The blog Holocaust in the Baltics, edited by the venerated Yiddish linguist and cultural activist Dovid Katz, has an interesting rundown of the recent commemorative ceremony for destroyed Lithuanian Jewish communities massacred in the Paneriai forest. The ceremony, which was attended by government officials, diplomats and a small group of local Jews, provided a peek into an oft-ignored corner of the exile. Fania Kukliansky, a well-known attorney and head of the Vilnius Jewish Community gave a speech in Lithuanian in honor of those murdered, Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, a former Jewish partisan who is being investigated by the Lithuanian government for so-called “atrocities,” delivered an address in Yiddish about the need to learn universal lessons from the Holocaust.
Yet the blog details another, much more unusual speech by Emanuel Zingeris, a former Jewish community official turned right-wing Lithuanian nationalist politician. Holocaust in the Baltics writes:
A politically charged speech was given by Emanuelis Zingeris, a member of the Lithuanian parliament and its ruling right-wing faction, who is head of its committee on foreign affairs. Though a prominent Jewish personality, he resigned from the Jewish Community of Lithuania years ago, and has become a leading figure in Baltic nationalist circles. He continued the politicians’ tradition of saying different things to different audiences. He told the assembled crowd that he did not really consider Nazi and Soviet crimes to be equal, and that those who raised ‘suspicions’ about Ghetto escapees were making a ‘mistake’, but made no reference to his own many on-the-record pronouncements over the years in his governmental capacity as point man and ‘court Jew’ for the ‘Double Genocide movement’
Now calling someone a court Jew tells us that Zingeris is a politically powerful man that says one thing to the Jews and one thing to the Goyim. Ah, such a medieval problem!
Not really. The article provides links to Zingeris’ record of spouting “Double Genocide” ideology while sitting in the Lithuanian Parliament. The blog defines as Double Genocide Ideology as:
Attempts to utterly redefine genocide; painfully absurd accusations against aged Holocaust survivors; tacit encouragement of racist and antisemitic moods, particularly victimising today’s remnant Jewish community in this part of the world; attempts to restrict freedom of debate; state financed campaigns to persuade the European Union to accept the revisionist model, via the Prague Declaration, via a Europe-wide mixed Nazi-Soviet commemoration day, and other mechanisms.
In contemporary Lithuania, the land of our ancestors, three Jews are giving three speeches about the Holocaust. And yet, those three Jews, who delivered those speeches in three different languages (none of them Hebrew) hold radically different notions of the Jewish relationship to the Nations. Zingeris, who for a long time was on boards charged with the renovation of Vilnius’ Jewish Quarter, is now counted among those who believe there was little difference between Lithuanian suffering under the Soviets and Jewish suffering under fascist Nazi-Lithuanian collaborators. He also thinks that its appropriate to talk out of both sides of his mouth.
Yet, the Baltic boot that pins Zingeris’ neck in some ways pins us all.
My pregnant wife sitting at home, I stood in the grocery store aisle with two bottles of grape juice in my hand–in the one hand I had the bottle of Kedem grape juice (I usually buy the organic, but they were all out) and in the other hand, a bottle of organic Santa Cruz 100% Concord Grape juice. I didn’t know what to do. My wife and I are dedicated to maintaining an organic diet. Some consumers choose organic products only when available; we choose to ONLY purchase organic products, if there’s not an organic option, we don’t get it. But here it was, Friday afternoon, too late to run around to more stores to look for organic juice that had a hekhsher. What to do… Can I, a soon to be rabbi ordained by the Conservative Movement, say kiddush on juice without a hekhsher? It’s not something I had ever done before… would I be willing to start? I was.
