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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘World’

Egypt is Boiling

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

During the years of Mubarak’s rule, he had only three true supporters: his wife Suzanne and his sons Gamal and Alaa. All of the other figures that surrounded Mubarak were politicians and sycophants who took advantage of their proximity to the president to extract favors as long as he was able to grant them. The moment that they felt that he was weak, they abandoned him to the fate of dismissal and the defendant’s cage. In contrast, in Mursi’s case there were, and still are, tens of millions of supporters who are ready at a moment’s notice to fight to the end, in order to return him to power. This is the reason for the contrast between the ease with which Mubarak was taken down and the difficulties that the army has been experiencing in its attempts to stabilize the state since Mursi was thrown out of office about three months ago, at the beginning of July of this year (2013).

The most important and sensitive indicator of the current state of political stability is what is happening in the educational system: If the schools open on schedule, students go to school as usual and studies in all of the institutions are conducted normally, it is a sign of a stable state, and a functional government, based on legitimacy and wide public acceptance. When life is disrupted, the first thing to be harmed is the educational system because parents don’t send their children out into the streets in a situation that they consider to be dangerous.

The Egyptian school year was supposed to begin these days. But despite the fact that many of its leaders are behind bars, the Muslim Brotherhood came out with the rhyming slogan: “La Dirasa wala tadris hata yarga al-Rais” – “No school and no instruction until the president’s return”.

The universities are more than just institutions of higher learning, because they also serve as a meeting place, a place to express solidarity and a field of activity for the young guard, the energetic ones of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are quite aware that after they successfully finish their academic studies, there will be several years of searching for work in their field, and many frustrations and disappointments stemming from the widespread protectionism that exists within the Egyptian job market, and certainly within the governmental job market.

Today, when the average age of marriage has risen to over thirty years of age because of economic difficulties, the young men and women channel their energies, their frustrations and their aggression into the political arena, in the absence of any other legitimate channel in a conservative society such as Egypt’s.  Because of their age and family status, the pupils and students do not yet need to submit to the need for bribery and flattery that family heads have to, in order to maintain their livelihood, and this allows them to say, and even to shout, truth to power and its henchmen.

In high schools, colleges and universities throughout Egypt, and especially those in indigent and traditional areas, there are many demonstrations these days. Although these demonstrations are mostly peaceful in character, they express the emotions of the masses, who are enraged that the revolution has led to the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the youths are armed, mainly with knives and handguns, and there is high potential for violence to break out.

In parallel with the teachers’ strike there have been attempts to organize commercial strikes, but these attempts have failed because many of the unemployed in Egypt are street vendors who are not unionized, so it is difficult to get them to cooperate, since their income will suffer.

As of this writing, the UN Economic Council in New York is currently conducting activities, where Egypt is represented by Nabil Fahmi, the army-appointed Foreign Minister in the current military government. This is another reason for ferment among the supporters of the deposed president, Mursi, and they have been organizing protest demonstrations in front of UN representatives in Egypt. These demonstrations, should they become habitual, might bring about a violent response from the army, similar to the violent evacuation of Rabia al-Adawiya Square last month (August, 2013), which cost the lives of dozens of people.

The Almighty’s Supreme Call to Man

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:

Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1), “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.

Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?

Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood, and the builders of the Tower of Babel?

The 50 chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?

He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?

What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, and guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will – and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

Jewish ethics is not confined to law. It includes virtues of character, general principles and role models. It is conveyed not only by commandments but also by narratives, telling us how particular individuals responded to specific situations.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on these questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”

Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on the Dignity of Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:

 

We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.

 

Homo sapiens, that unique synthesis of “dust of the earth” and breath of G-d, is unique among created beings in having no fixed essence – in being free to be what he or she chooses. Mirandola’s Oration was a break with the two dominant traditions of the Middle Ages: the Christian doctrine that human beings are irretrievably corrupt, tainted by original sin, and the Platonic idea that humanity is bounded by fixed forms.

