The Zionist Conspiracy
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Comparing The Hamas Charter With the Hamas Propaganda Piece
Let's compare some passages from today's Washington Post column by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook with a few excerpts from the Hamas Charter:
Hamas Column: "There must come a day when we will live together, side by side once again."
Hamas Charter: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it... the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up."
Hamas Column: "Our society has always celebrated pluralism in keeping with the history and traditions of the Holy Land. In recognizing Judeo-Christian traditions, Muslims nobly vie for and have the greatest incentive and stake in preserving the Holy Land for all three Abrahamic faiths."
Hamas Charter: "Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious... Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people... With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there... They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources... They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state."
Hamas Column: "We call on [Israel] not to condemn posterity to endless bloodshed and a conflict in which dominance is illusory."
Hamas Charter: "Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement... There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."
Hamas Propaganda Piece in Washington Post
I'm not sure how to react to the moderate sounding propaganda piece by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook that appears in today's Washington Post.
Is it inherently wrong for the Washington Post to publish the piece and give PR to Hamas? I'm not sure, but probably not. I guess what offends me is that the column was published despite the transparent distortions of the piece, which reads like it came straight from a Madison Avenue ad agency.
For example, Marzook refers to "America's long-standing tradition of supporting the oppressed's rights to self-determination." Later, Marzook writes about "the great thoughts, principles and ideals you hold dear in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the democracy you have built." This is the same Marzook and the same Hamas who, along with other Islamic fundamentalists, rail in Arabic against America, and who not only oppose the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, but express this opposition by suicide bombings, kidnappings and shootings.
Marzook writes that Palestinian "society has always celebrated pluralism," recognizes "Judeo-Christian traditions" and seeks to preserve "the Holy Land for all three Abrahamic faiths."
How can one even respond to such absurd statements? Hamas wants an Islamic state in which Jews will, at best, be deported. How many Jews would live in Palestinian society that "has as always celebrated pluralism?" The answer is zero.
Then, Marzook asks Israelis "to reflect on the peace that our peoples once enjoyed and the protection that Muslims gave the Jewish community worldwide" and says that "there must come a day when we will live together, side by side once again."
Marzook is presumably referring to those good days when Jews and Christians living in countries under Muslim rule were dhimmis, essentially second-class members of society who were forced to pay lots of extra taxes, were prohibited from worshipping their religion, among other fun stuff in "pluralist" Muslim society.
Self-Proclaimed Hamas Experts
I'm losing patience with all of the people informing us that - to our great surprise - in fact, Hamas' victory in the PA elections is the best thing for Israel.
Yes, I understand the arguments. Fatah is just as bad; now everyone will understand who the Palestinians are; this will eliminate any pressure for Israeli concessions, etc.
Maybe these ideas will prove to be accurate. I think that to a large extent they are naive. Either way, they depend on Israel's ability to make the right decisions, to withstand pressure for many years to come, and for Europe and the U.S. to maintain the stance they are initially taking.
To confidently reach the conclusion that the taking over of Judea, Samaria and Gaza by a terror group allied with Iran is good for Israel is sophomoric.
Spielberg: My Critics Are Fundamentalists
In interviews here and here, Steven Spielberg argues that right-wing Jewish "fundamentalists" are "angry at me for allowing the Palestinians simply to have dialogue."
I guess liberals like Leon Wieseltier and Alan Dershowitz are in fact "fundamentalists."
Spielberg also insists that his movie is factual, contradicting some of his defenders who have said that the movie should be seen as a drama based loosely on real events, nothing more. Spielberg takes this position in spite of continued Mossad denial that the movie accurately portrays events following the Munich massacre perpetrated by the PLO. The most recent Mossad criticism appeared in last week's Forward. The Mossad operative wrote that Munich "badly distorts the circumstances under which Israeli intelligence operatives assassinated Palestinian terrorists outside the borders of Israel during the early 1970s."
Contrary to Spielberg's premise, that Israel's counter-terrorism resulted in nothing other than increased Palestinian terror, the Mossad operative counters that "Israel's response, the assassinations, succeeded in radically reducing the intensity and saliency of the Palestinian attacks."
The Mossad agent continues:
The Israeli assassinations depicted in "Munich" are portrayed with near total disregard for the actual operational activities involved. The film, after all, is based on a book by an intelligence wannabe whose real-life hero, "Avner," is an impostor who never served in the Mossad...
But I guess the Mossad agent is just a crazy fundamentalist - like Dershowitz, Wieseltier, and whomever else dares to criticize Steven Spielberg - who is angry at Spielberg "for allowing the Palestinians simply to have dialogue."
Monday, January 30, 2006
Two years ago, the Nets fired coach Byron Scott. They had a 22-20 record at the time.
The Nets again have a 22-20 record, disappointing considering that four of their starters are Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Nenad Kristic.
During the offseason, the Nets did little to improve their team; indeed, not one of their acquisitions has made any impact this season. The Nets failure to acquire a power forward - they rescinded their initial signing of Shareef Abdur-Rahim on dubious grounds - was particularly inexcusable considering the unusual number of quality big men on the market. The bench has again been lackluster, while first round draft pick Antoine Wright has been a bench warmer.
Ultimately, both the front office and head coach Lawrence Frank must share the blame for this season's underachieving performance. While I'm not advocating firing Frank just yet, the reality is that the players too often seem to take a very lackadaisical attitude. The Nets are lucky to be in the weak Atlantic Division.
Bad Night For The Rangers
Tonight's overtime loss by the Rangers - the game just ended - was as bad as it gets for a late January regular season game. Not only did the Rangers blow a 2-0 lead midway through the 3rd period, they blew a chance to move within one point of the Flyers. As a result of the loss, they're four points back.
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has been playing every game for the last couple of weeks, appeared fatigued in the 3rd period and overtime. With Lundqvist headed to the Olympics, where he'll start in goal for Sweden, the Rangers are going to need Kevin Weekes to win some games for them behind the net, or they may find themselves seventh or eighth in the Eastern Conference, with their first trip to the playoffs since 1997 little more than a quick exit against Ottawa or Carolina.
That I haven't posted in a while about the Mets shouldn't be taken as a sign of apathy.
I don't like the Mets' trade of Jae Seo to the Dodgers for Duaner Sanchez. But I hate the trade of Kris Benson to Baltimore for Jorge (5.90 ERA) Julio. Julio is apparently the latest incarnation of Mel Rojas/Manny Aybar.
Just like that, the Mets' starting pitching depth disappeared. Who will step in when Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, or Steve Trachsel are on the DL, as at least one (and probably two) will be at some point in '06?
Also just like that, the Mets' two most effective relievers in 2005, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Heilman, are no longer in their bullpen, replaced by Sanchez and Julio. Hernandez left as a free agent, while Heilman will move into the starting rotation.
The Mets still seem to be an overpriced team that will underachieve.
Jets Coaching Staff
Today the Jets hired Brian Schottenheimer - son of Marty - as their new offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer is 32 years old, and his substantive coaching experience is as a quarterbacks coach on his father's staff.
While Schottenheimer would not have been my first choice, obviously new head coach Eric Mangini, who turned 35 last week, needs to hire the people with whom he's most comfortable. Schottenheimer has presumably done a nice job coaching Chargers QB Drew Brees. Let's just hope that Schottenheimer has a less conservative philosophy than his father, whose overcautious coaching cost the Chargers their wild card game against the Jets in last year's playoffs.
The Jets new defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton, is the team's former linebackers coach, his only coaching position in the NFL.
In addition to the age of Mangini and Schottenheimer, the fact that Mangini, Schottenheimer and Sutton have a combined one season of experience as coordinators and no head coaching experience raises serious concerns. In the long term, I still think the Jets will be better off without Herm Edwards, but I'm not too optimistic about 2006.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Lubavitch Lacks Central Authority
The following thoughts were written by a Lubavitcher chasid in e-mail correspondence with me:
An unfortunate side-effect of the focus on the Rebbe all these years is that no one else in Lubavitch wields any authority, except on a local scale. The level of leadership your father is addressing his concerns to, is just not there. He’s screaming in the forest with no one to hear him. This is a real hinderance to Lubavitch embarking on any new campaigns or mivtzoim, or updating their mission to address the unique challenges and needs of the 21st century. We are in a "time warp" from the period of the Rebbe’s leadership.
[For example,] a chabad house that opened a few years ago in West Bloomfield, MI initially had their parking lot open on Shabbos, but the rabonei ho'ir (which includes Lubavitch Rabbis) quickly put a stop to it. Without an effective vaad horabonim, nothing would have been done. It would be a good idea for the Head Shluchim to establish a bais din with real power that can deal with these issues from within.
