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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘society’

The Politics Of Freedom

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Having set out the broad principles of the covenant, Moses now turns to the details, which extend over many chapters and several parshiyot. The long review of the laws that will govern Israel in its land begin and end with Moses posing a momentous choice. Here is how he frames it in this week’s parshah:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

And here is how he puts it at the end:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil … I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, so that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19).

Maimonides takes these two passages as proof of our belief in freewill (Hilchot Teshuvah 5:3), which indeed they are. But they are more than that. They are also a political statement. The connection between individual freedom (which Maimonides is talking about) and collective choice (which Moses is talking about) is this: If humans are free, then they need a free society within which to exercise that freedom. The book of Devarim represents the first attempt in history to create a free society.

Moses’s vision is deeply political but in a unique way. It is not politics as the pursuit of power or the defense of interests or the preservation of class and caste. It is not politics as an expression of national glory and renown. There is no desire in Moses’s words for fame, honor, expansion, or empire. There is not a word of nationalism in the conventional sense. Moses does not tell the people that they are great. He tells them that they have been rebellious, they have sinned, and that their failure of faith during the episode of the spies cost them forty extra years of delay before entering the land. Moses would not have won an election. He was not that kind of leader.

Instead he summons the people to humility and responsibility. We are the nation, he says in effect, that has been chosen by God for a great experiment. Can we create a society that is not Egypt, not empire, not divided into rulers and ruled? Can we stay faithful to the more-than-human hand that has guided our destinies since I first stood before Pharaoh and asked for our freedom? For if we truly believe in God – not God as a philosophical abstraction but God in whose handwriting our history has been written, God to whom we pledged allegiance at Mount Sinai, God who is our only sovereign – then we can do great things.

Not great in conventional terms, but great in moral terms. For if all power, all wealth, all might belongs to God, then none of these things can rightfully set us apart one from another. We are all equally precious in His sight. We have been charged by Him to feed the poor and bring the orphan and widow, the landless Levite and non-Israelite stranger, into our midst, sharing our celebrations and days of rest. We have been commanded to create a just society that honors human dignity and freedom.

Moses insists on three things: First that we are free. The choice is ours. Blessing or curse? Good or evil? Faithfulness or faithlessness? You decide, says Moses. Never has freedom been so starkly defined, not just for an individual but also for a nation as a whole. We do not find it hard to understand that as individuals we are confronted by moral choices. Adam and Eve were. So was Cain. Choice is written into the human condition.

But to be told this as a nation – this is something new. There is no defense, says Moses, in protestations of powerlessness – saying that we could not help it. We were outnumbered. We were defeated. It was the fault of our leaders or our enemies. No, says Moses, your fate is in your hands. The sovereignty of God does not take away human responsibility. To the contrary, it places it center stage. If you are faithful to God, says Moses, you will prevail over empires. If you are not, nothing else – not military strength nor political alliances – will help you.

The Future Of Young Israelis

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

When Israelis say, “I worry about my grandchildren’s future,” it has a radically different dimension than similar concerns expressed in many other countries.

Europeans’ current anxiety about the future derives mainly from darkening social and economic prospects. A number of Europeans and Americans are also apprehensive about climate change.

For Israelis, physical survival is a prime matter, often over and above their many other concerns.

Israeli society faces mortal risks from parts of the Muslim world where extreme anti-Semitic hatemongering is massive. Israel is threatened with a second Holocaust, for which the ideological basis is being laid today. The Islamic world has substantial components – such as Iran’s leaders and Hamas – that promote the genocide of Israel and Jews.

In the future, significant threats may also come from others – for example, if and when atomic bombs or fissile material fall into the hands of terrorists.

Palestinian society is permeated with sympathy for the most criminal major Muslim movement, al Qaeda. Those who see a “peace agreement” as an interim stage toward the annihilation of Israel are unreliable partners and not exactly the kind of people to whom concessions can be made.

