenomenon is kosher.

The entire Jewish culture, starting with the Bible and going all the way to the latest commentators, repeats time and again the value of freedom. Our tradition demands of us to remain free, slaves only to the Eternal who is above all humans – and it absolutely forbids us to go back to being slaves of slaves.

The most despicable person is the slave whose master pierced his ear after he had said “I love my master” – choosing a love for flesh and blood over love of the Divine.

Not forced slavery, but rather willful slavery, the conscious choosing of subjugation, is the most repulsive level of the anti-Jewish existence.

That’s what every cult does, it may even be the most profound definition of what’s wrong with every cult.

We’ve seen these phenomena in the town of Migdal, in northern Israel, where Rabbi Motti Elon ruled over his cult of admirers.

There were times when I liked Rabbi Motti Elon very much, especially his classes. I still think he is one of the most gifted men of our generation. But I recall how surprised I was when I first saw the ads that were plastered in the streets of Jerusalem, inviting people to his “tish.”

Tish? This Zionist Yeke (German Jew) is having a tish?

Since that time, I’ve kept my distance.

I won’t claim to have presaged that these “tishes” would eventually turn into a cult, including the embarrassing and revolting charges of which Elon has just been convicted, but in my primitive kishkes (guts) I already felt that it’s all gone to his head, or turned his head – I won’t even attempt to psychoanalyze the man.

Naturally, I was told back then that I’m full of it, because a tish is connected to Chassidism, and Chassidism is Yidishkeit, and Yidishkeit can’t be bad.

But I happen to believe that Yidishkeit is Freedom, and freedom is very, very good, and anything that opposes freedom is not Judaism and not Torah, and is very, very bad.

I don’t have the energy to start a debate over Chassidism, but I must say that our generation has turned our glorious tradition into a complete fruit salad, served with pitiful, new-age whining, doused in pseudo-spiritual dressing, replete with hollow poses of Kabbala-like mysticism, self-worship, and heaping portions of slavery to charismatic charlatans.

After all, the self-deprecating before the leader is the other side of the coin of narcissism and self-centeredness, and both sides mean bondage, heresy and lowly paganism.

Instead of Tikun Olam through the kingdom of spirit and morality, the new age post-modernist is cynically employing “spiritual” slogans to usurp the world for his own needs, his dubious jealousy, lust, and ambition.

Rabbi Motti Elon does not concern me. But I am losing sleep over the innocent youths who choose slavery and blindness over an open gaze and freedom.

But what bothers me even more is the fact that thousands of television viewers today think that this anti-Judaism is our—and their—heritage.

Please speak up and tell them it’s not so.

Promise of Murderers Release Secures Monday ‘Peace Talks’ in DC

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Talks between Palestinians and Israelis will resume on Monday evening, the first such formal deliberations in almost three years.

Meetings between top negotiators will take place Monday night and Tuesday in Washington, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. Secretary of State John Kerry has been pressing the sides for a resumption and has visited the region six times since assuming his post in February.

The Israeli side will be represented by Tsipi Livni, the justice minister, and Yitzhak Molcho, the national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, who directs the Palestinian Economic Council and who has ministerial status, will represent the Palestinian Authority.

The State Department release said that the talks would at first focus on the procedure for the talks, but added that the basis for negotiations is in place.

“As Secretary Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations,” it said. It did not elaborate what the basis is.

“The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks,” it said. “They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.”

“Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership,” Kerry added in the statement.

The announcement came after Israel promised to release 104 Palestinian prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet met Sunday to debate the prisoner release and to approve the resumption of talks. The 22-member cabinet approved the release by a vote of 13 in favor, seven against and two abstentions.

Likud MK and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon urged ministers to vote against the release, branding it “a diplomatic mistake, a moral mistake.”

It is still not clear whether the released prisoners will include 14 Israeli Arabs—which the PA made clear would be a deal breaker. Sources in Jerusalem told Kol Israel there has been no Israeli commitment on that issue.

Among the Israeli Arab prisoners whose release the PA is demanding are the four Arabs who killed three Israeli soldiers with pitchforks on the infamous “Pitchforks Night” in the early ’90s, the terrorist who threw a firebomb into the car belonging to the Moses family, murdering the mother Ofra and her son Tal, and the terrorist who threw a firebomb at a bus, murdering Rachel Weiss, mother of three children, and soldier David Delaroza, in the 1980s.