A consequence in the autonomy granted to shluchim is that you will find a broad spectrum of attitutes and frumkeit within Lubavitch. It is impossible to make any broad generalization about the chabad movement today. Therefore, I don't take your father's comments personally, as they were not directed to people like me.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Pay Up, Alan
1. Alan Dershowitz, Letter to the Editor, New York Jewish Week, January 27, 2006:
I will contribute $1,000 to Marvin Schick's favorite charity - probably those who pay for him to have a column that no one else will regularly publish - if he can provide any documentation that I have "exalted marrying out." Schick just made it up as he has the rest of his attack on me.
2. Alan Dershowitz, Column, The Harvard Crimson, April 28, 1997:
Why Judaism Must Embrace Intermarriage
By ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ
With intermarriage, as with assimilation, it is not often the case that Jews convert to Christianity; they "convert" to mainstream Americanism, which is the American "religion" closest to Judaism. They see no reason not to follow their heart in marriage, their convenience in neighborhoods, their economic opportunities in jobs, their educational advantages in schools, their conscience in philosophy and their preferences in lifestyle. Most Jews who assimilate do not feel that they are giving up anything by abandoning a Jewishness they know little about.
We must recognize that many of the factors which have fueled the current assimilation and intermarriage are positive developments for individual Jews: acceptance, wealth, opportunity. Most Jews do not want to impede these developments. Indeed, they want to encourage them. For that reason, we must accept the reality that many Jews will continue to marry non-Jews, but we should not regard it as inevitable that these marriages will necessarily lead to total assimilation. We can take positive steps to stem that tide.
Judaism must become less tribal, less ethnocentric, less exclusive, less closed off, less defensive, less xenophobic, less clannish. We jokingly call ourselves "members of the tribe" (MOTs), as if to remind us of our tribal origins. But we are not a tribe, a clan, or even an ethnicity. Jews comprise many ethnicities, as a visit to Israel or even to [some] neighborhoods of Brooklyn should make plain. This persistent tribalism makes us less welcoming of Jewish converts than we ought to be.
Jews must adopt a different approach to the increasing reality of intermarriage. We must become much more welcoming of the non-Jewish spouse. Refusal to permit intermarriage has failed as a deterrent mechanism. We must try another way. If a non-Jew wants to marry a Jew and is prepared to have a rabbi participate in the ceremony, a rabbi should be willing to lend his or her Jewish participation to so important an event. In every way, Jews must become more welcoming of anyone who wants to be part of our heritage.
Friday, January 27, 2006
JIB Awards Reminder
With your help, The Zionist Conspiracy still has a chance to make a modestly respectable showing in the voting for the Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards. It's in the finals in the following two categories:
-Best Series (for Orthodoxy's Cultural Divide); and
-Best Politics and Current Affairs Blog
Remember, The Zionist Conspiracy has a unique mission, and that if we aim to be the place you go to find a well-articulated perspective on the religious, political and sporting issues of the day, we need to be known!
So please vote, not for my ego, but for our goal of becoming an important outlet for football, political, and even a little Jewish thought to the world.
Will GOP Jews Support Bush Or Israel?
I expected DovBear to post something alone these lines, but since he hasn't and it's getting close to shabbos, here's my question:
Will observant Jews who support President Bush bother to criticize him now that, as a result of the Bush Administration's policies, Hamas will control the Palestinian Authority?
Keep in mind that it was Bush and Condoleezza Rice who insisted that Hamas be eligible to run in the PA election, despite the clause under the Oslo Accords that terrorist groups cannot be part of the PA.
When it became clear that Hamas won the election, Bush responded by somehow putting a positive spin on the turn of events. As today's New York Times reports, Bush said:
There was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that's positive. But what's also positive is that it's a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services.
Fantastic! And I'm sure that if in Iraqi elections, the party of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were to emerge victorious, or if in Afghanistan, people go to the polls and decide that they are "not happy with the status quo" and choose to, say, replace President Hamid Karzai with a leader of the Taliban, Bush would consider that too to be "positive."
Alas, many observant Jews retain a bizarre form of cognitive dissonance when it comes to Bush, who is for some reason deemed to be Israel's best friend ever. This despite the fact that Israel, during the Bush Administration, has been forced to, among other humiliations: (1) end just about all construction in Judea and Samaria; (2) indefinitely shelve plans to connect Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem; (3) accept the road map, which specifically references the Saudi Plan under which Israel would return to the '67 borders; (4) remove the portion of the security fence protecting the areas near Ben Gurion Airport; (5) generally reduce the route of the fence to less than seven percent of Judea and Samaria, much less than the originally planned route; (6) accept a Pentagon veto over arm's sales by Israel; (7) relinquish security control over the Gaza border with Egypt; and (8) allow Hamas to take over the PA.
Ultimately, my question is this: What's more important to Bush-supporting observant Jews: Israel's security and rights, or Bush's political status?
The common answer that a Democrat would be no better might be true but isn't acceptable. When Hillary Clinton called for a Palestinian state before Yasser Arafat launched his terror war, she was ripped apart. Why, when shortly after 9/11, Bush called for a Palestinian state in a transparent attempt to appease our Arab "allies", did the same people have little to say? In other words, why, just because Democrats are no better for Israel are so many observant Jews okay with Israel getting screwed over by Bush?
Thursday, January 26, 2006
On a lighter note, my bar mitzvah reception was 20 years ago today in the secular calendar, on January 26, 1986. The day before, I lained Parshas B'shalach (along with the very long haftorah) in shul.
At my request, the reception began at 12:30 P.M., so that it would not interfere with my ability (and that of the guests) to watch Super Bowl XX.
Ultimately, I arrived back home early in the first quarter, with the Patriots leading the Bears 3-0. I spent most of the rest of the first half counting money and watching the Bears crush New England on both sides of the ball, en route to a 46-10 victory.
I feel old writing this. It's been a long time since those days of Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, Richard Dent and Refrigerator Perry.
It Started With Iraq
Israel has come to a situation in which the Palestinian Authority, the entity created via Oslo by the Rabin government that was supposed to crush Hamas, will be headed by Hamas.
But the problem started before Oslo. When during the first Gulf War Saddam Hussein fired 39 scud missiles at Israel without any Israeli response, Israel began the insane policy of subcontracting its security to the United States.
At the time, Prime Minister Shamir thought that Israel would somehow gain something from the first Bush Administration as thanks for Israel's restraint. Instead, all Shamir got was hostility from Bush and Secretary of State James ("F*** the Jews") Baker.
Netanyahu On Hamas
While Ehud Olmert consults with his political spin doctors (the same political spin doctors who advised Ariel Sharon to keep up a full schedule right after his first stroke), Binyamin Netanyahu had the following to say about the Hamas victory:
Before our very eyes, Hamastan has been established, the step-child of Iran and the Taliban. It's in firing range of our airport, our highways and cities. This has to be a day of soul searching because the writing was on the wall. The policy of giving land for free gave a prize to terror and a winning card for Hamas.
How are Olmert and Peres getting ready for this challenge? They are moving the fence 500 meters closer to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway (Beit Iksa). They gave more land to the Hamas state. Any land given to Hamas will give more of a front to fire upon us.
This is a new and dangerous situation. Sharon said he wouldn't let Palestinians in Jerusalem vote. Olmert let them.
There are still two months until the Israeli election, enough time for Israelis to reconsider their support for Kadima and bring back to office the only candidate who offers serious consideration to the strategic threats facing Israel. Netanyahu has shortcomings, but lack of substance - one with which he is frequently charged - is definitely not one of them.
Jerusalem Arabs - and Israel's Cognitive Dissonance
Last week, acting prime minister Ehud Olmert authorized voting by Arab residents of Jerusalem in yesterday's PA election.
Reports are that a majority of Jerusalem voters supported Hamas.
For many years, there's been a sense that Arabs in Jerusalem are really moderates. Likely, this was just a form of cognitive dissonance by Israelis living in Jerusalem who did not want to see the Arabs they came across on a daily basis (most of whom are also Jerusalem residents) as enemies.
The reality is that the Arab hanging out in Zion Square, serving as your waiter in a Jerusalem restaurant, trying to sell you something in the shuk, begging for money, or working in the hotel you're staying at, is more likely than not a supporter of Hamas.
Cognitive dissonance is convenient for a little while, but not a viable substitute for reality.
It's time - actually way past time - for Israel to deal with the reality that a terror group allied with al Qaeda is on its doorstep. The threat of suicide bombings is dwarfed by the existential threat to Israel of advanced missiles smuggled through Egypt into Gaza, or through Jordan into Judea and Samaria.