In view of possible, albeit presently unforeseeable, radical changes in the Middle East, true peace is not a totally impossible dream. Yet this can be the case only after many other problematic developments are dealt with.

Meanwhile, Israelis for generations to come will serve in the army and risk their lives. Once one’s life is at stake, everything else becomes secondary.

As a result of their experiences, Israelis live in a reality that is unique among democratic nations and have worldviews that differ significantly from people who live in other societies.

Serving in the army means Israelis cannot live a life as fully defined by individualism as their counterparts do in Europe and the U.S. One can understand this from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words on Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day – earlier this year.

“When you hear the siren tonight, we will turn into one family and the citizens of Israel will be united in our remembrance,” Netanyahu told his countrymen.

Western Europeans rarely turn into one family, though it may happen occasionally to some extent in the face of a natural or terrorist catastrophe or upon winning a soccer championship.

In Israel, due to the ups and downs of the economy and the political situation generally, few people outside government services assume that their employment will be uninterrupted and lifelong. This reality has helped cultivate a more flexible mindset among Israelis than is the case among Europeans or Americans.

Contrary to the typical Westerner, many Israeli youngsters realize they owe much to society and that what Israeli society owes them has its limits. At the same time, Israel’s unity is threatened in very different ways by major segments of two growing parts of the population – Israeli Arabs and haredim – as well by much smaller but far more vociferous groups of extreme leftists.

The threat of seeing one’s country destroyed is far from theoretical in Israel. Given this type of reality, Israeli youngsters must continue informal learning throughout their active lifetimes. In other words, invest in one’s brain as much as possible because that will be the main portable source of one’s knowledge in crisis situations.

Israelis should learn as many skills as possible – preferably those that can be used abroad as well as in Israel. Further, it is necessary to learn to speak proper English, which will remain the lingua franca of this century. Spending a few years abroad in one’s youth can be extremely useful for one’s future, wherever that may be.

In an uncertain Israeli environment, the important skill of improvisation will frequently be required; further development of it will, therefore, be more than merely useful.

Murphy’s Law is not necessarily valid: Not everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and if Israel continues to flourish in the remarkable way it has, the same skills will come in very handy in finding a place in Israeli society.

In Israel as elsewhere, there will be a small number of people who are extraordinarily talented. If they have reasonable emotional intelligence, they will enjoy unprecedented opportunities in a complex society.

Iconic Sinners

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/08/iconic-sinners.html

A memoir by Philip Fishman about growing up in Williamsburg has just been published. Williamsburg was not always the Chasidic enclave of Satmar that it is now. It was once the primary location for all types of Orthodoxy. It was home to both the Young Israel and the Agudah. And it was home to Yeshiva Torah Voda’ath for many years.

What is noteworthy is a portion of the book (excerpted on at least 2 blogs) that accuses one of the early icons of Agudah of sex abuse – going into quite a bit of detail about the nature of the abuse. He does not identify the abuser by name to spare the family embarrassment.

Some have said that think they know who he was referring to. I am not going to speculate. There is no purpose to that other than casting aspersions on someone posthumously who may have been innocent.

That said I have no reason to doubt Mr. Fishman. Someone was very likely guilty of molesting him as an 11 year old child. Why would someone lie about something like that in a book? On the other hand people do not usually become icons among the Jewish people unless they have earned it. That means that he had actually done a lot for Klal Yisroel. And yet he sexually molested at least one person. Twice! It is therefore a disturbing story.

Mr. Fishman says that because the perpetrator was not in Chinuch he was able to avoid him after those two encounters – and that the abuse has not affected his life.

The question remains. How does one reconcile greatness with evil? Is it possible that one can be a great contributor to society and have a dark side? And how are we to look at such a person? Does abusing someone sexually – even only one or two times to one person – negate all the good he has done?