There were conflicting reports in recent days over whether the sides had achieved a basis for the talks, or whether negotiators would convene only to prepare the basis for talks.

Israeli and Palestinian talks have been suspended since October 2010, when the Palestinians walked out over Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month settlement construction freeze.
JTA content was used in this report.

The End of Competition

Monday, May 20th, 2013

The American Dream does not actually require a red, white and blue flag or a dream. What it requires is a willingness to accept messiness.

Messiness is another word for chaos. And no one likes chaos. Chaos means that in the richest country in the world some people will be illiterate, others will be homeless and some will accidentally set themselves on fire because the fireworks don’t come with enough safety warnings.

Those aren’t good things. They’re not things that governments and the squeaky wheels who make governments what they are think should be tolerated. They’re messy.

Messy is all those things that people say someone should do something about, by which they don’t mean themselves. What they really mean is that we should be living in a more orderly society. And an orderly society is one where things don’t just happen. You have to file eight forms, duck six committees and debate four non-profits to have any chance of getting things done. And even then you probably won’t.

Orderly societies have nailed down all the loose ends. There are fewer homeless people, mainly because they are now living in sixty thousand dollar per inmate shelters designed by progressive architects, but there are also fewer errand boys becoming Andrew Carnegie. What is really being lost is social mobility. The ladder up.

Meritocracy requires chaos. An orderly society isn’t chaotic, it’s stratified. The power has been parceled out to all the people who should have it. And there’s only so much to go around. Newness is a threat because new things are unpredictable. They’re chaotic. They disrupt the power structure.

The liberal argument is largely an argument for a society consolidated around government in service to progressive ideals. It’s a tidy world in which governments and non-profits consume an always increasing share of everything else until there isn’t anything else because it’s been consolidated. The end result of that process however isn’t progressive. It’s tribal.

Power naturally consolidates along personal lines, not political lines. A society may begin by consolidating power so that all the non-profits can help the homeless and the people who can’t read fireworks instructions, but, in a peculiar phenomenon, the homeless never seem to get helped much and fireworks accidents keep happening.

The phenomenon isn’t really peculiar at all. Humanitarian work is a job that exists to eliminate itself. The only way to keep a job dedicated to solving the problem is to perpetuate the problem. Or to redefine the problem on a larger scale. All that is familiar enough from any number of non-profits and government agencies that exist to remind people to care about a problem that they don’t care about.

Redefining the problem on a larger scale means more money, more power and more control. Any problem, whether it’s homelessness, illiteracy or crime is a social problem and can only be solved by taking a holistic approach to everything. A city, a country and a world become a giant puzzle that can only be solved by manipulating all the pieces into place in the right order. The only way to solve the problems that never get solved is through total control over every human being on earth.

Power can only be consolidated ideologically for so long. Both the Russian and Chinese Communist revolutions eventually collapsed into familial profiteering. China’s Princes and Russia’s KGB clans brought down Communism in both countries and resurrected it as profiteering oligarchies eager to live the good life.

To some measure, Capitalism beat Communism, but more accurately tribalism beat internationalism,  powerful men built systems that lock in privileges for their friends and families while tossing out the lefty ideologies that allowed their grandfathers to get close to those privileges. It’s an old story and it’s how the progressive experiments in the ideological consolidation of power will end here.

Power is personal. As is wealth. A system that consolidates enough power turns tribal as fathers look to pass on their privileges to their children until, like so many social services agencies, the system exists for the sake of the system.

Tribal systems are not meritocracies. They aren’t interested in talent, but in a sense of order that derives from the consolidation of power. Their idea of civilization does not lie in their arts or sciences, only in the orderliness of power. Only when chaos assails them, is talent released out into the wild where unpredictable things happen. But the chaotic period passes and the old patterns assert themselves again strangling the wildness and consolidating it.

Obama Cites Liberties, Israel in Heritage Month Declaration

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

President Obama cited the Jewish striving for freedom and the U.S.-Israel bond in his Jewish American Heritage Month declaration.

“Jewish immigrants from all over the world wove new threads into our cultural fabric with rich traditions and indomitable faith, and their descendants pioneered incredible advances in science and the arts,” Obama said Tuesday in declaring May as Jewish American Heritage Month. “Teachings from the Torah lit the way toward a more perfect Union, from women’s rights to workers’ rights to the end of segregation.”

