Sunday, February 28, 2010

From my Grandfather

When my grandfather was a little boy in Kishinev, before the war, the kids played with domesticated turkeys around the holiday of Purim, which falls in the Jewish month of Adar.

"Indyk, indyk wenn ist Pirem?"

Hag Sameach Purim!

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Wolf! Wolf! Why don't you help the Jew?"

There is so much I'd like to say, in preface, all of it inadequate. This is one of my favorite JEM voice/photo compilation videos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, for reasons that should become obvious to some of you. I know I've inherited an eclectic mix of visitors from Yaakov's mention of this blog - Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, secular, religious, agnostic. If this video does not connect with you on a personal level, think of it as a small glimpse into the rich, soulful, deeply personal world of Chabad Chassidic Jewry.

If you have any questions about the video, the Rebbe, Chabad or my relationship with Chabad, feel free to ask. Chabad has been an immensely successful Jewish Chassidic movement that has brought literally millions of Jews back to Yiddishkeit (Jewish life), including my own family. However, it is also not without its detractors, some of them prominent, some in my own family, and many issuing criticism rooted more in a lack of information, understanding or inter-communal politics than substance. Though I greatly admire the movement and hold the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the highest regard as a true tzadik (righteous person), leader and teacher, I'm not a Chabad "ra ra" boy scout, so I'll do my best to answer your questions in the most objective way possible.

Jewish Heritage Sites

Following Jeffery Goldberg's discussion of UNESCO's statement on preservation of Palestinian "cultural heritage sites", I thought I would point out something which should be obvious: Jewish "cultural heritage sites" have received no protection, much less preservation from UNESCO, or the relevant Palestinian authorities, for that matter. Palestinians dig anywhere they please, ripping up the Temple Mount with excavators to install electricity cables while the Israeli Antiquities Authority looks on in horror at overturned mounds of artifacts and pleads for them to stop.
Take Joseph's Tomb (Kever Yosef) as an example, the burial site of the Jewish patriarch. Despite traditional Arab respect for the tomb, in recent times, Kever Yosef has been savagely defiled by Palestinians. Spitting at three thousand years of tradition by all Middle Eastern peoples, in a political quest to erase Jewish connection to the Land, the Palestinians invented a new history, claiming that a Muslim sheikh is burried at the tomb. They then shattered the grave with hammers, broke a hole in the tomb's protective cover, cut down the tree at the entrance, defecated in and on the structure, burned tires to scorch the walls and murdered several lone Jewish pilgrims to the site. Lest you think this is ancient history, the latest attack, another burning of tires, was in 2008. Rachel's Tomb itself became a warzone during the Second Intifada, when regular PA and Fatah police forces riddled the compound with bullets.

This is publicly available information. Imagine Jews urinating on the Kaaba and beating it with hammers! Has UNESCO ever issued a condemnation of Palestinian violations of Jewish cultural heritage sites? Must a people burn down embassies to be taken seriously in this world?

Jefferey claims there is an unspoken rule that Jews have access to these sites, but that has not been the case since the Second Intifada. The IDF itself denies Jews access to many of these sites, and as for others, such as Kever Yosef, monthly armored convoys have to be arranged and executed in the middle of the night to avoid Palestinian violence.

Traditional Palestinian respect for the land and its treasures, once real and profound, has been supplanted with fanatical nationalism and Islamist radicalism that rejects the notion of Jewish peoplehood itself, and seeks to eradicate Jewish history with total disregard, indeed contempt (!) for the sacred.

Today, there is simply no indication that the Palestinians have any intention of honoring Jewish access to religious sites in a future Palestinian state; nor, does it seem, will anyone hold them to whatever empty promises they now make.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fifteen Minutes

Over the last few days, I attended a good friend's wedding in Denver, Colorado. Congratulations to the choson and kallah (groom and bride), that they should know only joy, and may their home be filled words of Torah and Chassidus, and children, at the right time.

A friend dropped me off at the Denver airport around 6am, for an 8am flight back to Milwaukee. Having cleared security, I found my way to the as yet empty terminal and turned to a Jew's morning obligations - t'filah (prayer) and teffillin.

