Julius Caesar: “Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights: Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
Marc Antony: “Fear him not, Caesar; he’s not dangerous; He is a noble Roman and well given.”
–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Caesar, of course, was right in being suspicious and Marc Antony was wrong. Result: Caesar murdered; civil war; tens of thousands killed; Marc Antony dead. Makes you think. Or at least it should.
An interesting and important question about the Middle East (and one can treat it on a global level, too) is whether being in power or running in an election inevitably moderates those who are radicals. It is automatically accepted by many people that this is so. Yet an examination of evidence makes such behavior more rare than common.
Let’s begin by pointing out that some of the problem is the unthinking transference of things that might be true in private and personal life into the political sphere. As individuals mature and have experience, they often become more moderate. There are many cases of individual politicians “selling out” and abandoning more militant ideas to become corrupt. Neither case necessarily applies to systems, movements, or ideologies.
Even more questionable is the view that the difficulties of having to make decisions in government forces leaders to become more responsible. For example, they learn that money is not unlimited and therefore priorities must be set. Supposedly, they say to themselves: Hey, collecting the garbage and fixing the potholes is what’s important, forget about all this silly stuff about fundamentally transforming society, imposing the Sharia, destroying Israel, or chasing America out of the Middle East!
A problem with this argument is that it leaves out the political advantages for rulers of using demagoguery, incitement, and populism. To stay in power a politician—particularly in a non-democratic country—gains advantage from militancy, real or feigned.
Another simplistic argument is that anyone who runs in elections and wins is automatically moderate because they participated in a legalistic, democratic process. This argument is quite full of holes. One should not confuse tactical caution with moderation. For example, President Hafiz al-Assad of Syria knew after 1973 that a direct confrontation with Israel was a losing proposition so instead he backed terrorist groups and used Lebanon as a launching pad for the attacks. Being radical does not necessarily mean being suicidal.
Clearly, the most famous ideological dictatorships did not become more moderate. These include the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Communist Cuba, among many others.
But wait, there is an escape clause of sorts. The USSR arguably became more moderate but only with three caveats. That process took place only after 70 years in power. Structural changes were involved but there was an equally or larger accidental factor, that is the coming to power of one or two specific individuals. And after the start of a cautious moderation policy, the regime quickly collapsed, sending a warning to others who might have similar thoughts of loosening the reins. Indeed, the collapse of the Soviet bloc was taken as a lesson by Middle Eastern dictators to hang tough lest they simply hang.
One might make a stronger case with China having moderated. But again it took a very long time indeed, roughly a half-century and of course some old features remain. Waiting for 50 years, however, is not what people are talking about when they speak of the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt and quickly becoming teddy bears.
Turning to the Middle East, power does not bring about moderation. The Ba’thist regime in Syria remains radical after a half-century in power and the same would be true of Iraq if not for the U.S.-led invasion. What about the PLO? It did sign the Oslo accords after one-third of a century of terrorism but it did not keep the agreement as a result. The movement’s basic doctrine and strategy remains the same while its tactical shifts could be reversed in future.
Of course, it seems to be a stretch to say there has been no moderation in the PLO and Fatah. Yet let’s remember the original moderation thesis here. The argument made in the 1990s was that the responsibility of power (collecting garbage; fixing roads, educating the kiddies) would so moderate the group as to lead it into a compromise peace treaty with Israel and the end of the conflict. That certainly did not happen and the moderation thesis was a failure regarding Yasir Arafat. As for education, radical movements in power tend to train the children to be radicals, preaching the horror of compromise and the glories of aggressive war.
Rabbi Israel Rosen, founder of the Office for Conversions to Judaism in the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, wrote Thursday in Kipa that Amalek – Haman – Hitler – Ahmadinejad are “characterized not only by their meaningless hatred, but by their compulsive animosity. A ‘real’ Amalekite, is absorbed and consumed with hatred of Israel which nourishes him 24 hours a day, when he’s awake and in his dreams. A ‘pure’ Amalekite is possessed by a crazed and deep hatred of Israel, it’s his spirit, his heart’s desire, his soul and his passion, exclusively.”
And one of the conditions which characterize an Amalekite’s function in the world is that while he is going after his victims – the Jews – with a vengeance, the rest of the world stands on the sidelines, uninvolved. Or they would counsel moderation and negotiations, unwilling to accept that someone, a statesman, would wish to annihilate an entire nation just because it is Jewish.