Among other Jewish American contributions, Obama listed “scientists and teachers, public servants and private citizens, wise leaders and loving parents.”

He said Americans could see Jewish “accomplishments in every neighborhood, and we see them abroad in our unbreakable bond with Israel that Jewish Americans helped forge.”

Congress legislated Jewish American Heritage Month in 2006 and Obama was the first president, in 2010, to mark it with a celebration.

This year there will be no White House fete because of budget cuts.

Who is an ‘Islamist’ and Why it Matters

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The Associated Press has decided that the word “Islamist” may not be used to describe anything objectionable.  The Jewish Press’s Lori Lowenthal Marcus calls out the relevant passage from the news service’s newly revised stylebook:

[An Islamist is] an advocate of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Hmmm.  It’s an interesting question who will be called an Islamist by A.P. writers, given this definition.

Who is an Islamist?

Presumably, Mohammed Morsi could be called an Islamist by the A.P. – unless the second sentence above cancels out the first, making it impossible to call anyone an “Islamist.” And maybe that’s the case; if so, defining “Islamist” is an exercise in futility for the A.P.

But will Morsi be called an Islamist?  By the letter of the A.P. definition, being labeled an Islamist would put Morsi in company with Hamas, the Iranian clerical council, and the Taliban.  He belongs there, of course, but will that association be considered politically correct, given that the U.S. government is committed to Morsi’s success, and continues to deliver arms to him?

Hamas and the Taliban are terrorist organizations, but are or have been government authorities as well (the latter aspiring to be one again), reordering government and society precisely in accordance with laws they deem to be prescribed by Islam.  Iran’s leaders sponsor terrorism, as well as doing the reordering thing in the name of Islam.

In fact, Hizballah fits the bill as well, being a terrorist organization which currently governs Lebanon.  Among this terrorist-governing group, Hizballah may have made the least effort to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  But then, Hizballah governs a tiny, fractious, all-but-ungovernable nation with mostly porous borders, and in that role has been more concerned since January 2011 with holding power than with remaking society.  Does that mean there is some meaningful sense in which Hezbollah is not “Islamist” – even though it proclaims sharia and holds its political goals in common with Hamas and Iran (and has considerable overlap with Morsi in Egypt)?

Perhaps the seemingly narrow A.P. definition of “Islamist” is meant to ensure that only those who advocate Islamism from the more consensual environment of Western liberal societies will meet it.  This proposition will run into its own set of troubles, however, partly because radicals like Britain’s Anjem Choudary, who have been, so to speak, the face of Islamism in the West, might be considered ineligible for the title due to their explosively radical demeanor.  If Choudary isn’t an Islamist, who is?

That remains a good question, considering that other, more mainstream Western organizations may have ties through their leadership, like CAIR’s, to the Muslim Brotherhood and even terrorist groups, but they do not overtly propose to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  Does that mean they are not Islamist?  And if not, what does that mean?

At present, CAIR’s efforts are not focused directly on reordering government and society, but rather on undermining one of the essential pillars of Western civilization: unfettered pursuit of the truth – about radical Islam as about anything else.  Government agencies, with their top-down institutional pieties, are an easy target for outright censorship in this regard.

The A.P. Stylebook revision is something different, and perhaps more insidious.  Presumably, an A.P. writer would not refer to CAIR’s involvement in redefining “Islamist” as a method of Islamism, although it is one.  And, in fairness, there is a good case to be made that rewriting definitions for political reasons is something the Western left requires no prompting to do.  Need it be “Islamist” to define categories prejudicially?  It certainly doesn’t have to be “Islamist” to label anyone whose arguments you don’t like a “racist.”  The Western left thought that one up all on its own.

The lack of firm ground to stand on in this analysis is quintessential in the propositions of radicals.  Corruption and politicization of the language are common radical tactics.  Whom, exactly, can an A.P. writer call an Islamist, given all these factors?  The antiseptic definition of Islamism approved by CAIR might apply only to Islamic theoreticians who never actually engage in political advocacy – if there are any.

Belittling Tormentors Allows us to Be Free

Friday, April 5th, 2013

A friend from New Jersey, who lived through Hurricane Sandy, as did I, called and asked me why God did not send a similar storm against Egypt and Pharaoh. “One plague and that would have done it,” he said. “The Egyptians would have been begging to let the Jews go. So why did God insist on ten?”