It is also a strikingly Jewish account – almost identical with the one given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in Halakhic Man: “The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world.” It is therefore with a frisson of recognition that we discover that Mirandola had a Jewish teacher, Rabbi Elijah ben Moses Delmedigo (1460-1497).

Born in Crete, Delmedigo was a Talmudic prodigy, appointed at a young age to be head of the yeshiva in Padua. At the same time he studied philosophy, in particular the work of Aristotle, Maimonides and Averroes. At 23, he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. It was through this that he came to know Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who became both his student and his patron. Eventually, however, Delmedigo’s philosophical writings – especially his work Bechinat ha-Dat – became controversial. Other rabbis accused him of heresy. He had to leave Italy and return to Crete. He was much admired by Jews and Christians alike and, when he died young, many Christians as well as Jews attended his funeral.

This emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is one of the most distinctive features of Jewish thought. It is proclaimed in the first chapter of Genesis in the most subtle way. We are all familiar with its statement that G-d created man “in His image, after His likeness.” Seldom do we pause to reflect on the paradox. If there is one thing emphasized time and again in the Torah, it is that G-d has no image. “I will be what I will be,” He says to Moses when he asks Him His name.

Since G-d transcends nature – the fundamental point of Genesis 1 – then He is free, unbounded by nature’s laws. By creating human beings in His image, He gave us a similar freedom, thus creating the one being capable itself of being creative. The unprecedented account of G-d in the Torah’s opening chapter leads to an equally unprecedented view of the human person and our capacity for self-transformation.

The Renaissance, one of the high points of European civilization, eventually collapsed. A series of corrupt rulers and popes led to the Reformation, and to the quite different views of Luther and Calvin. It is fascinating to speculate what might have happened had it continued along the lines signalled by Mirandola. His late 15th century humanism was not secular but deeply religious.

As it is, the great truth of Genesis 1 remains. As the rabbis put it (Bereishit Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.” The Torah remains G-d’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand and, on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming G-d’s partner in the work of creation.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

A September Evening

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

For a while, the eyes still seemed to see them there, perfect straight lines rising into the sky, an empty space on the horizon that your mind filled in without even thinking. You walked past, and thought, “Of course they’re there. They’re always there” and you saw them as they were, grey ghosts of steel rising above the rubble. You saw the city as it was and then you remembered that city is gone.

New York, the old grimy bustling city, has made way for two cities. The Bloombergian city of the yuppie toting a bag of organic groceries to her Citibike and the miniature Detroits of housing projects and endless grievances.

The old imaginary city still exists in the countless movies being filmed on every block where space aliens, monsters and superheroes regularly rampage past stereotypical cabbies with Brooklyn accents, but that city is fading away.

The tourists flock to see the shadow of that city which lingers on like the shadow of the towers.

On September 11, Ground Zero was New York. Today you can see Mexican and African vendors peddling commemorative patriotic knickknacks made in China and on a bad day the Truthers show up howling their contempt for the site. Tourists stop by and pose for snapshots with their families. Office workers walk by without thinking. The site, like the towers, is just something that’s there.

Tonight and the night before as the towers of light cast blue beams across the sky, we remember but memory is a destructive medium. Each year the memories grow fainter. People ask each other where they were that day but the stories grow fainter each year and the memories of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, stumbling through the ash or handing out sandwiches to rescue workers have dimmed.

To walk through the darkness toward the towers of light is to pass through a city of shadows. In a stray glimmer of light reflecting from a storefront or a puddle you can still see the old MISSING posters covering every face and dark trucks filled with grim men tearing apart the street asphalt. You can catch glimpses of a city reeling from the incomprehensible.

New York City is used to tragedy. Terrible things happen here all the time. The oldest photos of the city show the same stunned faces, legs lying in a puddle of blood, gawking children and stern cops frowning at something we cannot see. And relentlessly the blood is washed away, the tears are dried and the city moves on. September 11 left behind more blood, more legs and more frowning police… but the ashes have still been dumped in a landfill, the tears dried and the city moved on.

September 11 has become a tragedy and tragedy is an experience, not an explanation. It is a bonding experience that gives way to catharsis. The dead are mourned, the grief is expelled and the horror of it takes on the faint tinge of memory. It is no longer what is, but what was. It is not how we live now, but how we lived then. There is no longer a need for answers and that for many is also a relief.