Tefillin are specially hollowed out leather boxes, which contain scrolls of parchment on which are written several important passages from the Torah. The boxes are then connected to the arm and forehead through a proper arrangement of leather straps - thus unifying our heart, mind and actions in the service of G-d. Morning prayers are usually conducted while wearing tefillin. In ancient times, tefillin were sometimes worn throughout the day - at times, even into battle.

Unlike many commandments with a practical, rational purpose, such us ensuring social stability through basic expectations of civil behavior - don't kill, don't cheat in business, pay damages if you cause someone injury, etc. - wrapping tefillin defies the limited boundaries of reason and human intellect. Jewish mysticism explains precisely what wrapping tefillin accomplishes, healing rifts between the physical and spiritual, but these are intangibles that leave our rational selves asking, "why should we do so?" Most fundamentally, we wrap tefillin because a G-d that brought us out of slavery in Egypt "with a strong hand and an outstretched arm" and with miracles told us to.

So, it's been a while since I put on teffillin in an airport - seven or eight months to be imprecise - and in that time, there was an incident of a US Airways flight being diverted as a result of a Jewish teenager wrapping tefilling on the plane. Naturally, strapping black cords around your arms and head on a passenger jet flying 20,000 feet above the earth tends to draw a certain response, though it appears most of the passengers were unperturbed, and it was a vigilant flight attendant that informed the pilot, who brought the plane down out of an excess of caution.

It's the kind of story I follow closely, having myself experienced a guns-drawn takedown by overeager sheriff's deputies behind a Cracker Barrel restaurant at some middle-of-nowhere rest stop in Maryland, while driving back home to Milwaukee a couple of years back. More on that some other time.

So, here I am again, whipping out my tefillin (they're in the black velvet bag, above) in a highly secured area, in open defiance of history itself, almost taunting the pregnant mother of two boisterous little rugrats that parked herself in the isle across from mine to flag down the nearest security officer and...
Attention: If you notice unattended luggage or suspicious persons, please report this to the nearest airport security officer immediately.
Thank you, airport speaker system. I didn't feel uncomfortable enough, but now I'm almost there. There's nothing left to do, at this point, but keep praying, quickly, and hope you don't get shot. Focus.

The tension elevates my heart rate and body temperature. Oh, please no, don't sweat now! The last thing I need is a security guard to see is a sweaty bearded guy with a black strap wrapped around one arm leading to his hand, swaying and flapping around a book with the other. Maybe I can do with less swaying. Where was I? Oh yes. Focus.

On a good day, without a minyan (an assembly of ten men, which requires extra communal blessings) I can complete my morning prayers within half an hour. Of that half hour, around fifteen minutes are devoted to especially important prayers, the heart of the morning service, which cannot be interrupted under penalty of death - the Shema and Amidah. That's fifteen minutes of pure terror at the thought of someone walking up and asking you to explain what it is you're doing, which you can't do. Meanwhile, what don't you understand about "especially important prayers"? Shut up and focus!

I finished my prayers without interruption. The pregnant lady with children seemed undisturbed at what transpired. She didn't seem Jewish; one can usually tell such things, though not always. What was she thinking, watching me pray? If she was at all concerned, I couldn't detect it. Would I be so calm were the situation reversed, having to balance the lives of my children with my ignorance as the loudspeaker pleaded vigilance? It just so happens I really like children, and ended up playing with hers, later. Still, thank G-d that Americans are an incredibly tolerant people.

Israel's Assisted Suicide Watch

Why is a country on the verge of demise, as indicated by the "assisted suicide watch", reaching maximum capacity at its sole International Airport? Sensing inevitable doom, are its embattled citizens flocking to safer pastures?

Not exactly.
Sixteen million is the magic number. That’s the number everybody is working toward and that’s the number many fear. When 16,000,000 passengers fly into Israel in a year, Ben-Gurion International Airport will have reached its full capacity. While it is estimated that it will take at least five years for the benchmark to be reached, the battle over where to build a new international airport is already in the works.
Four options are being considered as to where to develop this new airport - two cities in the southern desert, one location in the north of the country, and even a man made island off the Mediterranean coast made the list.

Israel is not perfect, but Israel is real and Israel is thriving, "assisted suicide watch" ("assisted suicide"=murder?) notwithstanding.