I answered him that there are two kinds of freedom. Political freedom and psychological freedom, freedom of the body and freedom of the mind. If God’s intention was to simply liberate the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, He could indeed have sent a single catastrophic event against them, like a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami. It worked against Japan when two devastating atomic bombs brought the Japanese to unconditional surrender.

But even as the Jews were liberated by an external event, they would have remained mentally enslaved.

Here’s why.

Slavery is an institution that is maintained through fear. The slave dreads his master and therefore does his bidding. The German philosopher Hegel said, in essence, that way back at the dawn of history everyone was equal. But one day, two primordial combatants had a fight. As they struggled over whatever the issue was – a cave, a woman, a hunt – one of the combatants became fearful of the other and in that moment the relationship of master and slave was born.

But God’s intention was that no man should have any master except God alone. That’s why there are so many exhortations in the Bible to live boldly and cast away all fear, as I detailed in my book Face Your Fear.

And it’s not just a physical master that we should not fear. The woman who goes on a date cannot fear being judged by the man whom she will meet. If she does she’ll be nervous, betray insecurity, and surrender to a physical side of the relationship that might impede the development of true intimacy. A wife cannot fear her husband. That’s what leads women to remain in abusive relationships. A man cannot fear his boss. If he does, he will allow himself to be exploited and abused and his job will become a form of slavery.

Overcoming fear is the only road to true equality and liberty.

One of the most effective methods to triumph over fear is to cease mentally aggrandizing the object of your fear. The Israelites looked at the Egyptians as supermen. They had built the ancient world’s most glorious civilization. They won wars and established a vast empire. They beat the Jews mercilessly and dominated them completely. So God’s plan in sending the plagues was to humanize the Egyptians in Jewish eyes so such a degree that the fear would disappear. In order for the Jews to be liberated not just politically and externally but mentally and psychologically, the Jews had to see the big and strong Egyptians become utterly helpless, vulnerable, and powerless.

In this context, we can begin to understand the ten plagues and their order. First, God attacks the Egyptians water supply by turning the Nile river into blood. There is nothing quite so feeble as a man who is desperate just for a drink of water. Extreme thirst becomes all consuming and demonstrates our total dependency on something that is usually abundant and economical. But even this the Egyptians could not provide for themselves.

Next, the plague of frogs had the robust and resilient Egyptians freaking out over reptiles. Like an elephant that’s afraid of a mouse, Egyptian might was exposed as a fraud.

After that came the plague of lice, with the Egyptians taskmasters who once seemed so mighty itching uncontrollably and being utterly humbled by a tiny insect. Next, wild beasts roamed through the land and the Egyptians ran scared like frightened children.

You get the picture. The story culminates with the Egyptians being afraid even of the dark, like small kids, and then, the last plague, confronting the fear of death, that which reminds us all of our vulnerability and mortality. Through this process, the Jews saw the Egyptians for what they were. Just another group of petrified humans who had gained dominion over another people by being vicious bullies. But there were easily bullied themselves.

The Real Reason for the Fifth Cup

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

The four cups of wine that we drink at the Seder are symbolic of the four expressions of freedom that God used in telling Moshe about our salvation: v’hotzesi (I will take you out of Egypt): v’hitzalti (I will deliver you from slavery); v’goalti I will redeem you); and v’lokachti (I will take you for a people). The question arises as to why we pour a fifth cup? And why do we not drink from it?

This cup is called the kos shel eliyahu, (the prophet) Elijah’s cup. After Birchas HaMazon (the blessing on the meal) – we pour a large cup of wine and immediately open the door and read a passage from the Hagadah.

Legend has it that Eliyahu comes to each door on Pesach and drinks a tiny bit from that cup. I recall as a child looking to see if I could tell if there was any less wine in the cup after we closed the door than there was before we opened it. The thinking was, of course, that Elijah’s cup was indeed meant for Elijah himself… that somehow even though we can’t see him that he came in a drank a little wine… and the reason that he drank so little is because he had to drink from all of the cups in every house of every Jew who had a Seder and opened his door for him.

That is a cute story for little children… but of course not true. We do not open the door for Eliyahu. We open it to say a specific portion of the Hagadah unrelated to that cup.

There are many reasons given for this custom. The one which I like and makes the most sense to me is the one given by another Elijah, the Gra.