“It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story,” Agatha Christie said.

Most people who live here have given up on solving the city’s detective stories. The weathered New Yorker is expected to meet the  inexplicable with a shrug of the shoulders. Everything is strange, but the strangeness is the point. Everyone is living in a postmodern detective story with no solutions and no need for them.

In Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot arrives at the solution by realizing that only in America could such an unlikely collection of characters have met. By America, he means New York, and the city is still the ideal place to find unlikely collisions of characters.

There is still a murder to be solved  and the suspects come and go in the streets below. The crime did not end with the murder of 3,000 people and the destruction of two towers. New schemes of mass murder are hatched every day across one river or the other. Maps are studied, charts are drawn up and the tools of the trade are gathered up by men who during the day sell papers or drive food trucks.

The murderers are still on the loose and what happened that terrible day was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of attacks taking place in a clash of civilizations. New York, the crossroads of civilizations, is a natural target for the attacks. New York is to the world what Mecca was to Arabia and the new Mohammeds are eager to do to it what Mohammed did to Mecca.

Bin Laden is dead, but the Muslim Oilsphere is full of other wealthy sons warring against the West. His backers are alive and the drone attacks that kill Al Qaeda leaders don’t touch their money men in the Oilsphere. The clerics who teach young Muslim men about the glories of martyrdom can rest easy. They can even open up a mosque at Ground Zero.

This conflict of ideologies and collision of cultures is nothing less than the perpetuation of the great Islamic crusade against the Other. And where better to wage that war than in the places where others meet others every day? What better target than a World Trade Center for a violent ideology built on merchants turned robbers and robbers turned merchants?

In a city where everyone is different, it can be difficult for some to understand that the attackers were motivated by those differences. Their war against us is an attack on people who are fundamentally and incomprehensibly different than they are.

Islam is xenophobia written into unholy writ, a long chain of conquest, subjugation and cultural destruction by desert nomads who know how to drive a sharp bargain, but despite their claims of golden ages and scientific discoveries, have never been anything more than the jackals sniffing around the ruins of greater civilizations.

It is as natural for them to attack us as it is for us to wonder why we were attacked.

Americans hold the peculiar belief that life need not be a zero sum game. That we can learn from other people without turning them into our subjects. That we can make more of something instead of stealing from a finite amount that someone else has and then destroying them so that they can never get it back.

That is the great creative power of American Exceptionalism. It is a transcendent force that turned a land full of refugees into a world power brimming with technological wonders.

New York, that strange part-Dutch, part-English, part-Everything-else city, runs on the creativity of the impossible. Starving artists, aspiring actors, failed musicians, flailing poets, real estate mavens without a dime and brokers trading thin air gamble on the impossible. New York always seems on the verge of total anarchy and destruction and yet keeps going on in that strange half-mad creativity.

For Islam, the game is zero sum. If American civilization thrives, then their civilization is shadowed. If people are happy here, then they cannot be happy. If there are two towers in New York, that detracts from the glory of Islamic civilization. Islam is the bitter beggar forever looking to steal what it cannot have, worrying over the imaginary history of its own greatness and cursing the upstarts in the streets of a foreign city for taking the glory was rightfully theirs.

The American who shares his good fortune with the rest of the world cannot understand that there are some people who would rather steal than accept a gift, who would rather destroy than build and who would rather drown the world in darkness than accept someone else’s light.

With some difficulty he might accept the existence of a small number of people who think this way, but an entire civilization built in this mold is too obscene an idea.

As with so many other strange things that wash up in the concrete streets of a strange city, it is easier to leave the mystery unsolved, to let the blanket fall back over the clash of civilizations and go on forward. It is the way that things have always been done in the city and as twin rays of light bisect the sky, they remind New Yorkers of their own fortitude, and not of the enemy waiting outside the light.