Praying at Jewish Gravesites

I'm beginning to think Andrew deliberately stokes controversy with regards to his position on Israel, if only to increase traffic to his site. Interesting strategy for maintaining readership, at a time of declining liberal online output.

In any case, in his now routine, blind, deaf and dumb anti-Bibi rampage, he's published an uninformed comment by a reader on the value of praying at the burial sites of righteous Jews, known in Hebrew as tzadikim. For the second time in a day, I felt I had to respond.

In response to your reader on the value of Jewish burial sites...

Praying at gravesites of righteous Jews, tzadikim, is at the core of Judaism as a time honored tradition that stretches into Biblical antiquity. The very reason that Rachel was buried on the road, and not at the Cave of Mahpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron, is precisely so that she could weep over and comfort the exiles of Israel, as they passed by and prayed at her tomb. This isn't a matter of "enshrining", as your reader suggests, or of worshiping the deceased themselves, G-d forbid. Tombs of righteous Jews exist and draw the praying throughout Israel, Europe, the United States, even Iraq. Simply put, it is a Jewish tradition that the souls of deceased retain a spiritual connection to the physical site of their internment, making it a sanctified place appropriate for connecting with the divine. This is especially so for the souls of tzadikim, whose righteousness and merit we believe will allow our own prayers to ascend in a more direct way. You may find much more information on the subject here.
Then, of course, I felt I had to poke a hole or two in his indignation at Netanyahu's insistence on buttressing Israel's ownership and sovereignty over Jewish religious sites.

With respect to Netanyahu's announcement, I find it strange that no one has focused on the actual legal status of many of these historical religious sites, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords, the Interim Agreements (also known as Oslo 2 or Taba), the Wye River Memorandum, etc. You may be surprised to learn that Israel legally retains sovereignty in many of these sites - such as Rachel's Tomb, Joseph's Tomb, a portion of the Cave of the Patriarchs (the rest being administered by a Muslim waqf), etc. Was Netanyahu's announcement made to scuttle American efforts to bring the two sides together? Perhaps. Is Netanyahu acting within the framework of legal agreements to which all parties have consented? Possibly. Has Netanyahu calculated correctly that most Israeli and American Jews consider preserving Jewish heritage sites inviolable, especially at a time of growing Islamist and Western revisionism of Jewish history? Absolutely.

By fighting Netanyahu on a battlefield he purposefully chose, thereby alienating your many Jewish readers, you are playing right into his hands.

If I'm defending Netanyahu, then, indeed, he has. Of course, Andrew doesn't care about Netanyahu preserving Jewish religious sites, any more than he supports Palestinian nationalism. What's that? You heard me. If Sullivan cared about a Palestinian state, he would blog about a Palestinian state, or Palestinian affairs, and he doesn't. What so disturbs Sullivan, what has so transformed his perspective is the realization that Jerusalem will not submit to Obama's gracious tutelage and learn its pithy little place in big O's grand plan to remake the American Empire. If the Emperor demands you jump off a ten story building, then by golly you gnaw your left hand off if you have to, but you obey.


Andrew Sullivan tells us why he hates Israel:
I'm not a fool. Netanyahu is out to destroy Obama's outreach to the Muslim world. In that battle, I stand with Obama and have every reason to be frustrated with the direction Israel is taking. No more excuses. It's getting pathetic.
It really is, but let's not get into semantics. Netanyahu, then, is all that stands in the way of Obama's rapprochement with Islamist masses. A paragraph earlier, Sullivan accepts that Netanyahu now represents the center of Israeli polity - the pragmatic, realist core of Israel's foreign policy - meaning that a change in leadership would not alter Israel's "frustrating" trajectory. But why? Personalities aside, why would the leader of a state that is in its seventh decade of attempting to achieve peaceable accommodation - normalization is the preferred term - with its Muslim neighbors shun such engagement? What would Israel have to lose from a Muslim world more accomodating to the interests of the Jewish State's greatest global ally? This, after all, is the ostensible purpose for Obama's "outreach" - to generate a dialogue that allows for equitably addressing legitimate grievances, secures each party's vital interests, and thus promotes peace. Right?