I believe most victims would say “yes, it does.” On the other hand I know that some victims would not agree with that statement. I have read accounts of an even bigger icon perpetrating a similar form of molestation. This time on women. I also recall at least one victim valuing the contributions of the person who molested her – almost in a forgiving way. The icon in question is Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

If one is a Carlebach fan one may be tempted to say that they simply do not believe the victim. But there has been more than one victim and they all describe the abuse in similar ways.

Rabbi Carlebach is a musical genius. In my view, his contributions to Jewish music were on the same level as Beethoven’s contributions were to classical music. Or the Beatles to Rock and Roll. He is in class all by himself. In terms of musical achievement – no one can touch him. His musical compositions are so pervasive that many people don’t even realize that popular tunes used in various Teffilos on Shabbos and Yom Tov are actually Carelbach tunes. This includes all segments of Jewry. From the most right wing Charedi to the most left wing modern Orthodox. Conservative and Reform Jews also use his tunes in their synagogues and temples. Carlebach’s music is even well known outside the world of Jewry.

Some people are so enamoured of him that they have dedicated entire religious prayer services to him. They are called Carlebach Minyanim. On Friday nights Kabbolas Shabbos is sung exclusively to his melodies. There are some people who actually worship him as though he was a Gadol!

There is no doubt that he was charismatic. But in achieving his charisma he violated his Charedi tradition. He was a hugger. He used to hug his fans tighly. Including women.

There are leniencies that have been used to justify that behavior.  There is a debate about the Halacha forbidding a man from touching any woman other than his wife, mother, or daughter (and according to some opinions – a sister). Chasidim forbid ever touching a woman other than those mentioned under any and all circumstances.

There is however a lenient opinion that allows touching any woman it if it is done in a completely platonic way – SheLo B’Derech Chiba. Modern Orthodox Jews and (as I have been told by a reliable source) the German Jewish community (Yekkes) rely on this lenient view. The Yeshiva world does not generally rely on it except when it may result in a Chilul Hashem.

After 8 Years, Body Was Relocated for Spiritual Reasons with R. Elyashiv’s Blessings

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Senior Jerusalem rabbis permitted a late-night removal of the body of a Haredi rabbi from its grave, on the night between Thursday and Friday last week, because family members, who are Breslov Hasidim, claimed the “spiritual level” of the nearby dead was insufficient, causing what could be considered the desecration of the dead.

Reporter Yair Etinger described in a news blog associated with Haaretz walking over to the now empty grave at the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem, with an official of the Chevra Kadisha, the burial society, on Monday. The official seemed unfazed by the revelation that the body had been dug up after having rested in its former grave for eight years, and replaced by family members or their agents in a plot in Mt. Olives cemetery next to the departed man’s father—who died after his son.

According to Etinger, transferring a body from one grave to another is most unusual halachically, but apparently it received the approval of leading Haredi rabbis, most notably the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who himself passed away only last month.

The departed died of an illness at a relatively young age, and was buried in a plot that he himself had purchased at the Sanhedria cemetery. But according to Menny Gra of the new Haredi phone news service “Kav Ha’Chasifot” (Exposé Line), family members, residents of the Meah She’arim enclave, resented the fact that he was buried next to a woman, as well as others whose level of adherence to the commandments was questionable.

Etinger cited a burial society official who told him: “We have no shortage of meshugoim (crazies).”

Several Haredi rabbis gave their approval to removing the departed to a better location, according to the website BeHadrei Haredim, including Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, a posek living in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, Chief Rabbi (godol av beis din) of Jerusalem for the Edah HaChareidis, and Rabbi Eliezar Berland, dean of the Breslov Yeshiva Shuvu Bonim. But the family members insisted on receiving approval from the highest authority within the Haredi community at the time, Rabbi Elyashiv.

The question was posed to R. Elyashiv (L.) by his student, Rabbi Ben Tzion HaCohen Kook (R.)

The question was posed to R. Elyashiv (L.) by his student, Rabbi Ben Tzion HaCohen Kook (R.)