The victory of Hamas in the PA election is confirmation of what those of us on the right have been arguing for many years: Israel has no potential peace partner, and the Palestinian people are even more extreme than their (former) leadership.
While the Israeli left has surprised me before, it is hard to imagine that even Labor's Amir Peretz would in any way deal with a Hamas government.
It is therefore useless to discuss or speculate about borders in a final status peace agreement, since there is no chance of any such agreement for many, many years to come, if ever. For example, while I support territorial compromise for real peace and part ways in that regard with those on the far right, disagreements like that are rendered meaningless for the foreseeable future.
Instead, the debate must center on what Israel - faced with a Palestinian government sworn to its destruction - should do.
Most likely, the debate will be about whether further unilateral withdrawal is in Israel's interests. The withdrawal from Gaza was clearly seen by Palestinians as Israeli weakness in the face of terror, leading to the Hamas victory.
In my opinion, Israel's first step should instead be to pass legislation ensuring that the security fence is moved east, to cover more of the communities in Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley.
Now that a terrorist group has been elected as leader of the Palestinian people, it will be interesting to see how the Bush Administration reacts. Most likely, when it comes to Hamas, the slogans about destroying terror will prove to be just slogans.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Jewish Press Column
Following is my column about Ariel Sharon, which appears in this week's Jewish Press. The column is a revised, expanded and improved version of a post last week about Sharon:
In a December 24, 2000 e-mail to me, a politically centrist friend who had moved to Israel the previous year expressed his despair about the situation there. That was a time when Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian terror war had been going on for three months with limited Israeli response (one approach was to bomb empty buildings on a few hours notice), yet despite — or perhaps as a result of — the terror, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was agreeing to increasingly radical territorial concessions. My friend’s e-mail concluded: "We have no good human leaders in Israel. God help us."
I responded, in part, by expressing optimism that if he were to win the February 2001 election, Ariel Sharon would improve Israel’s situation. Sharon, I wrote, would have three major tasks: To defeat terror, to achieve national unity, and to assure that the international community recognized that Barak’s concessions were aberrational. The third task, I wrote, would be Sharon’s most challenging.
A little more than five years later, Sharon’s tenure as leader of Israel came to a sudden and premature end. It is therefore worthwhile to consider whether Sharon succeeded in the three major tasks I outlined in December 2000.
With respect to defeating terror, Sharon succeeded at least partially. At first, he was hesitant about using significant military force, even when suicide bombings became routine. Ultimately, Sharon did allow the IDF to take control of Judea and Samaria, and authorized the bombing of terrorist targets in Gaza, causing significant damage to the infrastructure and operational capability of the terror groups. Sharon also was able to isolate Arafat and, after some early difficulty, obtain tacit U.S. support for Israel’s stance.
Sharon also largely succeeded in advancing a national consensus. Precisely because of his reticence to unleash the IDF until it became obvious even to most on the Left that military force was absolutely necessary, Sharon’s political opponents had a hard time calling him a warmonger, and efforts by some extreme leftists to achieve large-scale refusal of military service in Judea, Samaria and Gaza failed.
Ironically, the sector that Sharon most isolated was the nationalist Right, which he had long been identified with. But it is fair to say that, overall, national discord was significantly reduced.
As to his third major task, to get the world to accept that Barak’s concessions would not be the starting point of future negotiations, Sharon tried hard to achieve this but largely failed.
At first, he insisted that Israel would have no contact with the Palestinian Authority until there was no violence for seven days. Then he insisted that the PA would have to dismantle terror groups pursuant to the road map before Israel would negotiate. Later, Sharon tried to negotiate an interim agreement for a Palestinian state in Gaza and around half of Judea and Samaria.
Early in Sharon’s second term, leading figures on the extreme Left proposed the Geneva Accord, under which Israel would cede 98.5 percent of Judea and Samaria, along with most of the Old City of Jerusalem, concessions even more extensive than those offered by Barak. While most Israelis did not support the concessions proposed under Geneva, Sharon saw the proposals as presenting a challenge, and became convinced that Israel would have to take the initiative to ensure that it would not be forced into something along the lines of the Geneva proposals.
Sharon therefore presented his "disengagement plan." Initially, Sharon stated that Israel would withdraw from territory it would not retain permanently, while taking aggressive steps to strengthen areas it wanted to retain. Sharon’s aides insisted that "disengagement" would ensure international support for Israel, prevent pressure on Israel to made extensive concessions in Judea and Samaria, and secure Israeli control over the major settlement blocs. A vague letter from President Bush indicating that Israel would not be expected to withdraw completely to the 1967 borders was touted by Sharon to be a major achievement.
While Sharon ordered a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, despite his promises he did little to strengthen Jerusalem or the large settlement blocs. The E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim was not constructed, due to pressure from the Bush administration. In the major settlements, limited construction was authorized, but only in "built up" areas; no territorial expansion even in existing settlements was authorized.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer and others in the Bush administration rejected the notion that the Bush letter guaranteed Israeli retention of any particular portion of the disputed territories.
Similarly, Israel’s security fence, originally envisioned as comprising at least 16 percent of Judea and Samaria, is now planned to cover less than 7 percent. Parts of Gush Etzion are not within the current fence route; only a secondary fence will protect Ariel and the other western Samaria communities, and most established settlements are outside the fence altogether. In many settlements within the route, the fence will run literally right along the settlement line just yards from the outermost houses, eliminating the possibility of any future growth and exposing residents to potential terror from nearby Palestinian villages.
According to a long piece in last week’s New Yorker by Ari Shavit, Sharon’s operative plan was to achieve an interim agreement under which Israel would dismantle 20 isolated settlements, but otherwise retain, for the time being, much of Judea and Samaria. According to Shavit, Sharon allowed study of the possibility of ceding 88-92 percent of Judea and Samaria, but expressed opposition to concessions of that scope — and Sharon insisted on retaining the Jewish presence in Hebron and all of Jerusalem in any final status agreement.
It is reasonable to conclude that what Sharon had in mind was too far to the left of what Likud could tolerate, but still well to the right of what Ehud Barak and the proponents of the Geneva Accord proposed. (It is worth pointing out that even a withdrawal from 90 percent of Judea and Samaria would result in destruction of far fewer settlements than a withdrawal from 95 percent.) As a result, Sharon left Likud to form the Kadima party.
However, the three leading members of Kadima — acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres, and newly installed foreign minister Tzipi Livni — have all expressed political views more dovish than those held by Sharon. While Peres long ago moved to the left, Olmert has, since late 2003, been calling for a unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria and from some Arab sections of Jerusalem.
Livni is ambiguous about whether she supports additional unilateral withdrawal, but she recently stated that Israel is not likely to permanently retain any settlements beyond the line of the security fence, meaning that it would cede at least 93 percent of Judea and Samaria.
Given the probability that Olmert will be elected prime minister, those who care about the status of the communities in Judea and Samaria should especially mourn Israel’s loss of Ariel Sharon.
During the evacuation of Gush Katif, Sharon expressed sadness, while Olmert expressed glee, even turning an airport ceremony for new North American immigrants into a personal political statement in favor of the withdrawal.
While Sharon’s political positions had clearly shifted significantly, he was certainly in no hurry to conduct final status negotiations. Olmert, in contrast, said last week that he hopes to hold such negotiations as soon as possible after Israel’s elections.
While Sharon repeatedly emphasized that Israel would have to continue to fight for its existence in a hostile region, Olmert recently told the left-wing Israel Policy Forum: "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies."
Whatever his shortcomings, Ariel Sharon left Israel in a much better strategic position than the disastrous state it was in when he replaced Barak as prime minister. But in the end, as occurred with Yitzhak Rabin, those to Sharon’s left will likely distort his legacy to invoke support for political positions and concessions that Sharon would have considered anathema.
Indeed, it is likely that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza and his vague hints at additional concessions will lead to Israel taking radical steps — in his name — that he in fact tried to prevent.
JIB Awards - The Finals
The Zionist Conspiracy has advanced to the finals of the Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards in two categories:
-Best Series (for Orthodoxy's Cultural Divide); and
-Best Politics and Current Affairs Blog
Voting for me as often as possible within the rules (every three days) is absolutely vital. Why is this important? Well, The Zionist Conspiracy has a unique mission. Today, we have the opportunity to share what the "world of an observant Jewish fan of the Jets, Mets, Nets and Rangers - but not Spielberg or Edwards" is all about - what we believe, what we stand for, and what we have to contribute.
If we aim to be the place you go to find a well-articulated perspective on the religious, politcal and sporting issues of the day, we need to be "known." Today, those issues include the status of Jets offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, later today it may be analysis of the speeches at the Herzliya Conference, and tomorrow it may be a follow-up to something that Gil Student is thinking about even as I write this.