The fifth cup is based on a machlokes in the Gemarah. There is actually a fifth word used by God in that section of the Torah, v’ heveisi (I will bring you into the land which I promised your forefathers).

Those who say this is a fifth expression of freedom – say that a fifth cup of wine is required. Those who say it is not is because it does not speak to being freed but rather to the promise made that will occur in the future well after the Bnei Yisroel have been freed – say that we do not drink a fifth cup.

Our custom is based on the second view… so we only drink four cups. But we recognize that this question remains unresolved. So we compromise. We pour a fifth cup, but we don’t drink it.

Why is it called the Kos Shel Eliyahu? Because we have a tradition that says that all unresolved issues in the Gemarah – including this one – will be answered by Eliyahu when he comes to herald the coming of the messiah.

I would like to extend my best wishes for a happy and Kosher Pesach for the entirety of the Jewish people.

Note: The source for this piece is Torah L’Daas by Rabbi Matis Blum.Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

The Meaning of Freedom

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

It’s an interesting time in Israel now. The Passover holiday is days away. It’s a holiday that I mostly dread because it comes with immeasurable work and only spare moments to enjoy – at least for me and for many women who are still fulfilling the more traditional roles of caring for home and food and such. No matter how much help I get in the house, it seems I am still the planner, the coordinator, the ultimate one responsible for seeing, checking, and often doing what it takes to bring the holiday in.

I have come to dread it – from the start to the end and have yet to learn how to enjoy the more important aspects. There is an amazing rabbi who was asked how long it should take to clean for Passover. I remember more the principle of what he answered than the clear numbers he cited. It was something like a day or two, perhaps three. The person then went and asked his wife how long it takes her to prepare and she answered, three weeks, just like everyone else. Perhaps it was four.

Passover is often lost in the details and it is a shame. The details are cleaning your home – your office, your car, etc. – but sadly, too many turn it into spring cleaning and so you see the neighborhood, in fact the country, alive with those who are painting their apartments, fixing railings outside, buying new furniture and appliances. None of that is really connected to the holiday and yet my windows are dirty from the long winter and I want them cleaned.

Already, my arms are starting to hurt – the deep inside pain I get when I strain them. I’ve carted out garbage, washed cabinets, sorted through drawers and more. This year seems especially tense and stifling. We crave freedom – and yet we are being smothered from the holiday on one end and Obama’s visit on the other. I need to travel to the center later this afternoon – how will Obama’s arrival impact on that? One major highway will be closed for some time – the second, to which traffic will be diverted, is a road that was built to by-pass Arab villages and protect Israelis as they drive to Jerusalem. It is called Route 443. People have been murdered on that road – shot at point blank range. Regularly there are stoning attacks. The army promises to put more surveillance on the road, more jeeps and soldiers.

I travel that road regularly – often out of the Israeli principle of dafka. Dafka is an amazing Israeli word that defies translation. I learned it decades ago, long before I lived here. I remember way back in college, freshman English course at Barnard College. We were having an intellectual discussion and I disagreed with the previous person. It was a free-flowing, open conversation among the entire class, with the teacher (the only male in the room) looking on proudly.

“Dafka the opposite,” I said and began to explain. A few, very few, looked confused and so the Jewish professor smiled and said, “explain ‘dafka’, Paula.”

I tried..Dafka means…on purpose…dafka means…intentionally so….deliberately so…but it has a twinge of insolence, resistance. If you tell a child to stand over there, they will dafka sit down. Defiance, pride, intention. I can’t explain dafka but it is the dafka principle that has me driving on 443, even when they throw stones there. I will not let them keep me from my country.

So Obama will come to Israel today and Israelis will be diverted to a road on which there are often more stoning attacks and likely there will be more because the Arabs too want to deliver a message to Obama. I doubt Obama will know that yesterday in Ramallah, they were driving cars over pictures of his face, burning American flags, and painting big red X’s over his nose.

Meanwhile, Obama seems to be the only one truly free here. He has freely chosen to insult Israel by deciding that students from one university will not be invited to his meeting with university students. Ariel University is located over what Obama calls the “green line” – how convenient it is for him to ignore the fact that Ariel, like  ALL universities in Israel, admit hundreds, even thousands of Arab students and provide them with access to educational degrees widely honored and respected. The last I heard, three of Israel’s five universities are in the top 100 in the world. This is the education we make available to Jew and Arab alike – but Obama will insult us be showing his selective prejudice.

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