BeHadrei Haredim reported that the departed rabbi’s family members had arrived at Rabbi Elyashiv’s home five days before the latter was hospitalized at Shaarey Tzedek hospital, asking for his ruling. The question was posed to R. Elyashiv by his student, Rabbi Ben Tzion HaCohen Kook, and R. Elyashiv’s response was that it was a matter of “Honor your father” to execute the relocation.

Before they covered their father’s fresh grave on Mt. Olives, at the end of an operation that had begun around 1:30 in the morning, family members placed a “kvittel” – a note – inside the grave, asking his forgiveness for the suffering he endured as a result of being dug up and buried again in a new cemetery.

Rubin Report: The True Lesson of a Tragedy in Colorado Film Theater

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

http://rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/what-is-true-lesson-of-tragedy-in.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+Rubinreports+(RubinReports)&utm_content=Yahoo!+Mail

I really thought there was nothing to say or write about the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre. The prattling, smug, and often unsubstantiated talk filling the airwaves and print pages really added nothing. But then I realized that there is indeed something important to conclude from this tragic episode. And it’s one of the most important things—perhaps the most important of all—to understand about history, civilization, humanity, and society.

Human frailty.

None of us are perfect. We all have weaknesses and shortcomings. And some have more than others. We see a daily display of jealousy, anger, hatred, ignorance, misunderstanding, clashing goals or interests, and the whole panoply of bad things that humans think, say, and do.

Just read the talk-backs to articles on almost any subjects and you quickly find that kind of bickering, meanness, passions overcoming facts, hidden agenda, and the hundred other things that, as Hamlet says, “The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to.”

This is the world we live and die in. Perhaps we succeed or fail, in our own eyes or that of others. Perhaps we don’t have as many material goods as we would like or as much fame or as much respect or as much power. Frustration is not some accident that crops up; it is woven into the very fabric of life.

And so someone cracks, as happened in Phoenix, Arizona, or in Aurora, Colorado. They might crack more quietly as serial killers do, or publicly as do those who suddenly turn on their fellow humans who are strangers to them. Or the cracking can take place on a world stage, as rabid dictators with howling followers go to commit war, massacre, oppression, and terrorism.

Or it can be on a tiny, human level in the daily acts of rudeness and sins to which we are victim and that we commit even to loved ones.

There is no solution. Certainly, individuals can be helped; problems can at times be diminished. But there is no political ideology or government program or redistribution of wealth that is going to cure humanity’s ills.In today’s secular, even anti-religious, Western society, those who are religious are seen as aggressive, intolerant, and foolish. But there are two things that a decent religious person possesses that others don’t: A belief that there is a divine judge, which may make them curb their behavior; and a desire for self-improvement, to reduce their sins and strive for something higher.

With all the cults, self-help programs,and psychiatrists, how often do others pursue such a path.

Starting in the nineteenth century, humanity seemed on a roll. And indeed great things were accomplished. Medicine eased suffering and extended life; science spread knowledge and improved living standards. So much was done for the good.

Yet in large part the twentieth century contained as much or more hell than the Dark Ages. The understanding that humanity could do a lot better made possible wonderful progress. The hubris that it could be transformed utterly in a utopian manner by the right political philosophy or system made possible horrible suffering.

If we accept humanity’s imperfection there is an important political message contained therein. No ideology, no institution, no panacea can be trusted with power over ourselves. The greatness of real democracy and the wisdom of America’s founders are already being once again transformed by clichés, mouthed even by the politicians who don’t understand these things and are in fact fighting against them.

Yet the point of that system is simply this:

Individual liberty, restricted when necessary but never lightly nor too extensively, is the best guarantee for avoiding the systemic imposition of other people’s frailties on oneself: their desire for power; their belief that they have all the answers; their conviction that you should live and think as they do. Once such sentiments were the stuff of conservatism against which liberalism revolted; today they are the essence of the new radicalism that has — temporarily? — seized the banner of liberalism.