Therefore, concludes Rabbi Rosen, “if we are honest about identifying our enemy for what he is, we must act while ignoring the nations of the world. Our strength lies in the combination of our faith and our abilities on the battlefield.”
So, what have the children of Jacob and the people who hate them been up to over the past 24 hours? What can I say, it’s a violent planet. But even in a violent blue-green ball like ours, some stories still get our goat. Like this one:
YOU BULLY A JEWISH KID – YOU PAY. IT’S THE LAW
The NY Post reports on a $10.5 million federal suit that says staffers at Eagle Avenue Middle School in West Hempstead stood by as schoolmates abused Gedaliah Hoffman, calling him a “f–king Jew” for wearing a yarmulke.
Staffers caused “the bullying to become escalated by punishing only Gedaliah, although Gedaliah was the victim of the attacks,” says the lawsuit, filed last week by the boy and his mother, Lori Hoffman.
Oh, we want t see that one through. And give ’em hell, Gedaliah Hoffman!
OK, we can’t do just nasty stuff, where’s the ray of hope thing? Well, there it is, in Borough Park!
LADIES TO THE RESCUE
Like this group of Brooklyn Jewish women who are starting their own ladies-only ambulance service.The NY Daily News reports that Borough Park lawyer Rachel Freier, 46, held the first recruitment drive Sunday for Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “assisting women’ (but also a great pun on the Hebrew name for the ladies section in shul) — in her dining room. The News says Hatzolah leaders shot down Freier’s request last fall to let women into its 1,300 all-male corps, the city’s largest volunteer ambulance crew, which answers more than 50,000 calls a year.
Ezras Nashim member Hadassah Strauss, 26, retorts: “Women have been delivering babies for thousands of years.” Sharp lady. I strongly advise against getting into an argument with her…
And what religious Jewish person’s heart won’t be gladdened by this NY Times headline: In Texas, the Sabbath Trumps the Semifinals. Well, good for the Sabbath! And good for the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, which won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals last weekend in Dallas. But the team will not make the trip. Because the Beren Academy players observe the Sabbath and do not play from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Their semifinal game was scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.
Hey, I say, wasn’t any super meikel rabbi out there to give the lads an opening? A halachic three-point throw? Nobody?
According to the Times, several of Beren Academy’s opponents this season agreed to change the time of their games to avoid conflicts with the Sabbath. See? All a Jew needs to make it in America is a few nice goyim…
ARE WE GETTING ALONG, OR WHAT?
Dozens of students gathered in the Hughes-Trigg commons to hear from religious leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and balance and moderation was the main topic of the Islamic Awareness Week’s interfaith discussion panel Monday night – reports the Southern Methodist University Daily Campus.
So we scroll two-three paragraphs down and we get what we just knew had to be in there somewhere, the Jewish guy condemning intolerant Jews. Because, let’s face it. while hoards of Muslim tolerant folks have been storming the public squares of the Third World, with tolerant soldiers and police shooting tolerantly – and with moderation! – into the crowds, them extremists Jews really drowned out that peacefulness with their extremist going on living in their homes.
“Each religious leader discussed how the essential truths of their religions stress the importance of balance and moderation. However, they all spoke of extremists within their religions whose actions go against the core values of their faiths.”
Now, wait for it… wait for it… and – who’s the first panelist to take a crack at the condemn-thine-own-extremist challenge?
“Balance and moderation is a challenge,” Rabbi David Gruber said, describing extremist behavior he witnessed by some Jewish people in Israel.
First one, and ONLY one, folks. Honor murders, decapitations, mass killings, suicide bombing – not event a footnote. Horrible Israelis? Oh yeah, baby, we know all about them.
Even the Christian guy got away with it without mentioning firebombing abortion clinics and murdering abortion doctors, f’rinstance. So now we’re clear: The leasson from Islamic Interfaith Awareness Week at SMU is – we must do something about the Jews.
Good to know.
PRAYING IN BUDAPEST
And speaking of goyim, nice or otherwise, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reports that LDS Church has been added to Hungarian government’s recognition list, along with five Buddhist groups, Methodists, J Witnesses and two Islamic communities. Well, welcome to the club, guys, and remember: keep the weird stuff to a minimum…
POLITICS REMAINS A CONTACT SPORT
This would have been funny enough for a dream scene from a Woody Allen movie (the earlier, funny ones): FOX40 News reports that Neo-Nazis and Occupy Groups clashed at Capitol Monday, man what a story. Except two officers were hurt in the clash, and made the story distinctly unfunny.