Unlike some, I have read and learned quite a bit about stam yeinam. Literally meaning ‘their wine,’ it refers to the practice of maintaining that when it comes to grape products, only Jewish hands may be a part of the production from start to finish. Dating back to Talmudic times, this practice was solidified, codified and reinforced by the work of the Tosafot (Franco-German medieval Talmudic commentators specifically interested in halakhic legal theory). In theory, the practice has two reasons, as far as my research has shown me. 1) There was the fear that wine purchased for kiddush could have been used or dedicated for avodah zarah (idol worship), and 2) that in certain areas blood was used as a purifier (the salts would act to separate out impurities in the wine). So today, in 2010, when there is no more avodah zarah as it was meant by the Talmud and there is hardly a winery in the world that would use blood as a purifier, what do we do with this tradition? (Hebrew readers who are interested in this topic should DEFINITELY check out Hayim Soloveitchik’s book on the topic titled “יינם”) More »
Your life is a mess. You’re tired of the routine, you’re constantly craving more of what you’ve already attained, and you find true satisfaction in nothing and in no one. Well here’s the quick fix: 1. Plan an expensive get-away. 2. No, actually, scratch that—plan three expensive get-aways. 3. But it’s not just the location that’s getting to you. You’re also sick of your significant other. So dump the schlub, give no real reason for your decision to break-up, and then… 4. Swear with almost-compelling adamancy that you’re not looking to be in a relationship— 5. then sleep with a string of people who look nearly indistinguishable from your former sig-o. The key here is that they all must be young, virile, and totally whipped. 6. All the while, make sure not to deny yourself any culinary pleasure. 7. Gleefully declare your independence from weight concerns, as you claim to gourmandize your way around the world, eat more—while still fitting magically into your ever-expanding wardrobe of size 2 sartorial splendor. 8. Seek counsel from at least two oppressed Third World women who are visibly ‘ethnically Other.’ 9. But in the end, make sure that it is you who gives them advice. After all, what are you if not the paragon of discipline, self-control, and loving-kindness? 10. Find yourself…in the arms of a ruggedly handsome Brazilian.
Summarized (in case we’ve lost you already): Eat without gaining weight, pray without believing, and love without…well, loving. In case you have not sacrificed 133 minutes of your life watching the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling Eat Pray Love (which I have not read), the 10 rules outlined above will help you attain enlightenment, according to the film’s impeccable logic. Writing a review of this film, pointing to its almost laughably offensive hypocrisy and disturbingly classist, racist, and sexist messages, is like shooting fish in a barrel, and many have beat me to this task already. Instead, I want to reflect on the larger trends that this film and the book upon which it is based represent and how we can use Judaism to deal with some of these cosmic issues that the EPL cult supposedly tackles and resolves.
In this month of Elul, leading up the earlier-than-usual battery of Jewish holidays this year, we are charged with the task of intensive cheshbon nefesh, a kind of introspective reflection on our actions over the past year. In the current climate of crassly classist and gender-coded self-help quick-fixes, traditional Judaism offers us a much-needed antidote to the kind of ‘me first’ mentality of NSA new-agey spirituality that this film so strikingly emblematizes. EPL has to be one of the least Jewish films out there: despite the protagonist Liz’s insensitive and exploitative treatment of most of the other characters in the film, never once does our well-fed world-traveler express any genuine remorse for her cavalier treatment and attitude towards others. Perhaps most notable in Liz’s string of careless actions towards others is her bizarrely under-explained, sudden, seemingly arbitrary abandonment of her spouse at the very outset of the film. While classically “Jewish guilt” can be stretched to unhealthy limits, at the very least it affirms that which is most essentially human about us—our ability to feel, our ability to be accountable to others.
In Avot d’Rabbi Natan, chapter 41, we are told that we should regard even the slightest wrong we commit against another with utmost seriousness; whereas we should not dwell on the good deeds we have performed for others. This is a near 180 reversal of the EPL approach which dangerously conflates boundless personal enlightenment with boundless self-entitlement. In the EPL film, protagonist Liz Gilbert’s single outward act of kindness to others –the scene in which she ‘selflessly’ emails her friends, appealing to them for donations to help a natural healer and her daughter build a house in Bali—is piously prefaced by Gilbert’s self-righteous declaration that this request comes in lieu of her annual birthday celebration. The dramatic montage that follows of her friends receiving the email appeal signals to us that this Liz’s ultimate moment of enlightenment; this is her defining moment of ‘giving,’ Beyond the obviously paternalistic quality of the rich-white-woman-saves-the-struggling-natives, this scene smacks of the kind of crass, self-congratulatory armchair philanthropy that lulls people into self-righteous complacency: ‘I’ve written the check; I am now absolved of further responsibility towards my fellow humans.’
Real loving-kindness involves a long-term investment in the sanctity of the Other. And no, not just that supposedly ‘significant Other’—rather, the acknowledgement of all other people as significant, and the realization that we must invest in them not only materially, but also personally. The way to grow with others is to take responsibility by being present in their lives. What Liz lacks is a sense of rootedness, the sense of unity upon which community is based. All of Gilbert’s globetrotting points to an inability and lack of desire to commit to other human beings and forge authentic relationships.
Again, it is entirely unclear what exactly propels Liz to leave her husband at the outset of the film—all we’re told is that ‘things can’t continue this way,’ although we see nothing particularly alarming onscreen. In fact, what we see is all fairly typical and benign; Liz and her adoring husband are engaging in light banter. All we know is that Liz cannot handle her life as it is any longer. What present-day in-vogue spirituality misses is the point that one can actually discover boundless meaning in the routine of real, mundane life. Patience and forbearance might be considered passé, but it’s the real deal.