And that brings us back to a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. It was first and foremost the responsibility of this young man to pull his life into order, and then of his family, and then of those around him. To wait for the government authorities to take action promotes a fatal passivity. If he had not had access to guns — though even in the states with the tightest restrictions criminals seem able to obtain them — or if someone else in that theatre had possessed their own, things would have turned out differently in terms of the number of casualties.

Airbrushing The Past Creates Problems In The Present

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

There is an old rabbinic anecdote about a rabbi who was called on to deliver a eulogy for someone who had no redeeming social value whatsoever. The rabbi was hard pressed to think of anything positive to say about this person. So when he spoke he solemnly pronounced: “No matter how evil the deceased truly was, he was still a far better person than was his brother!”

Halacha allows for exaggeration in delivering a eulogy. But when this is liberally and untruthfully applied to Jewish history it becomes a dangerous threat to normative Jewish life. One of the great problems that plague religious Jewish life in our times is that a fantasy world – a completely inaccurate picture of European Jewish life before World War II – has been propagated and hallowed.

Because of this distorted picture of the past, a distorted view of present Jewish society has taken hold. And it is this distorted view that is responsible for much of the current dysfunction in religious Jewish societies the world over.

There have been attempts to somehow correct our hindsight but, in the main, they have failed because of the determined opposition of zealots who perpetuate inaccuracies and constantly create new fantasy stories to buttress their ideologically driven view of past Jewish life.

I am not in favor of exposing all the flaws of European Jewry and I am also willing to accommodate the many exaggerations about the truly positive aspects of that pre-World War II society. But without a balanced and somewhat accurate portrayal of what that society really looked like, it will be difficult for our society to move forward in a positive and constructive fashion.

There was a time when people believed pictures never lied and that one picture was worth a thousand words.That unfortunately is no longer true. Computers, airbrushing and other modern means of altering photographs have made pictures from the past suspect.

There is a famous photograph of the Chofetz Chaim sitting outside of his house talking to his eldest son, Rabbi Aharon Leib Poupko. In the original photograph the wife and daughter of the Chofetz Chaim are standing directly behind him. This picture has been reproduced in a new and completely hagiographic biography of the Chofetz Chaim – except that the women in the picture have disappeared completely from the scene.

This premeditated inaccuracy was mandated by the desire to make the past somehow resemble the imagined world of the guardians of current political correctness in our religious world. Once, many years ago in Monsey, my congregation’s sisterhood sponsored the sale and distribution of a generic vegetarian cookbook of exotic recipes. The cookbook contained an illustration of a young boy who was bareheaded. The ladies spent the entire night covering the boy’s head with a magic marker yarmulke.

I am also reminded of pictures of famous Eastern European rabbis who were forced to take passport or other official photos in a bareheaded pose. Those photos were later retouched (not very artfully at that) to make them conform to present accepted piety. This probably falls between acceptable exaggeration and unacceptable inaccuracy but it is indicative of the spirit of our times.

The inaccuracies and fantasy portrayals of the Jewish past are but one of the many symptoms of what I feel to be the major underlying malaise in much of religious Jewish society. That underlying problem is the insecurity of religious Jewish society in facing the new Jewish world that now exists.

This world is one of modernity gone rampant, of communication that is instant and all-inclusive, of a Jewish state with all of the social, political, theological and religious challenges that such a state entails, and of a completely different economic and professional work environment than existed a century ago.

Frightened by these immense challenges, unaccustomed to being a distinct minority in the Jewish world itself, and having been forced on the defensive by the attacks of the secularists, the traditional Jewish world has been loath to engage these problems. It prefers to repaint and revisit the past instead of facing the present. It is frightened and regressive instead of being confident and optimistic.

This is truly ironic, for today’s Jewish society and its demographics have once again proven, seemingly against all odds, the resilience of Torah and tradition in all sections and climes of the Jewish world. As such our education should be geared toward self-pride and optimism, reality and how to cope in our current world. There should be less emphasis on denigrating others and fearing their ideas and less trepidation of technological advancements.