Outside a shadow war is waged with drones and hackers, spies and journalists, men in mosques speak quietly of terror and other men listen over the phone. There is little truth in this shadow war, but in some moments the light pierces the darkness and those who have forgotten why we are doing this, remember. And then they remember to forget.

Prerequisites for Muslim-Jewish Reconciliation

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

I appreciate the fact that this Jewish publication was willing to publish my article. I’m not sure how easy it would be for a Jewish pundit to get his or her work published in a Turkish, Egyptian or Iranian magazine. I believe it’s high time someone gave it a try.

History buffs among us know all too well that the best time for Jews over the past two millennia—ever since they were overcome by the force of the Roman empire following two bloody rebellions—was under the rule of the Arab caliphates, both in Spain and in North Africa. So much so, that Jewish sources refer to that time as “The golden age.”

The various Muslim caliphates, which began ruling a very large chunk of the known world in the 7th and 8th centuries, were driven by a single, fundamental, religious mission: to spread Islam. But their agenda for the pagans populating Asia, Africa and Europe was different from their agenda for the “peoples of the book,” followers of Christianity and Judaism. While, most often, the heathens were given no choice about conversion: you became Muslim or you died – Christians and Jews who refused to convert to Islam only had to endure a kind of second class citizenship, with different features in different locales.

It would be helpful to recall that while Jews in Muslim territories at the time were forced to wear articles of clothing that set them apart, and were forbidden to ride horses or use the main public sidewalks—a few miles up north, in Christian Europe, they were being raped, pillaged and burned alive on a steady basis. And while in Christian Europe Jews were blocked from most of the professions, under the caliphates their economic options were much more exciting, hence the term “golden age.”

While Jewish culture in Christian Europe centered almost strictly around the houses of study, with little evidence of a robust culture, in Spain and North Africa the Jews wrote songs and books of philosophy, and excelled as military generals and court politicians—in addition to their flourishing business as traders and bankers.

It is true that Islam had its low point even during that golden age, and every once in a while the mainstream in various provinces—for a variety of geopolitical and social reasons—would take on an ominous spirit of fanaticism and start harassing the “peoples of the books” with fanatical impatience and zeal, threatening their lives unless they converted. But even those waves of fanaticism are dwarfed by the pogroms and expulsions that marked the lives of Jews under Christian rule.

Indeed, the demise of the thriving Jewish culture in Spain came not under Muslim rule, but only after the Christian invasion of the late 1300s, which ended with the expelling of all the Jews of Spain and Portugal in 1492.

What followed was particularly grim for Islam. Just as the original Muslim invasion of the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe was enabled by the decline of the Roman Empire, so did was decline of the Caliphate an invitation to a new force, the great Ottoman Empire, to quickly overtake those same areas, and to push far north into Central Europe, only to be blocked, finally, at the gates of Vienna.

But something went wrong in Muslim history at that point. Historians will continue to argue over the precise reasons – the reality is that sometime around the Renaissance period, while Christian Europe began to emerge from its barbarism, to usher in an age of discoveries, inventions and the rise of the human spirit—at a high cost to many indigenous peoples on several continents—Islam began its sad and disheartening decline that set aside Muslims in general and Arabs in particular as the second class citizens of a developing world. Instead of setting the tone in science and scholarship, as it used to do in the middle ages, Islam was relegated to the position of a spectator in a game it could not hope to win.

We have a big problem with cognitive dissonance in most Arab countries, which are trying to be simultaneously Muslim and modern. By “modern” I mean doing all the things a normal Western society takes for granted: publishing books, making movies, starting businesses, dining in restaurants, driving cars, writing laws to serve the community, delivering state services. Every single one of these aspects of your life which you take for granted represent a potential clash with Islam.

The Morsi, Syria, Lebanon etc. Lesson for Israel

Monday, August 26th, 2013

I should hope that this principle is taught in “Introduction to Political Science/International Relations” courses, the required prerequisite for anyone interested in learning how governments and history really work.

International treaties require stable governments or they are useless.