So please vote. Not for my ego, no of course not, but for our goal of becoming an important outlet for bashing our enemies throughout the world.
Oh, who am I kidding? This blog is lucky to be qualifying for the finals and is going to get crushed like the Egyptian basketball team is every four years at the Summer Olympics. But it's nice to be in the finals, and with your help it can make a respectable showing, the most any long-suffering Jets fan can hope for.
Rabin Conspiracy Theories
In last week's Jewish Press, Steven Plaut thoroughly discredited the silly Yitzhak Rabin conspiracy theories, particularly the nonsense submitted by Barry Chamish.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Thoughts On Chabad
A few weeks ago, my father wrote two pieces that were critical of Chabad. The criticism was not really much different than what my father has written previously, though the recent articles did express the criticism in significantly greater length than in the past, and did not detail the areas in which my father's sentiments toward Chabad are positive.
For whatever reason, many Chabad rabbis saw the articles - particularly the first one, which was published in The Jerusalem Post - as some sort of threat. Almost immediately, a massive number of comments were posted to the Jerusalem Post's site, mostly from those with an affiliation with Chabad. I know that many people with a Chabad affiliation received mass e-mails asking them to respond to the article.
Despite the fact that my father does not have any record of bashing Chabad - and indeed has done much to assist Chabad institutions in North America and in the Former Soviet Union - many Chabad people reacted with personal vitriol. Others, including a friend of mine who goes to Chabad shuls and became observant in large measure due to Chabad, expressed personal disappointment that Chabad had been criticized.
To the extent it matters, my views about Chabad differ in some ways from my father's. I have friends who benefited from Chabad - some of whom remain affiliated with a Chabad shul and others who now go to "mainstream" Orthodox shuls, so my perspective is in large measure based upon these people's - and my own - experiences with Chabad. At the same time, I am convinced that belief that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe is moshiach is more prevalent within Chabad than does my father, whose view is that outside Crown Heights, the majority of Chabad rabbis reject the notion that the Rebbe can be moshiach.
Nevertheless, the issues raised in my father's pieces are ones that apply not only to Chabad but to all individuals and groups involved in kiruv (Jewish outreach toward non-observant Jews). What was most surprising was how few of the responses to the articles actually had anything to do with the criticisms that were expressed. Most, instead, were anecdotal, arguing (with varying degrees of politeness) that in some way Chabad had done good, and therefore it should not be criticized.
One Chabad leader who has now responded directly is Rabbi Manis Friedman. The reference to those who disagree with him as "dinosaurs" aside, Rabbi Friedman's New Age explanation for Chabad's purpose appears to be quite similar to much of what my father challenged. In that sense, it may simply be a debate about whose approach is the preferable one, with my father questioning Chabad and Rabbi Friedman defending it.
Yet in two important ways I believe Rabbi Friedman misses the point. First, he wrote: "You think reform and conservative congregations are your enemy because all the denominations are 'religious' to varying degrees and you must insist that your degree is the correct one. You are not ashamed to say that to your Judaism 'denomination matters'."
Yet, it was Chabad - under the leadership of the Lubavitcher Rebbe - that spearheaded the unsuccessful campaign to change the "Who Is a Jew" law. It's hard to argue that the campaign was not a claim that the non-halachic denominations are - at the very least - incorrect.
On the issue of non-observant Jews driving to Chabad shuls on shabbos, Rabbi Friedman writes that "this Jew is moving closer to G-d. By learning about the Mitzvos, he is closer to observing them."
Yet isn't that the Conservative movement's rationale for allowing congregants to drive to shul? If Rabbi Friedman's response is that Chabad is legitimate but Conservative Judaism is not, isn't he too agreeing that "denomination matters?"
Furthermore, it's one thing to welcome all who attend, regardless of how they got to shul. That's something I agree with. But what about encouraging someone who lives, say, ten miles away, to come to shul? What about keeping the shul parking lot open on shabbos, which some Chabad shuls do? What about a Chabad shul in California that I've been to several times, where nobody has ever told a very wealthy congregant (and very generous Chabad donor) that contrary to his perception that one can carry on shabbos, there is no eruv where this Chabad stands?
Ultimately, these are serious issues involving both halacha and hashkafah that everyone in kiruv should be grappling with. The dearth of substantive discussion about them in the reactions to my father's articles is unfortunate. Perhaps Rabbi Friedman's piece will - even if unintentionally - commence serious contemplation, discussion and debate about the religious attitude and approach of observant Jews toward the non-observant.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Bad Jewish Education
In an article in the current issue of Jewish Action, Rabbi Yosef Adler and Yossi Prager criticize the expectation imposed on bar mitzvah boys to lain the full parashah, writing:
"The cultural norm obliging all Bar Mitzvah boys to read a full parashah is pedagogically unwise and can have devastating long-term emotional consequences."
Citing various sources, Rabbi Adler and Mr. Prager note that Judaism recognizes that "because children differ in personality and interest, they should be encouraged to undertake different activities" and that "children's individual inclinations and talents will draw them in greater measure to different areas of Torah study."
Similarly, the article persuasively argues, children who become bar mitzvah should be given different options in undertaking "a significant mitzvah project," with Torah reading one among many such options. The article concludes that "if this proposal sounds radical, it is only because we have not yet applied everything we know about good education to the bar mitzvah ritual."
Most unfortunately, despite the obvious facts that "because children differ in personality and interest, they should be encouraged to undertake different activities" and that "children's individual inclinations and talents will draw them in greater measure to different areas of Torah study," many yeshivas focus overwhelmingly on the study of gemara.
As I wrote in a post last year: "Talmud is not easy to learn, and many students lack either the intelligence, the interest or the attention span to succeed in its study. Yet if someone is lousy in gemara, they are a failure in Jewish study, because that is all that is studied. Some of the same students might be fascinated or at least interested by other areas of religious study, but are not exposed to those areas until adulthood."
While the problem is most acute in the charedi yeshivas where from fifth grade on there is decreasing study of Tenach and little if any study of Jewish thought, it also exists in the modern and centrist schools. Despite what "we know about good education," bad Jewish education that made little sense in the European shtetls and makes no sense in the modern world persists.
Anti-Semitic Golden Globes Awards
In Friday's Jerusalem Post, columnist Caroline Glick wrote:
It's official: Anti-Semitism is "in." The decision to award the Palestinian film Paradise Now the Golden Globes Award for best foreign film tells us that Palestinian terror against Israelis has become so acceptable that it is now Hollywood kitsch. The sight of the Jewish American diva Sarah Jessica Parker, of Sex in the City fame, excitedly announcing that a film which glorifies the mass murder of Jews in Israel was the big winner for 2005 only served to demonstrate how deep this trivialization of evil now runs.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the award of best foreign film to Paradise Now is not intended to glorify suicide bombings, but to "understand" the mindset of suicide bombers.
Even if that is the case, would Hollywood be so brazen as to give a major award to a film that, say, tried to "understand" the human aspect of Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 suicide hijackings, who crashed one of the planes into the World Trade Center?
If, as I believe, the answer is no, then Glick is right to lament that "Anti-Semitism is 'in.'"
Dershowitz Slams Munich
Alan Dershowitz, who cannot be accused of being a right-wing lunatic, strongly criticizes Munich in today's Jerusalem Post.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Destroy Terrorists ... Except Palestinian Terrorists
A few hours after yesterday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Osama bin Laden released a taped message indicating that he would negotiate a long-term truce with the U.S.
The Bush Administration's response was clear:
"We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Vice President Dick Cheney said about terrorists: "You have to destroy them. It's the only way to deal with them."
Except, of course, when it comes to the Palestinian terrorists. Then, according to the Bush Administration, the way to deal with them is to insist that they be allowed to run in Palestinian elections, which are scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
It's also interesting that while bin Laden's offer of a truce is (appropriately) dismissed, when Hamas raises the possibility of a truce for a period of around 10 years in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel to the 1967 borders, the media responds as though a breakthrough toward peace has occurred.
Finally, with respect to yesterday's bombing, the Israeli media reported that nobody was killed, several people were seriously wounded, and around 20 people were moderately or lightly wounded. Suffice to say that in Israel, "moderately wounded" refers to anything that is not considered life-threatening. I know of a person who was serving in the IDF at the Gaza border, and was "moderately wounded". His knees were busted, he was in a wheelchair for a long period of time, and had to undergo extensive physical therapy to learn how to walk again. My understanding is that he will never completely recover. Others who were "moderately wounded" include people who suffered collapsed lungs, burst eardrums, and serious burns requiring skin grafts, among other "moderate" injuries.
I'm an Israeli news junkie. I won't say how often I check the Israeli news sites; let's just say I check them very, very frequently.