Excerpt of Letter From Prime Minister Netanyahu to Shaul Mofaz

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Following is an excerpt from the letter that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent to Shaul Mofaz on Tuesday:

“I regret your decision to give up on an opportunity to make an historic change. After 64 years, we were very close to a substantial change in the division of the burden. I gave you a proposal that would have led to the conscription of ultra-orthodox and Arabs from the age of 18. I explained to you that the only way to implement this on the ground is gradually and without tearing Israeli society apart, especially at a time when the State of Israel is facing many significant challenges. I will continue to work toward the responsible solution that Israeli society expects.”

Mordechai Kedar: Tribal Democracy

Friday, July 13th, 2012

At the end of last week, for the first time in its history, free democratic elections were held in Libya for the 200 members of the Transitional Legislative Council; 120 “independent” members, meaning representatives of tribes and cities, and 80 representatives from nationwide political parties. As of this writing, the official results have still not been publicized, but according to the assessment of observers, Islamic forces have won a minority of seats in parliament. It should be mentioned that during the past year a Salafi jihadist stream led by Abd al-Hakim Belhadj appeared in Libya, which was a cause of very great concern to some external observers.

Libya is a desert country, part of the dry, arid Great Sahara Desert. Life in the desert constrains its residents to live within a family framework, the size of which is limited by available sources of livelihood in the desert environment. Near a spring and its vegetation, which provides food and drink for them and their flocks, they would prefer to remain within a larger framework which would enable them to defend the sources of their livelihood. But in this arid environment of scant resources, they practice that which Abraham said to Lot in the Judean Desert “Please part from me” (Genesis 13: 9) and thus they live within smaller frameworks. The smaller the group, the more solidarity, toughness and cruelty is demanded in order to defend itself, its sources of livelihood and the honor of its daughters and wives from outsiders,

In Libya there is another factor which has had the effect of increasing tribal cohesion, and this is the dictatorial control of Qadhaffi. In the context of life under a dictator, in which the tribe also serves as a defense of the individual against the oppression of the regime, the regime must work with the tribe, which defends the individual, in such a way as to arrive at agreements with the tribe and to honor its autonomy, its leaders and its laws and customs. The desert tribe gives its members immunity from the state apparatuses; the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev vis a vis the Israeli government and in Sinai vis a vis the Egyptian government, are a good examples of this.

The conditions of the desert together with the dictatorship of Qadhaffi created a situation where the great majority of the Libyan population was engaged in an ongoing battle against the forces of nature and the cruelty of man. This situation strengthened the tribal frameworks and turned them into fearless and merciless fighting militiamen. The difficulties create toughness, the battle justifies violence and the problems strengthen solidarity. This situation explains why Qadhaffi had to be so cruel in order to impose his rule upon the population, because there must be a match between the level of violence practiced by a society and the violence that a regime must use in order to subdue a society to submit to his authority for an extended period. There are rumors in Libya that the number of kalashnikovs possessed by the populace is twice the number of residents. Even if this rumor is an exaggeration, it is not far from the bitter and violent reality of this state, because people have weapons and will use them whenever a disagreement arises between them, and where a society engages in blood feuds, it is very difficult to put an end to them, and they continue for a long time and cause many casualties.

The Western democratic model is built on a basic rule, which is that everyone – individuals as well as groups – is constrained not to act with violence but to conduct disagreements and conflicts between them in a legitimate way, not by violence. Another rule is the importance of the individual who goes to the poll and votes according to his conscience, not according to the dictates of his family. However the elimination of the tribal framework and its function is an impossible task in the short run, and therefore young democracies must allow traditional, ethnic, tribal, religious and sectarian frameworks to express themselves, within a young democratic system. This forces it to fight for its legitimacy and survival vis a vis long-standing frameworks that are traditional, legitimate, strong, and sometimes violent .

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/dr-mordechai-kedar/mordechai-kedar-tribal-democracy/2012/07/13/

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