So long as American security guarantees to Israel are sacrosanct, and Sullivan (usually) agrees that the are, Israel has nothing to fear from, and thus no incentive to sabotage Obama's "outreach" to the Muslim world. We must critically examine Sullivan's basic assumptions. Either fundamental Israeli security is no longer an American interest - growing direct military assistance and stubbornly steadfast political support says otherwise - or Israel is not "out to destroy" the Obama's attempt at rapprochement with the Muslim world. It should not be controversial to add, that Israel is even attempting to accommodate strikingly naive, adolescent American maneuvering, as Obama himself admitted, to the very limits of the country's coalition government.

On substance, Obama has offered the "Muslim world" precious little, bargaining on a change in rhetoric and atmospherics to mitigate (continuing) American support for brutal, repressive Arab regimes, ongoing macro-economic stagnation and increasing popular Islamist identification, if not radicalism itself. American warplanes, let's not forget, are still killing (slaughtering, the Islamists would say) Muslims, many of them innocent, at a pace and scope - with recent expansions, under Obama's insistence, into Pakistan and Yemen - unchanged from Bush's "Global War on Terror".

Unable to pacify Afghanistan, cowed into submission by Iranian ambition, outmaneuvered and blackmailed into concessions by the Syrians, unwilling to support Lebanese sovereignty and watching helplessly at the dismantling of a pro-Western Turkey, just as Yemen erupts in sectarian tribal war and Islamist insurgency and no less than two of the region's American bulwarks - Egypt and Saudi Arabia - totter on the uncertainty of succession... Well, it seems Netanyahu has been a busy little bee, right Andrew? To whom else but Israel can one attribute such a rapid disintegration of America's strategic posture in the region, and after such a rousing call to "outreach" by an American president, at that?

How very pathetic, indeed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Introducing, The Kef

I think I'm one of several hundred thousand people who, at some point in their lives, had the idea to sell a blue print, Shield of David keffiyeh. Well, someone actually did it. Surprisingly, the Arabs responded by declaring all out war on the Jews, again. We were so close to a real and lasting peace this time... so close.

The New York Times "The Lede" picks up the story. Would I wear one? Only to tick off an Arab friend. My neck feels hot and itchy just thinking about it, not to mention that I'd probably end up choking myself. If that's not a star-studded product endorsement, I don't know what is.

Get yours at
Am Yisroel Chai!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is Mossad Responsible?

It may delight you to know... that I have no idea. I have been paying attention to the story, though what has surprised me more - perhaps by now it shouldn't - is the pathetic attempts at outrage and insistence on lawfare now spreading through the anti-Israel European community. That said, I have yet to see a single person shed a tear, or even waste a shrug on the news in the US. In addition, it apparently doesn't seem to bother the government of Dubai that known international terrorists are entering its borders to traffic in weapons with nearby rogue nation states with ambitions to dominate the region.

If this was Mossad, my utterly uninformed perspective is that using passports of Israelis with dual European citizenship, and having the entire operation captured on camera... it seems very sloppy. Having read By Way of Deception: the Making of a Mossad Officer in my youth, I happen to know that the legend of Mossad has long exceeded the organization's many successes, and surprisingly many failures. Still, one would expect... more.

Israel is a small country, with limited resources. There are only a handful of Mossad operatives trained in direct action, and to converge eleven or twelve such individuals on one target, in a hostile country - which is how Mossad defines Arab lands - to eliminate a murderer, yes, but who the hell was this guy? We're talking about a serious allocation of resources, with now a dozen burned agents, to deal with a mid-level weapons mule. Perhaps, or perhaps we're (or I am) missing something that made him a target of great importance. (In the comments, Tori suggests Mabhouh was the Hamas equivalent of Hezbollah's dearly departed Mughniyeh.)

But what do I know. Stratfor, on the other hand, I trust.

French Channel 2: Stratégie des boucliers humains du Hamas

I don't speak French, but perhaps you do.