As parents, we often see that our children have talents that are outside the classic Mitzvah realm. This could be in the area of art, gymnastics, musical instruments, etc. Often times, development of these talents require time, money and sometimes exposure that we would generally not encourage. How does one decide when this is a good idea (or at least necessary) and when these activities are a distraction from spiritual pursuits?
Please discuss this in regards to a child who is doing well in school and not yearning for something but would enjoy an outlet as opposed to a child who needs an outlet, and please also share your thoughts about these issues as they pertain to girls and boys.
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
It is my philosophy that (almost) all people need 1) a childhood and 2) regular breaks/vacations, and when one or both of these needs are suppressed, they are merely being deferred to a later date. Part and parcel of a healthy childhood is regular exercise and the pursuit of enjoyable and wholesome (and, in a Torah home, kosher) hobbies. Denying them these necessities is analogous to not paying your utility bills for a while. For all you are doing is deferring these obligations for a later date, when you will pay them with interest and penalties.
In this sense, children are perhaps similar to living creatures or even computers. When we deviate from the sh’vil hazahav (the ‘golden path’ of moderation) and overburden our children for too long, they tend to ‘crash’ and experience a system malfunction. Maintaining that precious balance of moderation is a primary responsibility of a child’s parents. It is also important to consider that children generally engage in proper, safe activities during their free time when they are in the primary grades. However, if they are denied recreational opportunities in their younger years and experience ‘burn-out’ in their adolescent years, they are far more likely to pursue inappropriate or even dangerous pursuits.
With this in mind, I would strongly encourage you to have your pre-teen children – boys and girls – pursue their artistic and athletic abilities. Obviously, these activities should not interfere with their limudim and/or studies. And you ought to carefully screen their teachers/mentors in these hobbies and activities, especially since children tend to idolize those who excel in these areas. But done properly, these activities will afford your children the opportunity to spread their wings and nourish their creative spirit.
In your question, you seemed to categorize a potential hobby as being either 1) a good idea, 2) a necessary one, or 3) a distraction. In my mind, the only hobbies that would fall under category #3 would be those that are inappropriate for a Torah home or those that are taken to an extreme and become one’s primary focus. Music, creative drawing, and athletic pursuits – when done in moderation – would seem to all fall in category #1. They are wholesome activities that build self-esteem and allow your child to add color to the canvas of his or her personality. I would consider this to be relevant to high achieving children but even more critical for children who are not performing well in school – since as a loving parent, you are affording them the opportunity to excel in other areas.
Perhaps it is my Chassidic yichus speaking, (my great-grandfather, Reb Dov Ber Horowitz, h’yd, lovingly referred to as Reb Berish Vishever, wrote hundreds of niggunim for many chassidishe Rebbeim, among them, the Admorim of Satmar and Viznitz, z’tl), but I would consider the ability to play a musical instrument simply another opportunity to serve Hashem.
Thirty years ago, when I was a talmid in Yeshiva Torah Voda’as, there was an outstanding young talmid chacham a few years older than myself who was an accomplished violin player. He used his talent to inspire many hundreds of bachurim at Chanuka gatherings and other festive events. All these years later, my mind’s eye can still vividly see (and hear) him playing the hauntingly beautiful niggunim that elevated our neshamos.
In the broadest sense, it is always important to keep in mind that parenting children is not analogous to a 100-yard dash; it is more like running a marathon. And it is not always about who arrives first or fastest, but rather who is still standing at the finish line.
My dear chaver, Rabbi Noach Orlewik s’hlita regularly quotes the brilliant insight of his rebbi, Rabbi Shlome Wolbe, z’tl. Rav Wolbe would often say that the primary mission of a mesivta and beis midrash is to fill a talmid with Torah, while the principal task of an elementary school is to create a well-adjusted child who is prepared to learn Hashem’s Torah. Rav Wolbe was not implying that elementary schools need not teach Torah, and that high schools should not stress developing “the whole child.” He was, however, speaking to the notion that there are long-term and short-term goals in chinuch and child rearing, just as in any other endeavor. And the long-term goal of parenting and raising young children is to see to it that they are well adjusted and healthy – in body and soul.
Here’s a toast to your health! L’chaim!