Maybe I’m naïve.  I must admit that I have no formal academic training in Political Science or International Relations.  I’ve just been following the news, international of course, for over half a century.  Yes, I’m old.  I’ve seen countries and super-powers come and go.  I remember the irony of Mao, when his Communist Red China population was forced to wear one type of jacket as he mocked the United States as a “paper tiger.”  Today the Chinese have a stronger and more materialist economy than the USA, and their Communism is long gone.

I remember American government leaders quaking at the thought of an attack from the USSR, which today doesn’t exist.  But the Americans, who claim to be the strongest and most powerful country in the world, still fear Castro’s poverty-ridden Cuba.

To be honest, I don’t have too much respect for the “experts.”  How many predicted the events I lived through?  I prefer my common sense.

According to Jewish Law, an insane person can’t sign an important contract. Potential aka wannabe converts who are mentally unstable can’t be converted to Judaism. One has to be fully rational to make such a life-changing decision. If a woman is married to a man with serious psychiatric problems, his ability to give her a get for divorce can be affected.

Considering the instability, anarchy in the Arab world, how can the Israeli Government even think of signing any sort of “peace treaty” with anybody?  And certainly the so-called Palestinians sic have no reliable track record to attempt an “enemy country in a country” which has never been peaceful/successful.  Have you ever heard of West Berlin?

Israel is the one economically successful, democratic, stable country in the Middle East.

Lots of Arabs are also being killed in Lebanon Saudi, Gulf throw weight behind Egypt after Morsi ousted Too late for Obama to act on Syria Report: U.S. to Warn Israel in Advance of Syria Attack, Security Officials Say Assad Unlikely to Retaliate Against Israel  (Has the USA ever predicted these things correctly?) Russia to U.S.: Don’t Repeat Your Past Mistakes in Syria Here’s How Kerry, Hillary and Obama Let Assad Get Away with Murder Iran Draws ‘Red Line’ against US Intervention in Syria

Why risk everything for an experiment AKA “Peace Treaty” sic that will inevitably result in war, death and destruction?

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Israel Corners Itself

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

I’ve been reading Harvard University literature professor Ruth Wisse’s new book, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. In her chapter on Israeli humor, Professor Wisse discusses the comedy trio HaGashash HaChiver (The Pale Trackers) and writes about a 1981 post-election skit of theirs:

“The three then launch into a musical number that interprets avodah, the national ethic of labor, as ovdim aleynu, ‘They’re Working Us Over,’ in which each stanza spoofs the promises made by politicians when running for office…The song’s refrain [was], ‘They’re working us over…and we never learn…”

That refrain remains valid in both claims.

In response to a recent blog about the 104 terrorist releases, a Bayit Yehudi voter from Efrat comments, “It helps show the world the corner they’ve painted us into with this prisoner release. It shows the world their shame.”

This is not the language of vigorous, sovereign citizenship—what Israel’s national anthem calls an am chofshi b’artzenu (free people in our land). This is the language of evasion, feebleness, and dependency, confirming those who describe Israel as an American protectorate.

Addressing similar claims by Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, an excellent blogger from Jerusalem remarks:

“The last time I checked, [U.S. Secretary of State] Kerry does not work for Israel and does not represent us. Shaked’s party leader, Naftali Bennett, her Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Shaked herself do represent us. If Israel is making admittedly stupid moves like releasing terrorist murderers—especially when we get nothing in return—maybe we need to be looking at our own leadership and not at the Americans.”

Compare these essentially “America made us do it” claims with the recent observance of Tisha B’Av and associated lamentations about European Jews during the First Crusade in the 11th century. Those ancestors had neither an army nor a state as they faced demonic hordes seeking to destroy Judaism.

Yet despite such physically superior aggressors, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l noted about the many Jews who chose death rather than apostasy, regarding the lamentation Hacharishu Mimeni Va’adabera (“Be quiet, allow me to speak…”): “The enemies had a simple demand: all the Jew had to do was kiss the cross. The Jews could have saved their lives, but they would not agree to become apostates.”

Now consider the State of Israel in 2013, which has one of the strongest militaries in world history and a Yom Ha’atzmaut. How perverse is the claim that this superpower releases murderers of its citizens due to being “painted into a corner”?