Un reportage de France 2 montre la stratégie des boucliers humains du Hamas
En ouverture du Journal de 20h de France 2 mercredi 4 février David Pujadas invite les téléspectateurs à revenir sur les évènements de Gaza par le biais des « révélations » dun reportage effectué ces derniers jours par les envoyés spéciaux de la chaîne publique française. La responsabilité du Hamas y est clairement évoquée, notamment celle de la stratégie du mouvement qui a exploité les civils palestiniens comme boucliers humains, assassinant ceux qui refusaient de se prêter à ce rôle macabre. Les témoins racontent la terreur meurtrière du Hamas, les immeubles dhabitation utilisés pour attirer le feu de Tsahal, les hôpitaux transformés en quartier général, les combattants délibérément mélang&ea cute;s aux civils, les chiffres de victimes exagérément et artificiellement gonflés. Cette contre-enquête rétablit la vérité.

A (poor, but sufficient) English Translation, courtesy of Google:
A report by France 2 shows the strategy of human shields by Hamas
Opening the Journal de 20h de France 2 Wednesday, February 4 David Pujadas invites viewers to revisit the events of Gaza through the "revelations" dun report made these days by special envoys of the French public channel. The responsibility of Hamas is clearly mentioned, including the strategy of the movement that has used Palestinian civilians as human shields, killing those who refused to lend himself to this role macabre. Witnesses tell of the murderous terror of Hamas, the residents' property used to draw fire from the IDF, the hospital converted into headquarters, fighters deliberately mix & ea cute; s civilians, the numbers of victims and grossly inflated. This cons-inquiry restored truth.

In Memoriam: the Israeli Left

Professor Carlo Strenger, Ph.D., profiled by Yaacov here, has published an obituary, of sorts, in Haaretz.  In it, he mourns the current "paralysis" of the Israeli left, its political rejection by broad majorities of Israel's society - despite equally large majorities tentatively supporting the Left's prescriptions - and attributes all this to the dismal, bloody failure of the Camp David 2000 peace process. Today, he says, the vast majority of Israeli Jews desire two states for two peoples, as they have for decades; they simply no longer believe this outcome to be possible through negotiations.

Left unsaid by him is that, deprived of a negotiated resolution to the conflict, the Israeli people attempted to impose a two state solution through unilateral disengagement, first from Gaza, then to be followed by a forced evacuation of all but the permanent West Bank settlement blocks. Like so many other choices the nation has made in the past decade, the disengagement plan, along the security barrier which crowned it, were not acts of aggression or strength, but rather exhaustion, desperation and despair. It is a hard reality to internalize, after the much hyped euphoria of peace, that another people have condemned you and your children to endless war.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pillbox Fever

Though you wouldn't know it from the beaches of Tel Aviv, Israel is a nation besieged, in a state of perpetual, if often dormant war. Currently, those who pursue it lack the strategy, means or will to engage in hot conflict; thus, today, we have relative calm, punctuated by isolated acts of politically insignificant but tragic violence. Despite the lull, as has been necessary since the very first moshavim, persistent vigilance, in the form of security and observation posts, is a necessary fact of life.

Manning these posts, hundreds of them, sprinkled along Israel's borders and buttressing the security barrier that cuts through the Judea and Shomron to separate Israeli and Palestinian communities, and around Gaza, are thousands of young, conscripted Israeli soldiers. These are not special forces or counter-terrorism experts; they're kids with guns, a few weeks of basic training and, every so often, life and death responsibilities. Separated from their families, girlfriends, video games, they operate in shifts and teams, rotating in for a few days. It must be mind-numbing work - to sit still in a cramped, hot, sometimes remote outpost, for days, and watch... just watch. Just watch.

It gets better...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What if Israel: Civilian casualties

How other nations fight wars:
A missile that struck an Afghan house killing 12 people hit its intended target, the commander of British forces in the country's south says. Officials have said three Taliban, as well as civilians [including 6 children] were in the house.
As my father would say, in Russian, "korotko i yasno" - a variant of "short and sweet", but tinged with arrogance. Independent investigation, anyone? Six children are dead. Strange that no one has yet bothered to print their names and ages, or to tell us which one wanted to be a doctor, which one was always smiling and which one slept with a teddy bear. International outrage? Universal jurisdiction? Demands for a durable ceasefire? Anyone? Hello?
Maj Gen Nick Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned, adding that the system responsible for firing the US missile was back in use.
Of course it is. This is war.

Talmudic Secrets EXPOSED!