Case in point: even the National Geographic-quality cinematography, with its wide lens doting lovingly on EPL’s glamorously sun-soaked characters and sweeping, exotic landscapes and, bursting with exuberantly lush colour, still fails to make us love the film or the figures portrayed therein. In this film, everything—and everyone—is relegated to the status of ambient scenery…a Potemkin village populated by poorly developed stereotypes. Despite a good chunk of the film taking place in India and Indonesia, we are basically spared any unpleasant and ‘unpalatable’ scenes of actual poverty and suffering.
It’s 133 minutes of tantalizing culinary, spiritual, and pseudo-sexual foreplay. Nothing ever really materializes, except for the sheer ubiquity of the material forces driving the ‘action’ (if you can even call it that). Set against only the most breathtaking of landscapes, we watch Robert’s character shamelessly indulging in an endless parade of epicurean delights, nearly interchangeable, conventionally attractive young men, and more generally, snorting up the cocaine of petty affirmation through the regurgitation of self-help platitudes. EPL, with its ‘money and men can cure all’ approach is panglossian at best, and is inhumanely narcissistic at worst. In this past week’s Parasha, Parashat Ki Tetse, we read towards the beginning of the portion of the sin of gluttony (Deut. 21:20-21); a gluttonous son technically qualifies for death by stoning. Indeed, death by stoning would have made the film considerably more interesting.
One of the more amusing points of the film, which is replete with instances of consoling consumption and too many delightful moments of conspicuous product-placement to mention, is when Liz seeks “whatever” (let’s just call it that, since her Self seems like a lost cause) at an Ashram, and is told she can purchase a “silence” tag at the bookstore. Even the choice to remain silent must be purchased! Indeed, instead of appealing the Master of the Universe, we are advised to whip out our MasterCard.
Interestingly, God is never really mentioned in the film. Only at one point, when Liz first decides to “pray,” does she sort of address ‘God,’ but, like everything else in the film, “God” here functions ornamentally, much in the same way as all of her beaus blend into the landscape as figures she uses instrumentally, solely for the purpose of her immediate personal edification and comfort. Clearly, Liz’s ‘prayer’ is more a signifying act than a genuine appeal or promise for anything. Indeed, that very brief ‘prayer’ scene typifies today’s NSA spirituality.
According to an April 2010 article in USA Today, a whopping 72% of the members of generation Y in the U.S. self-identify as “more spiritual than religious”: a diffuse, general sense of “spirituality” seems to prevail among the younger generation. Exactly what such figures mean is an interesting question. Perhaps young people, jaded by the perceived hypocrisy of societal institutions involved in questionable military adventures abroad and failed economic and social policies at home, wish to avoid the stuffiness of institutional structure as they seek personal meaning. This avoidance of established institutions, while perhaps explainable, is, nevertheless, regrettable. While more structured and specifically religious forms of meaning-making can be stifling, this is not the time to abandon all forms of committed/practice-oriented devotion. If anything, the young have the potential to infuse these older traditions with a new, updated kind of meaning and help build a form of worship and practice that is better attuned to the needs and desires of today’s meaning seeker. But practice-based, community-oriented religion has received an unnecessarily bad rap these days.
Don’t get me wrong—spirituality is a beautiful thing in its genuine form. But every intention needs a structure—a calendar and a location—and most importantly, a community. As social animals, even the seemingly solitary act of self-improvement relies heavily on our interaction with others. Admittedly, at a certain point, it is difficult to draw a line separating ‘religion’ and spirituality.’ Ideally the two converge to create the ultimate meaningful devotional experience. In a way, the two share many of the same potential dangers: exploitative leadership, false promises, extortion of money, and so on. But in today’s cult of “take time for You,” these dangers seem to proliferate with the false comfort of ‘all you can eat’ spirituality that cuts you off from any real sense of empathy, participation and activism.
Is Javier Bardem holding a banana? Really??
Getting back to the film for a moment though: even in her supposedly most vulnerable moments in the film, there is something decidedly smug about Liz’s spiritual odyssey, which culminates in a neatly-resolved scene where she pursues a relationship with yet another attractive man. Having found ‘love’ (or at least lust), Liz’s journey comes to a eminently photogenic close. As we move through the month of Elul, it is critical for us to keep in mind that true seeking never finishes in a Hollywood ending, but rather, is more challenging and also more beautiful and infinitely more subtle.