The painted into a corner mentality always means rationalizing and mitigating injustice, the terrorist releases being the latest catastrophic example. Before that, it was blame Obama and the EU when the government froze construction in Yehuda and Shomron.

Or blame John Kerry and Catherine Ashton when Hamas attacks cities like Sderot with what amounts to impunity.

Or blame their predecessors when Israeli soldiers expelled 8,600 Jews from Gush Katif.

Do anything except reflect upon one’s own society and the regime it has produced. As Rabbi Yehuda Balsam commented this month in a related context, “If you’re not so happy with your leadership, perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a look in the mirror.” (See 5:00 here.)

The awful truth is that Israel corners itself and shames itself. The awful truth is that Israel invites foreign contempt because it shows contempt for itself.

“When you have no self-respect, you cannot expect anybody else will respect you,” Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo has noted. Specific to the religious Zionist sector—of which Bayit Yehudi is the latest political incarnation—Rabbi Bar-Hayim observes:

“One of their characteristics is a tremendous naiveté regarding the authorities, the powers that be. They’re always trying to read into their actions more positive motivations than truly exist. They’re always willing to overlook evils done by these people.” (See 34:50 here.)

To paraphrase the The Pale Trackers in 1981: Some people get worked over, and they never learn.

Obama’s Foreign Fiasco

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

It’s a privilege to be an American who works on foreign policy, as I have done since the late 1970s, participating in a small way in the grand project of finding my country’s place in the world. But now, under Barack Obama, decisions made in Washington have dramatically shrunk in importance. It’s unsettling and dismaying. And no longer a privilege.

Whether during the structured Cold War or the chaotic two decades that followed, America’s economic size, technological edge, military prowess, and basic decency meant that even in its inactivity, the U.S. government counted as much or more in world developments than any other state. Sniffles in Washington translated into influenza elsewhere.

Weak and largely indifferent presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton mattered despite themselves, for example in the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 or the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1990s. Strong and active presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had greater impact yet, speeding up the Soviet collapse or invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

But now, with Barack Obama, the United States has slid into shocking irrelevance in the Middle East, the world’s most turbulent region. Inconstancy, incompetence, and inaction have rendered the Obama administration impotent. In the foreign policy arena, Obama acts as though he would rather be the prime minister of Belgium, a small country that usually copies the decisions of its larger neighbors when casting votes at the United Nations or preening morally about distant troubles. Belgians naturally “lead from behind,” to use the famed phrase emanating from Obama’s White House.

Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Qatar (with a national population of 225,000) has an arguably greater impact on current events than the 1,400-times-larger United States (population: 314 million). Note how Obama these days takes a back seat to the emirs of Doha: They take the lead supplying arms to the Libyan rebels, he follows. They actively help the rebels in Syria, he dithers. They provide billions to the new leadership in Egypt, he stumbles over himself. They unreservedly back Hamas in Gaza, he pursues delusions of an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Toward this end, the U.S. secretary of state made six trips in four months to Israel and the Palestinian territories in pursuit of a diplomatic initiative that almost no one believes will end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary of defense called Egyptian leader Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi 17 times in conversations lasting 60-90 minutes, yet failed in his pleas that Sisi desist from using force against the Muslim Brotherhood. More striking yet, Sisi apparently refused to take a phone call from Obama. The $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt suddenly looks paltry in comparison to the $12 billion from three Persian Gulf countries, with promises to make up for any Western cuts in aid. Both sides in Egypt’s deep political divide accuse Obama of favoring the other and execrate his name. As dozens of Coptic churches burned, he played six rounds of golf. Ironically, Egypt is where, four long years ago, Obama delivered a major speech repudiating George W. Bush policies with seeming triumph.

Obama’s ambitions lie elsewhere – in augmenting the role of government within the United States, as epitomized by Obamacare. Accordingly, he treats foreign policy as an afterthought, an unwelcome burden, and something to dispatch before returning to juicier matters. He oversees withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan with little concern for what follows. His unique foreign policy accomplishment, trumpeted ad nauseam, was the execution of Osama bin Laden.