I have recently gotten, somewhat unwittingly, into a short rhetorical tussle with Michael A. Hoffman, II. Yes, THAT, Michael Hoffman, author of "Judaism Discovered: A Study of the Anti-Biblical Religion of Racism, Self-Worship, Superstition and Deceit", and other classics of modern literature. Short, because after realizing who he was, I decided to make myself a tuna sandwich and watch Episode 6, Season 1 of Stargate Atlantis.

I'm a sucker for SciFi. When we first arrived in the US in 1991, my favorite show was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Despite a complete ignorance of the English language - a point my older brother reiterated, alternating in curiosity, mockery and frustration - I was drawn to to the fantastical plots, the futuristic technology, and the soothing yet virile voice of Jean Luc Picard.

Theatre of the Absurd

Some of you may have heard of the Bil'in protests, staged by pro-Palestinian agitators to protest Israel's building of a security barrier partially through the village's agricultural lands. I split the protesters into two camps, exemplified best through photojournalism.

On the one hand, you've got farmers and their families, reliant on agriculture for their livelihood, rightly concerned about restrictions on their ability to work the land. Rightly, I say, because after years of legal battles, the Israeli Supreme Court agreed, and the Israeli army complied.

On the other hand, you've got clowns in Avatar costumes, looking for the one place on earth where throwing rocks at people and making a fool out of yourself is rewarded through heroic photo spreads in prominent international news outlets (Australia, UK, USA, etc.)

 Exit bag, anyone?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

As the world slept...

...a kitty has made her home in Auschwitz.

This reminds me...

"Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!"
Talmud, Makkot 24b

Palestinian Rationality

As Andrew has continued posting reader comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (though his editorial focus continues to be decidedly against Israel), I have decided to respond to these two (one, two) related posts in particular. He has never actually published one of the emails I've sent him. Now that I have a nifty blog, however, at least my thoughts are no longer lost to his inbox.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


This essay by Ehud Yaari several years back got me thinking and reading about muqawama, and I've been following this development ever since.

The following are my thoughts on the subject:

Muqawama loosely translates from Arabic as "resistance". The full meaning of the term, however, is much broader. Essentially, it is profound, unyielding, insatiable rejection. In expression, muqawama manifests as violence - political, economic, social and physical. This violence is a crucial element - the denial of normality, the denial of comfort and peace to the enemy, but more importantly, to oneself.

What if Israel: France banning the Muslim Veil

The hypocrisy and rank double standards of today's international environment, as it pertains to the State of Israel, have motivated me to begin a new thread on this blog, entitled "What if Israel..."

Have you been following the French plan to ban the Muslim face veil?

Consider how the BBC frames the debate over this issue:

France is recommending a partial ban because there is a fear that an outright ban would not only be impractical but would be distasteful and could make France a target for terrorism.

This is truly "through the looking glass" kind of stuff.

Response: Andrew Sullivan, anti-Semitism and Israel

Leon Wieseltier, an influential thinker and writer at The New Republic, has penned an article - Something Much Darker (worth a read for the literary value alone!) - about his former friend and coworker, Andrew Sullivan. The background is too messy for me to summarize, so I'll have Yaacov do it:

Very briefly, Wieseltier says that tropes Andrew uses these days about Israel are antisemitic. He doesn't come out and say Andrew is, mind you, but he circles around the idea.

Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. Wieseltier, as I will state more formally a bit later, actually outlines a substantial case, not of anti-Semitism, per se, but of something, to be sure. I won't outline that case here, because it is worth reading through in its entirety, twice.

Andrew, as he can allow himself, retorts rather shallowly, but emotionally - the two are not mutually exclusive - here and here. Basically, he says he is not an anti-Semite, is a bit peeved at the indirect but obvious allegation, pokes some holes in Wieseltier's case, or so he hopes, and spends the next two days posting comments of support from readers and prominent writers. Brilliant. What he does not do, is really address the significant points Wieseltier makes. He's placated his audience, but with the case arrayed against him unchallenged, he's on a short leash. Emotional writers don't like leashes.