As we reflect on the past year and plan how we can create more genuine religious (or spiritual, if you like) experiences in the year to come, remember the words of André Gide who said, “”Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”
NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.
The article goes on to say
In the past year, there has unfolded within American Modern Orthodox Judaism the first major evidences of a pending theological schism, as a small but media-savvy minority of rabbinic activists from the YCT/ IRF camp have begun pushing the MO envelope farther to the Left than mainstream Modern Orthodoxy ever contemplated. At the center of the impending schism is Rabbi Avi Weiss. He is charismatic and dynamic, rabbi of a shul with a large membership where he can introduce any innovation he desires, and he has a rabbinical seminary and rabbinical association in place to give his agenda the aura of a legitimate “movement.” Although Young Israel synagogues do not readily accept YCT graduates as congregational rabbis and the 900-member RCA does not regard YCT ordination as carrying the legitimacy of a RIETS Semikha, Rabbi Weiss has decided that he no longer needs communal approbation to venture on his own because he has the minions. More »
Around the country, yesterday, many cheered and many booed as Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, as unconstitutional and in contradiction of the due process clause.
While a seeming majority of US Jews are clearly supportive of overturning the ballot proposition, known in many circles in California as “Prop H8,” the Orthodox Union made this bizarre statement, according to the JTA:
“In addition to our religious values — which we do not seek to impose on anyone — we fear legal recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ poses a grave threat to the fundamental civil right of religious freedom.
“Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one,” it added, concluding that the OU looked forward to the appeals process.
In what world does the OU live? Apparently one where they will be forced by US law to officiate at same-sex marriages? Yes, that’s right, here in America practices and beliefs are forced upon religious organizations all the time. That’s why every synagogue has to have a nativity scene or a giant set of Ten Commandment plaques…
The full statement, which can be read here, goes on to say:
Already, in states with same-sex civil unions and similar laws, religious institutions, including churches, social service providers and youth groups have been penalized by authorities for their beliefs. Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one.
We look forward to the appeals process which will bring these critical issues to America’s highest courts.
Oh! Now I get it! They are against being told what to do or believe because it impedes the religious freedoms of a sliver of a tiny minority population in the US (which I really don’t understand how their freedoms are impeded at all)… What they are NOT against is taking away the constitutional rights of at least 10% of the US population who have been relegated to second-class citizen status and forced to stand by as the sacred institution of marriage is maintained for adulterers and wife-beaters… Good ol’ fashioned sense and reasoning from the OU.
Thursday, after seeing my two children off to Camp Ramah, I came home and I put on my going to prison clothes. This is something I have not thought about in a while. When I was in Grad School near Boston, once or twice a month on a Sunday I would visit Jeff (not his real name) at Walpole State Prison, about an hour or so south of Boston. One of the saddest things about these visits was seeing the children in (what I came to call) their “Sunday going to prison clothes” visiting their fathers.
Thursday, however, I was not going to visit somebody else in prison, I was going to get arrested. I was part of a group of approximately one hundred Rabbis, priests, ministers and workers who sat down in front of the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Blvd. to protest the practices of the Hyatt Hotel.
If you had told me three years ago, when I first came to Israel, that I would be spending my Friday afternoons protesting in East Jerusalem, I never would have believed you. If you had told me that the behavior of this country and its residents was going to make it difficult for me to feel comfortable practicing Judaism, I would have believed you even less.
Since I started attending the weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah, I’ve stopped going to shul on Friday night. In part, it’s logistics – I get home tired and sweaty at 6 or 6:30, and I want a break and a shower before dinner. Partially, though, it’s become uncomfortable for me. There’s something that Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli human rights lawyer who grew up in the Reform community outside of Boston, wrote once, which I increasingly feel in myself:
“Unless I’m with people who I am certain do not espouse Zionism or any form of oppression, I cannot comfortably honor the tradition, or even be sure I want to be part of it.”
Even in my struggle with Judaism itself, the past three years of studying gemara have oriented me toward the world through the lens of text and textual connections. So here’s the gezerah shavah I have to offer:
There is a liturgical similarity between Kabbalat Shabbat and the weekly protest. In L’cha Dodi, the line is “hitoreri, hitoreri, ki va orech kumi ori” – wake up, wake up, for your light has come, arise and shine. In the protest “liturgy,” one of the chants uses the same verb – “ezrachim lehitorer, hafascism kvar over” – residents, wake up, fascism has already passed (it works better in Hebrew).