When I'm away from home, I feel lost without a regular Internet connection. Even when I'm in Israel, I'm much further behind on Israeli news than I am at home.
During my recent vacation, I relied on CNN and Fox for reports about Prime Minister Sharon's medical condition. The reports tended to be optimistic, indicating that Sharon had been showing gradual but consistent improvement.
It was only when I returned home and spent time reading the Israeli newspapers that I realized that these reports were superficial, that the improvement Sharon was demonstrating did not necessarily mean that he would ever emerge from his coma, let alone that he was not severely brain damaged.
Since I've been back home, every night before I go to sleep I check the Israeli sites in the hope that there is an early morning (Israeli time) report offering some hope. Then I leave the computer and the DSL connection on overnight, and check again first in the morning. For the last few days, there haven't even been reports about Sharon, because there's nothing new to report. It's a sad sign that this morning, I felt a tiny surge of optimism merely by noticing that Haaretz had something new to report. Alas, the report was that Sharon would be taken off a respirator, but that there no signs that he would wake up.
Dick Clark Redux
After New Year's Day, I posted about Dick Clark's New Year's Eve return to the public eye following his stroke a year earlier, referring to Clark as "admirable."
While Clark's stroke was obviously much less severe than the massive stroke Prime Minister Sharon suffered, Sharon's current sad state demonstrates that those who ridiculed Clark because of his speech imperfections are idiots. As Clark told viewers: "Last year I had a stroke. It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It's been a long, hard fight."
Presumably, Clark - a 76 year old man - has been undergoing grueling physical and speech therapy to get to where he is. While he won't ever appear as he did before his stroke, Clark's "long, hard fight" is both admirable and inspiring.
Jets Are A Mess
Yesterday, ESPN reported that Jets new head coach Eric Mangini would retain offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. The report came as a surprise, since Mangini was expected to bring in a completely new staff. Still, Heimerdinger is fairly well regarded, so I was happy to hear that he would be staying with the Jets.
According to today's papers, however, Heimerdinger is quite unhappy that he is staying. For example, the Newark Star Ledger quotes Heimerdinger as saying:
"I'm upset because I came to work for Herman Edwards and I'm having to stay and work for someone not named Herman Edwards. Also, I'm upset because I interviewed for the (head) job and obviously I was third in the pecking order (behind Mangini and Mike Tice). So, I wasn't good enough for the job and I still have to stay. I'm not happy with the situation."
Heimerdinger's agent, said that Heimerdinger "is grossly unhappy."
The Daily News reports that Mangini may be forced to keep Heimerdinger and other assistants "because owner Woody Johnson doesn't want to eat their contracts."
This is pathetic. Johnson - who wasted tens of millions of dollars in the failed effort to build a West Side stadium - was fortunate enough that the Chiefs foolishly took Herm Edwards off the Jets hands, releasing the Jets from the two years and $4 million left on Herm's contract. Mangini has to be allowed to pick his own staff, or he will have no chance to succeed. If the Jets don't have confidence in Mangini's ability to find a suitable staff, then they should not have hired him as their head coach. And if Mike Heimerdinger does not want to be the Jets offensive coordinator, instead of engaging in pathetic maneuvers, the Jets should have reached a quick financial settlement with him, and move forward. The way things are going now, in light of this current fiasco, Mangini may have a hard time convincing anyone to join the Jets coaching staff, assuming that any decent candidates remain available when the Heimerdinger situation is resolved.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Back to Politics
"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies."
- Acting Israeli Prime Minister and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert, in a June 9, 2005 speech at the Israel Policy Forum dinner.
Robert Avrech writes about our joining him and his wife Karen for shabbos dinner at their home during our recent trip to the West Coast.
Robert very kindly invited us to dinner, he and Karen graciously hosted us, and it was a pleasure and an honor to meet them.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
This post relates to Ariel Sharon's five year tenure as Israel's prime minister. There is more to say about Sharon; the focus here on the most recent portion of Sharon's life is not intended to diminish or ignore his overall role. It's likely that at some point I'll post additional thoughts about Sharon..
Before there were blogs, I would use e-mail as my outlet to express my angst about world affairs, particularly events in Israel. During the period between late September 2000 - when Yasser Arafat launched the Palestinian terror war shortly after Camp David - and early February 2001 - when Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister - I had lots of angst about Israel, particularly concerning the terrorism, the collapse of the Oslo process, and the egregious concessions offered by Ehud Barak despite (or perhaps as a result of) the Palestinian terror. Due to all this angst, I sent lots of e-mails to friends during that time.
Responding to an e-mail from me, on December 24, 2000, a friend of mine who had moved to Israel a year earlier expressed his despair about the situation in Israel. He concluded: "We have no good human leaders in Israel. God help us."
I responded, in part, by assuring him that if he is elected, Ariel Sharon will improve Israel's situation. Sharon, I wrote, would have three major tasks: To defeat terror, to achieve national unity, and to assure that the international community recognized that Barak's concessions were aberrational by a desperate man who had already been deposed as prime minister. The third task, I wrote, would be Sharon's most challenging.
A little more than five years later, Sharon's tenure as leader of Israel came to a sudden and premature end. It is therefore worthwhile to consider whether Sharon succeeded in the three major tasks that I outlined in December 2000.
With respect to defeating terror, Sharon at least partially succeeded. At first, he was hesitant in using significant military force, even when suicide bombings became routine occurrences. As a result, Israel suffered a massive number of civilian fatalities. Ultimately, Sharon did allow the IDF to take control of Judea and Samaria, and let the IAF bomb terrorist targets in Gaza, causing significant damage to the terror groups. Sharon also was able to isolate Yasser Arafat and after some early difficulty obtain tacit U.S. support for Israel's stance.
Sharon also largely succeeded in advancing a national consensus. Precisely because of his reticence to unleash the IDF until it became obvious even to the left-wing that military force was absolutely necessary, his political opponents had a hard time calling him a warmonger, and efforts on the extreme left to achieve refusal of military service in Judea, Samaria and Gaza failed. Ironically, the sector that Sharon most isolated was the far-right, which he had long been identified with. But it is fair to say that in sharp contrast to Israel's governments since Oslo of Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak, national discord was, overall, significantly reduced.
As to his third major task, to get the world to forget about Barak's concessions, Sharon tried hard to achieve this, but he failed. First, Sharon insisted that Israel would not have any relations with the PA until there was no violence for seven days. Then he insisted that the PA would have to dismantle terror groups pursuant to the road map before Israel would negotiate. Finally, Sharon tried to negotiate over an interim agreement for a Palestinian state in Gaza and half of Judea and Samaria.
In his second term, leading figures on the extreme left proposed the Geneva Accord, under which Israel would cede 98.5 percent of Judea and Samaria, along with most of the Old City of Jerusalem, concessions even more extensive than those offered by Barak. While most Israelis did not support the concessions proposed under Geneva, Sharon saw the proposals as presenting a challenge, and concluded that Israel would have to take the initiative to ensure that Israel was not forced into something along the lines of Geneva.
Sharon therefore presented his "disengement plan." Initially, Sharon stated that Israel would cede territory it would not retain permanently, while taking aggressive steps to strengthen areas that it would retain. Sharon's aides insisted that "disengagement" would ensure international support and prevent pressure on Israel to made radical concessions like those Barak had proposed and those under Geneva.
Alas, while Sharon ordered a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, despite his promises he did little to strengthen Jerusalem or even the large settlement blocs. The E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim was not built due to pressure from the Bush Administration. In the major settlements, limited construction was authorized, but only in "built up" areas; no territorial expansion even in existing settlements was authorized.
Similarly, Israel's security fence, originally envisioned as comprising approximately 16 percent of Judea and Samaria, is now expected to cover less than 7 percent. Parts of Gush Etzion will not be within the fence, and Ariel will be protected only by a secondary fence. In many settlements, the fence will run literally right along the settlement line, just yards from the outermost houses in those settlements, preventing any future growth and exposing residents to potential terror from adjacent Palestinian villages.
According to a long piece in this week's New Yorker by Ari Shavit, Sharon's aim was an interim agreement under which Israel would dismantle 20 isolated settlements, but retain, for the time being, much of Judea and Samaria. Shavit writes that Sharon allowed study of the possibility of ceding 88-92 percent of Judea and Samaria, but expressed opposition to concessions of that scope.
It is reasonable to conclude that what Sharon had in mind was too far to the left of what Likud could tolerate, but still well to the right of what Ehud Barak and the proponents of the Geneva Accord had in mind. (It is worth pointing out that even a withdrawal from 90 percent of Judea and Samaria would result in destruction of far fewer settlements than a withdrawal from 95 percent.) As a result, Sharon left Likud to form the Kadima party.