Goldberg and Chait soften the edges between the two by essentially stating that Andrew writes like a hothead - something Andrew himself attributes to a mix of Irish blood and Catholicism - on an issue he doesn't really understand. Between calling him an anti-Semite and uninformed, I choose uninformed. In which case, let's inform him, gently:

Feminine Spirituality and the role of Ritual

Some weeks ago, Rabbi Shais Taub published a short blurb on women, men and the role of Jewish ritual. He is an insightful thinker and an eloquent writer, when he wants to be. In this case, he merely made a few summary notes. His essential point was this:

Men need ritual to feel connected to G-d because men need to be active. Women do not need a program or a schedule for their Jewishness because women can just "be."

Having myself been burned, in the past, over telling other people what they do and don't need, women in particular(!), I challenged him to reconceptualize his approach to the issue. This was my initial response:

Response: Jeffrey Goldberg and the NIF controversy

Jeffrey Goldberg, of the Atlantic, has been on a strange, anti-Likud binge recently. Mind you, his rant does not challenge ideas, so much, or examines context, but simply castigates the general ideology of Likud as somehow unacceptable. (Likud-bashing has become fashionable, for which I blame only Likud, but that's another story.)

Well, today, he followed that up with a piece about the NIF situation, finally. For some context and background, I recommend Yaacov Lozowick, here, here and here.) And what do you know, Likud is to blame again! You see, as he tells it, the NIF and the radical Israeli organizations it funds are merely pro-civil liberties and anti-Likud!

I'm not even a fan of Likud, but how much nonsense can one take?! Well, I had enough of "dem apples", so I wrote him back:

Communicating the Jewish Experience in Shomron and Yehudah

Marc Prowisor is an impressive individual. As an IDF Chief Army Security Coordinator between Ramallah and Shechem from the late 1990s and through the Second Intifada, and now living in the Jewish village of Shilo, nearby Palestinian Sinjil, Marc has a serious understanding of the challenges to Jewish settlement of Yesha. Educated not through CNN reports, but through life and work on the culture and conditions of his Arab neighbors, he sports a professional, security-minded focus that brings bottom-line clarity and context to issues concerning Jewish settlements.

Now that I've introduced him, and having read through his many ruminations, allow me to promote his Yesha Views - a unique perspective of a knowledgeable Israeli Jew, living in, and advocating for the peaceful Jewish settlement of Israel's historic heartland.

The following are my remarks, with some small edits, to a post Marc wrote regarding developing better communicators among representatives of Jews in Shomron and Yehudah:

Circumcision by Choice

I take issue with Jewschool's DK, on circumcision:

all else being equal, if any human has a choice in being circumcised or not being circumcised, they are going to choose not to be circumcised

I was circumcised at the age of 25, by choice. Any man dreading undergoing circumcision need not. Local anesthesia, followed by discomfort for another day, two weeks of bandages, a little itchy until the stitches dissipate; stubbed toes hurt more. The most uncomfortable part of the whole thing was that two female nurses practically insisted on holding my hands through it. Having two moderately attractive women look on in pity as you undergo a penultimate moment of Jewish manhood... but then the numbed, textural crunch of your skin being scissored off your member focuses the mind.

Back to my point, my brother was circumcised at the age of 14, by choice; My friend, at the age of 23, also by choice. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews were circumcised well into their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s… after the fall of the Soviet Union. I’ve even heard of someone in their 80s going under the knife.

Circumcision is an irrevocable act of Jewish affiliation. In lands where anti-Semitism is woven into the fabric of society, where every time you pull down your pants - whether in a locker room, hospital or your girlfriend’s bed - your lack of foreskin identifies you as foreign, different, a Jew, and where this identification can have enormous consequences on your private and professional life, there are Jewish parents who do not wish to limit the potential of their children to advance in the world. Being a Jew in America is easy. Being a Jew, openly, in Europe, even today, is less so, and it was far worse not so long ago.

This is why my parents didn’t circumcise me as a child, though my father is sticking to the story that Soviet hospitals were just not that sanitary back then.

One particular story I learned from a friend: after the Soviet Union fell, hundreds of Russian Jews in Moscow visited the private home of a Jewish doctor, where after taking a shot of vodka they would lie back on a table and have their foreskin removed, without anesthesia, dozens at a time. Many did this just hours before boarding a plane to Israel.

On My Bookshelf