So far, the price to American interests for Obama’s ineptitude has not been high. But that could change quickly. Most worrisome, Iran could soon achieve nuclear breakout and start to throw its newfound weight around, if not to deploy its brand-new weapons. The new regime in Egypt could revert to its earlier anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism; already, important elements in Egypt are calling for rejection of U.S. aid and termination of the peace treaty with Israel.

As an American who sees his country as a force for good, these developments are painful and scary. The world needs an active, thoughtful, and assertive United States. The historian Walter A. McDougall rightly states that “The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years” and its civilization “perturbs the trajectories of all other civilizations just by existing.” Well not so much perturbation these days; may the dismal present be brief in duration.

The Internet, Halacha, and Olam HaBah

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It’s simply not possible. I don’t believe it. Nonetheless it is being reported as fact. Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel, has linked to the Hebrew language website B’Chadrei Charedim that quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s response to a question about smart-phones.

There is a Gemarah in Brachos that tells us that a man will lose his portion in Olam HaBah if he walks regularly behind a woman down a river. Rav Kanievsky was asked if this applies to someone who has in his possession an I-phone or the internet. His one word answer according to Chadrei was ‘ B’Vadai’ – absolutely! Anyone who uses an I-phone or the internet is in a category of losing his Olam HaBah – his heavenly reward in the world to come!

If this is true, then yet again, I think we all ought to all just go over to MacDonald’s and have a cheeseburger… or violate any other Miztvah in the Torah we want to violate. Why bother observing Halacha if you’ve lost your Olam Habah?

I happen to know Gedolei Torah and Roshei Yeshiva  who use I-phones and the internet. Are they all doomed?

Once again we have what appears to be a huge dis-connect between what a great Torah sage supposedly said – and reality. Either Rav Kanievsky does not know the extent of internet use among a great number of devoutly observant Jews, or this is a gross distortion or mischaracterization of his views. I think that both things are true. I don’t believe he said it and meant it to be interpreted as simply as that one word answer indicates.

I would not be surprised if this is yet another instance of Kanoim – religious zealots twisting the views of a elderly rabbinic leader to fit their agenda. I’m sure his position is far more nuanced than the one word answer (B’Vadai) he supposedly gave to a simple question.

The Agenda is obvious. There are people who are eager to destroy other Jews in a fit of self righteousness. They do not have these devices and do not want anyone else to have them either. So they make sure to twist the words of Gedolei Yisroel to assure it.

They may think they are doing the right thing. But they are by far doing far much more harm than good. They may in fact be responsible for pushing more religious Jews out of observance than saving them from using the internet.

By putting people who have smart-phones into a category of losing their Olam Habah, it is not too difficult to see many frustrated Frum people who have so often been put upon with comments like this say, ‘the heck with it!’ I may as well live a life of ease and not worry about violating Halacha. I won’t make to Olam HaBah anyway.

The Gemarah upon which this one word response attributed to Rav Kanievsky was based upon does not forbid the incidental following of a woman down a river. The loss of Olam Habah  that the Gemarah speaks of is only to those who purposely do so with lascivious thoughts and the intent to sin in that regard. And even then only if it is done on a regular basis.

I would add that even if someone regularly does things like that and has some sort of sexual addiction, he can get help… and do Teshuva. I find it very difficult to believe that the Gemarah’s intent is that someone loses his Olam HaBah permanently if he does that. It is also known that the Gemarah sometimes exaggerates to make a point. Which may be the case here.

If there is any comparison to be made between following a woman down a river and the world of the 21st century and the internet – it is in the area of purposely viewing pornography on it. The problem is not the internet. It is the websites one frequents… if those websites are pornographic. That is the comparison that Rav Kanievsky no doubt meant – if he said anything at all.  Accidentally accessing a pornographic website is not a cause for losing one’s Olam Habah.

But the Kanoim who publish stories like this do not want to be confused with the nuances of truth. They want convey the message that I-phones and any other device that can access the internet is so evil that one should not even touch it! For if they do, their Olam HaBah is at stake.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/the-internet-halacha-and-olam-habah/2013/08/20/

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