Unfortunately, Kadima's top three, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and newly installed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have all expressed political views far more dovish than Sharon's. While Peres long ago moved to the left, Olmert has, since late 2003, been calling for a unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria and from Palestinian villages within Jerusalem's lines. Livni is more vague on whether she supports additional unilateral withdrawal, but she recently stated that Israel ultimately is not likely to retain any settlements beyond the line of the security fence, meaning that it will give up at least 93 percent of Judea and Samaria.
Given the probability that Olmert will be elected prime minister, those who care about the status of the communities in Judea and Samaria should especially mourn Israel's loss of Ariel Sharon. While the destruction of Gush Katif was taking place, Sharon expressed sadness, while Olmert expressed glee. While Sharon's political positions had clearly shifted significantly, he was certainly in no hurry to conduct final status negotiations; Olmert, in contrast, said this week that he hopes to hold such negotiations as soon as possible.
In the end, like Yitzhak Rabin, those to Sharon's left will likely distort his legacy to invoke support for political positions and concessions that Sharon would have considered anathema. President Bush has already expressed the hope that he can fulfill Sharon's (purported) wishes by achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the PA. With Sharon lying comatose and helpless in a Jerusalem hospital, it is likely that his withdrawal from Gaza and his vague hints at additional concessions will lead to Israel taking radical steps, in the name of Ariel Sharon, that Sharon himself would have never considered.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Medical Residents and Shabbos
Given the supreme halachic importance of shabbos observance, I have always been amazed and disappointed at the dearth of consideration of the question of doctors working on shabbos, and, in particular, medical residents working on shabbos.
Two weeks ago in the Forward, Zackary Sholem Berger, who is in his final year of medical school and applying for his residency, wrote:
Without getting pedantic about the halachic or exegetical details of the principle, it's true that "saving a life sets aside the Sabbath," as does (broadly speaking) the treatment of a dangerously ill patient. But does doctors' work always entail saving lives? And are there Jewish reasons outside of Jewish law that might make it preferable for Jewish doctors to work on the Sabbath?
A resident doctor working in the hospital on the Sabbath does not spend all 25 hours, from Friday night to Saturday night, nimbly plucking the gravely ill from the mouth of death. Some of the time is spent dealing with busywork ("Sign this!" "Send that!" "Answer that intrusive page!"), while much of the rest is spent talking to patients, other caregivers and family members about matters that, while necessary, do not mean the difference between life and death. Not everything that a doctor does during a shift is lifesaving.
As Berger notes later in the article, some observant residents opt for a shomer shabbos residency, in which the resident has no shifts during shabbos (invariably paying the price with routine shifts on Saturday nights and Sunday). But for the majority who do work in the hospital on shabbos, there are a myriad of halachic issues. To begin with, is it acceptable to travel to the hospital? If so, can one drive, can one use public transportation, is it necessary to order a taxi driven by a non-Jew? Once in the hospital, can prescriptions be written, can charts be filled in, can the mundane aspects of residency be done despite the repeated violations of rabbinic (and often biblical) prohibitions relating to shabbos observance?
Amazingly, there is little discussion of these issues. Rabbis appear to be either woefully ignorant of the realities of what residents do, or extremely fearful of negative reaction from doctors who may not like what they hear about their halachic obligations.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Will My Son Read The Sports Section?
I've been reading the sports pages of the New York Times since I was around six years old. In those days, the Times only had a few pages devoted to sports. To my best recollection, the articles in the sports pages related to, well, sports. Today, the Times has a separate sports section.
In my advancing age - in ninety minutes I will be 33 years old - I am beginning to contemplate whether secular society is so antithetical to the religious values observant Jews are supposed to hold that the two simply cannot at all be reconciled.
In today's Times sports section, appearing on the same page as an article about the Jets search for a new head coach, is a feature about pornographic video games.
Though the feature was more favorable toward sexually explicit video games than I'd like, I'm not going to criticize the Times for publishing the piece. The games themselves are, in my view, disgusting, but I'm not interested in attacking their existence or the coverage of them - though the fact that many children will inevitably end up watching them is quite disturbing.
I don't know why the piece appeared in the sports section, since I don't see video games - whether or not pornographic - as the same thing as coverage of sports teams. But I accept that it's there whether or not I would like it to be.
I'm not trying to change the dominant secular culture we live in. Of course, tikkun olam is important, but beyond expressing our beliefs and making our values heard and known, religious Jews are too small a minority here to have any significant impact. But when my son who is now 13 months old learns to read, will I encourage him to read the sports pages like I did? Could I even allow to do so, at the risk of his becoming exposed to things that we who grew up in the 80's never encountered until we were in our teen years, and even then certainly not via the sports pages?
It's easy to talk in the abstract about the necessity of being an eager and active part of the wider society, not living in a "cave." I believe that's indeed the ideal. But what happens when mainstream parts of that society degenerate to the point of having diametrically opposite sentiments than even moderate and open-minded religious people can hold?
Munich, the Holocaust and Zionism
Charles Krauthammer strongly criticizes Munich in the Washington Post.
One of Krauthammer's criticisms is that "Spielberg makes the Holocaust the engine of Zionism and its justification."
That is an interesting issue. Many supporters of Israel also invoke the Holocaust as evidence of the need for a Jewish state and the cause of international support for one, and in Schindler's List, which nobody would consider anti-Israel, Spielberg appeared to make a similar point at the end.
In reality, the Holocaust decimated the Jewish people to such an extent that it almost cost us the formation of Israel, and when Israel was formed, it existed in tiny borders. Now Israel has serious demographic problems - again because of the Holocaust, since with so few Jews there are so few candidates for aliyah - and as a result is in the process of shrinking back toward its original tiny borders.
The bottom line is that the Holocaust, far from being the engine of Zionism, nearly derailed the Zionist movement completely, and did leave it seriously damaged. The many who believe otherwise include both friends and enemies of Israel, but their perception is offbase.
Friday, January 13, 2006
I finally had a chance to check in on the Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards. This blog is nominated in the following four categories:
Best Politics and Current Affairs
Thus far, this blog has been receiving between three and eight percent of the vote in the above categories.
Goodbye to Herm
With the departure of ex-Jets head coach Herm Edwards, for some the raison d'etre of this blog has been lost. But I will carry on.
Of course, the situation in Israel is much more important than the Jets' situation. I'm posting now about Herm because I want to spend more than just a few minutes on a new post about Ariel Sharon.
Having been away for a week, I haven't followed the media reports as closely as usual, but it appears that GM Terry Bradway has been getting blasted by the New York media.
Bradway has done a mediocre job over the last five years, but isn't it interesting that only when Herm leaves does Bradway get criticized? The media's love for Edwards is almost pathological and says a lot less about Herm than about the media's lack of credibility. Basically, if you give a few good quotes, treat beat reporters as though they are important public figures, and offer some off-the-record tidbits, you'll be lauded regardless of reality.
My overall take on Herm's departure is that the Jets did fantastically well. They not only got rid of a coach who was no longer motivating his players and never had a good feel on gameday, they were released from his contract, and even got a late fourth round pick from the Chiefs, who for some bizarre reason want to continue to underachieve.
It's worth remembering that all of the other teams who got rid of their head coaches - most of whom are better qualified than Herm - received no compensation and had to pay the millions left on those coaches' contracts.
Could the Jets have gotten more from KC than a late fourth rounder? I think so. Herm was - again for reasons unknown - the man that the Chiefs wanted. The Jets did themselves in by all the leaks that came out of their front office informing the world that they were in negotiations with the Chiefs. Once those leaks came out, there was no way Herm could return to the Jets, and all of the leverage shifted to Kansas City. In contrast, no leaks emerged from KC; of course, in fairness, there is a much less active media there.
But the notion that the Jets should have held out for a first round pick is silly. Unlike, say, Dick Vermeil, Herm did not win a Super Bowl. He was coming off a 4-12 season and his record over his five reasons was below .500. Had the Jets not blinked, they probably could have gotten a third and a sixth rounder, nothing close to a first round pick.
Coming back to Bradway, this offseason will be extremely important for the Jets. They need to acquire a new head coach and fill a coaching staff, will have a high first round pick and several extra picks (in addition to the Chiefs' pick, the Jets likely will receive compensatory picks resulting from their losses last offseason of free agents Lamont Jordan, Kareem McKenzie and Jason Ferguson), will have to address their quarterback situation and the future of John Abraham, among other key decisions. While Bradway's track record does not inspire confidence, his apparent recognition that Herm had to go was a strong step in the right direction, and he will have the chance - probably his last - to turn things around and set the Jets on the right course.
I got back to New York late last night. While I'm too overwhelmed with professional and personal obligations to update today, I hope in the very near future to post about Ariel Sharon; the current political situation in Israel and the pending elections; the departure of Herm Edwards; the Rangers' acquisition of Petr Sykora; the Jewish and Israeli blog awards; and Las Vegas.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Short Update from Los Angeles
It's 8:45 on Friday morning in LA. The hotel at which I'm staying has been kind enough to let me use the computer in their "business center" for 15 minutes. There's a person waiting on line right behind me. I've used 7 minutes to update myself on Ariel Sharon's condition, and the next three minutes to check on the Herm Edwards situation. That Herm is about to leave the Jets is a very slight consolation at this sad and precarious time for Israel, so I won't write about Herm or GM Terry Bradway's apparent mishandling of the negotiations with the Chiefs. There will be another time to write about all of that.
In five minutes, I can't express any real substantive feelings about the Sharon situation. Mostly, I just feel profound sadness. While I didn't always agree with Sharon, the fact that he was overwhelming choice of Israelis to be their Prime Minister adds to the challenges about to face Israel. I've seen today's polls that indicate that Kadima headed by Ehud Olmert will easily win the election, but it's obviously too soon to take any polls seriously. I have doubts about Olmert, who I didn't like even when he took right-wing positions as Jerusalem's mayor and as a cabinet minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir. I wonder whether Sharon's medical treatment was negligent, whether he went back to work much too soon for political reasons, whether, also for political reasons, he hesitated in going to the hospital on Wednesday night.
I've gone over my alloted time by five minutes, so gotta go. I don't know whether I'll be able to update again, but I'll try. Shabbat shalom to everyone, and let's hope for better news.
Apropos of my post about Orthodox Jews and TV, a friend who wishes to remain anonymous has sent me the following thought provoking anecdote:
So a few weeks ago, my 8-year old son came home and informed us that he doesn't want to read or watch anything "Goyish". No videos or DVDs, no TV, no books, no graphic novels (i.e. comics). Yesterday he came home and told us that he wants us to throw out our TV. (The majority of boys in his class have TVs.)
I know this kid and I know that he couldn't handle not having any form of entertainment. He loves to read. He loves to watch Transformers and Pokemon.
My wife's reaction about TV is "Good for him. He's right." I agree. She was a little hesitant about the whole thing about no books, but I think it's great also. He should be learning Torah.
But that's all in theory. The kid just doesn't have the ability to sit still for 15 minutes and there is no way that he could spend all his free time learning. I encourage him all the time but he just can't handle more than a few minutes at a time of independent study. Plus, I don't like the attitude of "Goyish". There's nothing wrong with a good story regardless of who the author is. And there's nothing wrong with fantasy and make-believe.
So I sat him down and first gave him a talk about how there are different people within the frum world. Some will only eat Chalav Yisroel and some will eat M&Ms etc. Some have payos and some don't. Some will read books and go to college and some won't. He will have different rebbes in his life and some will tell him that some things are good while others will tell him differently. As long as he's with his parents, he will follow our rebbes and practices. He will eat non-Chalav Yisroel, go to college, etc. Every family is different and he is part of our family where we are more open to books and college. He shouldn't feel any less frum because of it.
Then I asked him if he knows why we watch TV. He said so that we don't get bored. I told him absolutely not. If you are bored then you open up a Chumash. However, when people get older the day becomes busier and busier and everyone needs a little time to relax. Everyone relaxes differently depending on what calms them down. Some relax by taking a long walk. Others relax by reading a magazine. And others relax by watching a little TV.
Then I told him that it might be better if we limit his intake of TV and videos to Friday afternoon. That way, if he really wants to watch TV on other days he can remember that he'll be able to watch in a few days. He agreed to this. And he's still reading books late at night.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I was about to write a short post about the Mets' trading away of Jae Seo to the Dodgers today, but all of that is very trivial in light of Prime Minister Sharon's medical condition. As I write this, at 4:42 P.M., there are reports that Sharon has suffered a major stroke and that Ehud Olmert is now the acting prime minister. These reports contradict initial reports that Sharon was not seriously ill. Regardless of our political sentiments, we must hope and pray that Sharon recovers and that the State of Israel flourishes.
UPDATE: 5:20 PM. It has now been confirmed that Prime Minister Sharon's condition is grave. That is bad enough. That Jewish extremists will soon be celebrating and attributing this to the Gush Katif withdrawal is equally disturbing and sad.
UPDATE: 1/5/06 - 7:30 AM. The reports about Ariel Sharon clearly do not offer very much cause for optimism. I wish I could post my detailed thoughts about Sharon himself and about the implications for Israel. Alas, I am leaving to the airport in a little more than two hours, and will then be without Internet access for more than a week.
Orthodox Jews and TV
Orginially posted on June 8, 2004.
The yeshiva elementary school I attended from 1978-1986 was ideologically confused. The only non-chasidic yeshiva in Boro Park, its student body largely came from modern or centrist Orthodox families. The all boys school was clearly more liberal than the charedi yeshivas in Flatbush, and more strict than the proudly modern Orthodox schools in the area.
In a way that was a good thing, except for the school's self-consciousness at being labeled "modern" by those on its right. It would try to compensate in bizarre ways, such as when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and the school suddenly decided that velvet yarmulkes and knitted yarmulkes were okay, but not suede yarmulkes. Even if one accepts that what kind of yarmulke a person wears is at all relevant, this particular decision was non-sensical, since both suede and knitted yarmulkes cause discomfort among the charedi yeshivas. In a hilarious incident, one day the principal did a spot check of yarmulkes, and upon his entrance, one boy quickly placed a black velvet yarmulke atop his knitted yarmulke. The principal saw this, removed the velvet yarmulke and angrily chided the student for "putting a different yarmulke on top of the perfectly kosher one you were already wearing."
Another area of confusion in that school was television. Officially, watching TV was discouraged, but almost everyone in the school had televisions and watched TV. Unlike the high school I later attended, in which the principal railed against television and referred to parents who had TV's in the house as "either idiots or hypocrites," this school tacitly accepted that TV was a part of its students' lives.
When it came to choosing members of the school's honor society, how much TV one watched became an important issue. Joining the honor society was desirable because it allowed the honoree to skip a day of school late in the year to go to Great Adventures, a New Jersey theme park. As the trip grew closer and it became necessary for the school to fill its buses to make the trip economically feasible, the principal would come into class to interview students, mainly to ask how much TV they watched. Officially the limit was 30 minutes a day except for sports, which had a 60 minute limit. I passed the test despite candidly telling the principal that during football season, I watched TV all day on Sunday. Another kid admitted that he could not miss the A-Team each Tuesday night, which of course ran for an hour. While a logical solution would have been for him to agree to forego his 30 minute allowance on some other night, he too received a dispensation.
In those days, the shows we watched were programs like the A-Team, Greatest American Hero, McGyver, Cheers, the Cosby Show, Diff'rent Strokes, Magnum P.I. and Family Ties. Today, reruns of those shows are often rated G.
For an observant Jew, it's easy to rail against the declining standards of what appears on television today. When the New York Times, hardly a prudish media outlet controlled by the religious right, is strongly critical, it's hard not to take notice. The Times' Alessandra Stanley is to be credited with her column last Thursday. As she wrote, "networks justify their slumming by insisting that such shows are breaking down unhealthy taboos; but there are no taboos left on television, except perhaps, girls behaving decently."
It's easy to tell people to simply turn off the television if one doesn't like what's on. Both liberals and the charedi world make that argument. The problem is that what's shown on TV cannot be separated from the standards of the society we live in. Withdrawal from that society is not impossible, but it carries a heavier cost than simply changing the channel.
Getting rid of one's TV or limiting the stations one can access might be a partial solution, but ultimately the challenge of those of us who are observant but who choose to be an active part of American society goes beyond that. I don't think there's a simple answer either on an individual, familial or community level, but the issue needs to be soberly considered by serious observant Jews. While the approach of my elementary school principal was not especially sophisticated, its pragmatic recognition of reality was, in retrospect, a good start.
Originally posted on August 2, 2004.
Yesterday in a Judaica store, I came across one of these books with miracle stories about Jews who survived the September 11 attacks.
Never mind - for purposes of this post only - how provincial and self-centered these books are, by focusing exclusively on observant Jews. They are offensive even when viewed from within the prism of Orthodox Jewry.
On an individual level, of course, anyone who worked in the World Trade Center and survived must be extremely grateful for their good fortune. I know that a frum person at Cantor Fitzgerald, already late for work, was seconds away from being trapped - he was riding in an elevator on the way to Cantor just as the north building was hit by the first plane. Cantor was above the plane's impact and nobody there (including a young Orthodox woman who lived on the Upper West Side and a law school classmate of mine) survived. I also know a man who was on a very high floor of the south tower and headed downstairs as soon as the north tower was hit. He made it, but many of his co-workers, heeding the announcements to stay where they were, did not.
There also were members of Hatzalah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance service, who survived despite being in grave danger.
From their perspective and that of their families, the fact that they were spared must indeed be seen as miraculous.
On a wider level, however, I view all the miracle stories as indicative of a great deal of immaturity among some observant Jews. The idea being sent seems to be that God protected certain people because of their piety. We are supposed to believe that scores of people arrived late to work because of an old man who delayed morning services, or that a woman locked herself out of her house and called her husband home from work, where most of his colleagues perished.
Many people - including members of my family - survived the Holocaust against all odds. But many more were murdered in the Holocaust, and nobody would view the Holocaust as primarily an opportunity for miracle stories about the survivors. Nor, when speaking about suicide bombings in Israel, do people have a need to claim that God miraculously saved those who were fortunate to survive unscathed. It is understood that while some were extremely fortunate to be saved and should thank God for their survival, a terrible disaster occurred.
Somehow the 9/11 disaster brought out a need for all these miracle stories. It didn't matter that a large number of observant Jews were murdered and suffered horribly, that many of their bodies were never found, or that for their surviving families, a book containing miracle stories likely was adding salt to their wounds.
Joe Schick, your New York Jets have just won their season finale against the Buffalo Bills to finish the season with a 4-12 record. What are you going to do now?!
I'm going to Disneyland!
Actually, I'm not sure if I'll be going to Disneyland, but after the Jets dismal display over the past 17 weeks, I need to get away for a little while. So I'm off to LA tomorrow to commence a week on the West Coast.
Six years ago, I visited LA the day after the 1999 season ended. While driving from the airport to the Valley, I heard on the radio that Bill Parcells had resigned and would be replaced by Bill Belichick, The next night, while at the Staples Center for a Lakers vs. Clippers game, I called a friend who told me that Belichick had also resigned.
Hopefully on this trip, my luck (and that of the Jets) will be different, and I will find out that Herm Edwards is off to Kansas City. Is it really possible that the Jets could actually rid themselves of Herm and get a compensatory draft pick? It sounds too good to be true, but one can hope. (Of course, if GM Terry Bradway is still around, the draft pick won't be worth much.)
My first stop in LA will of course be to The Milky Way, the kosher restaurant on Pico Blvd. owned by Steven Spielberg's mom, where I'll berate Mrs. Adler for her son's latest film.
Just kidding. I won't get to The Milky Way until at least Friday.
When I planned this vacation in September, I made sure to leave and return on a weekday, since otherwise I might miss a Jets playoff game. As it turns out, I won't be missing any Jets games, but I will be missing the Rangers' tribute to Mark Messier, whose number will be retired in a pre-game ceremony next Thursday night, while I'm on an airplane back to JFK.
Anyway, my Internet access will be very limited at best over the next week, and I will likely not be able to post. In the meantime, I will post three old posts that I believe remain relevant and interesting.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Haaretz and Sharon
On September 18, 2003, Haaretz senior writer Daniel Ben Simon wrote:
Haaretz is trying very hard to reveal Sharon's true character and morals. It seems that Israelis are not in the mood to pay attention to these "minor" details.
What has changed? Have Sharon's "true characters and morals" improved, or is Haaretz no longer in the mood to pay attention to these "minor" details?
In the series premiere of Fox's animated Futurama, which was televised back in the good days around '98 or '99, there's a scene in which Dick Clark (or more precisely Dick Clark's head) hosts the New Year's party in the year 3000.
Prior to his stroke, Clark was seen as an ageless smooth talker. On Saturday night, when he made his first public appearance since his stroke in late 2004, it became clear that post-stroke, Dick Clark is an old man whose speech is difficult to understand.
While some may ridicule Clark, I was impressed that he came back for the 2006 New Year's countdown. His speech was slurred, his voice very hoarse, and his words were not always easy to comprehend, particularly at the start of the broadcast. Perhaps because they don't want to tarnish their legacy or the way they are remembered, most celebrities disappear from public view when age and/or illness cause the source of their stardom to abandon them. In contrast, Dick Clark reminded viewers that real life can sometimes be harsh and challenging but that one must persevere. That is admirable, and hopefully Saturday night will mark the start of Clark's comeback, not his farewell.
Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards
Nominations for the Jewish and Israeli blog awards have been announced and appear on the Jerusalem Post's web site. This blog has been nominated for best overall blog, best post, best series, and best politics and current affairs blog.
Here are my thoughts about some of the contenders in the various categories:
For best series, I've got to go with Hirhurim's informative, interesting and comprehensive series about The Religious Zionism Debate. At last count, Gil Student has posted seventeen times on this topic. Notwithstanding the nomination of a series that I wrote, Gil wins this category hands down.
For best post, I think my post about the Rabin murder and its impact on me is a pretty good candidate. Hopefully it'll get a few votes.
While there a number of strong blogs in the category of best Jewish religion blog, Hirhurim wins that one too.
I think Hirhurim also deserves strong consideration for best overall blog, but I could see some merit in voting for another blog in this category so that Gil doesn't hog the awards. Godol Hador and Bloghead will be among the leading candidates along with Hirhurim. There are lots of strong candidates, and I'm not sure who I'll vote for. Since I'm a big sports fan, can't stand the terrible coaching of Herm Edwards, have a moderate right-wing stance on Israel, find Steven Spielberg's 'Munich' to be objectionable, and am growing very frustrated by the increasing extremism among the right-wing charedi rabbinate, there's a possibility that I will vote for this blog. But I remain undecided.
In the best politics and current affairs blog, Bloghead and DovBear will likely duke it out, though I will probably vote for myself and invite those undecided between the Shavivs and DovBear to do the same.
In the best personal blog category, Elster's World, the blog of fellow Jets, Mets and Rangers (but not Nets) fan Elster, is a nominee, but I'll have to go with Robert Avrech's Seraphic Secret. It's too bad that MoChassid was not nominated in this category; some of MoC's personal posts have been outstanding.
In the competition for best group blog, I think Maven Yavin stands out. While I'm only an occasional reader due to time constraints, the quality of the participants and the posts are both extremely high and it is a compelling read.
Surprisingly, Godol Hador, while a nominee in several leading categories, is not a candidate for best humor blog, despite his excellent biting satire during the height of the Slifkin controversy.
Of course, there are many fine bloggers that have been nominated whom I haven't mentioned. There are now many Jblogs, of which I only read a handful, again because of time constraints.
The voting commences on January 9th. Best of luck to all of the candidates.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
The 2005 season is mercifully finally over for the New York Jets, who defeated the Bills at home today to finish with a 4-12 record. While the season really ended in week 3, when quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler sustained season-ending injuries and the team's coaches and players basically quit, the NFL required the Jets to play 13 games after that.
Today's win was quite impressive, since the victory was over the Bills, who jetsphan proclaimed to be one of the top five teams in the NFL. Indeed, jetsphan informed us that "The Bills will be the surprise of the NFL. They are stocked with young talent throughout their roster."
Somehow the Jets still won today.
Today was the first time I was hesitant about rooting for the Jets to win. It was obviously a game that was not at all meaningful, arguably less meaningful than the Jets' draft position. Ultimately, I didn't really root for the Jets to win or lose, I just watched the game fairly dispassionately and let it play out.
With the Packers and 49ers winning, the victory ultimately did not prove very costly, with the Jets now drafting fourth in the 2006 draft instead of third.
I'm pretty resigned to GM Terry Bradway and head coach Herm Edwards returning for 2006, but was amazed to read in this weekend's newspapers that behind the scenes Edwards is pressuring Jets owner Woody Johnson for a contract extension along with a raise from the meager $2 million a year Herm is getting paid.
Indeed, the Newark Star Ledger reports that "people close to" Edwards say that "Edwards is unhappy with a contract that has two years remaining and he wants an extension." Today's Daily News similarly reports that for Herm "it's all about the money," according to a "person who has known Edwards for years."
Fortunately, some sanity remains in the NFL, albeit not within the Jets organization. Today's Daily News also reports that "an official from another team, speaking on the condition of anonymity," said that Edwards' defense of his performance is "nothing but excuses." The official correctly stated: "Please tell me how their defense was impacted by injuries. They had their MVP, (Jonathan) Vilma. They had John Abraham. And Shaun Ellis and Dewayne Robertson didn't get hurt until a couple of weeks ago. They had all their best players."
The Jets should hire this anonymous official immediately.