I’ve been dwelling on those lines as representative of the tension that I’m feeling around typical religious practice (as opposed to, say, Heschel’s praying with his feet). More »
“We are extending our hand in peace,” said Ghawi. “We have lost hope that the Israeli establishment is able to make decisions, so we wish to talk directly to the Israeli public. Also, we are here to say that the prisoners are our sons and we favor their release. It is impossible to talk only about one side of the equation – the release of Shalit also means the release of Palestinian prisoners.”
Neither my wife nor I were able to make it to the rally last night. Before reading this story, it didn’t even occur to us to go. But we discussed standing in solidarity with Nasser – as Bassam Aramin, one of the founders of Combatants for Peace, said to me recently, “they’re all our children.”
I woke up this morning to discover that Nasser, his son, and one of the Jewish Israeli activists who was with him were stopped for questioning on their way to the protest last night. They were detained, searched, and humiliated by the police, for no reason other than being a Palestinian and a leftist walking together in Jerusalem.
“They told us it was their right to search, take our cell phones and interrogate us. I asked them ‘Why are you arresting me,’ and they replied ‘because we hate Arabs, but we hate people like you even more’.”
Yotam Wolf, the Israeli activist who was with Nasser last night, tells his version of the story here in Hebrew.
It seemed to me a profound act, for Nasser to stand in solidarity with the Shalit family – to say that their child, as well as the many Palestinian children currently (and in many cases illegally) held in prison, deserve to be able to go home to their parents. I thought back to the night of the flotilla, when two women who were sitting in the Shalit protest tent outside the prime minister’s house, came to shout at those of us protesting nearby – a protest organized, at least in part, by the Sheikh Jarrah activists. How wonderful would it have been to have been able to say to them that our Palestinian friends protested in favor of Shalit’s release as well – that we want freedom and security for everyone’s children.
But alas, the forces that be seem not to be interested in that kind of solidarity. Ynet reports that Nasser will try again to visit the protest tent in the coming days. I hope the next visit is less eventful.
Looking back at Parashat Balak, one might be compelled to ask why exactly is this story included within the book of Numbers. In particular, the Moabite prophet Balaam’s peculiar exchange with his donkey seems rather random when considered within the larger narrative arc of the story.
As the only instance of a speaking animal since the cunning snake in Genesis, one might expect our portion’s donkey to say something of exceeding importance and weight. Instead, she utters something utterly understated and even banal: she asks her master why he struck her three times when she has never wronged him. The simplicity of the dialogue and the repetitive rhythm of the characters’ actions here all suggest an almost fable-like story structure. As such, we can perhaps most productively view this story as primarily didactic in nature.
What is the relevance of the speaking donkey? The Midrash Rabbah on the book of the Numbers explains that this scene represents the ultimate reversal of nature. Balaam was the wisest of men, and here he is upstaged by his donkey, the lowest of animals. For a more lofty and respectful view on the man-animal relationship however, let us turn our attention to a more inspiring passage found in the book of Job (Job 12:7-8):
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you
Here animals can be understood as possessing the very essence and wisdom of our earth. To communicate with animals is to share in their well-being, which is ultimately our well-being as humans. Perhaps this ‘dialogue’ does not take place in actual words, as it does in Parashat Balak, but rather, in actions, such as the way we relate to the environment and to our fellow creatures inhabiting this earth. Animals serve as the index of our respect for our planet, and, as we see from the recent BP disaster, when we turn away from our responsibility, the result to the earth and to the creatures which inhabit it is devastating.
If we are thinking about what it means to relate meaningfully to animals, we also must consider what it actually means to be human. As humans, we possess the intelligence and power to be deliberately holy beings. From the text alone, it appears the prophet Balaam prophesizes in the name of “Hashem, my God.” The overwhelming majority of the midrashic commentators pounce on this phrase and insist, rather vehemently, that Balaam was not a monotheistic, but rather, an idol worshipper, diviner, and a generally evil person. (Intriguing evidence of the former can be found in an inscription discovered in 1967 in the plains of the Jordan, at a site identified with Sukkoth in the area of the Jabok river. These fragments from “Visions of Balaam the son of Beor, seer of the gods” include a description of a goddess, fear of the havoc she could wreck, and an interesting array of god-names.)
Image of the Balaam Inscription
The overarching message, however, seems clear: whereas animals are all too often subjugated to their masters’ will (or that of other creatures), man possesses the unique capacity both for flaw and transcendent holiness, as we also learn through the story of Adam, Eve, and the snake. How? Through freedom of choice.
Balaam even knew in advance that his attempts to curse the Jews would ultimately prove abortive, but he kept trying—a weakness on his part. Despite his intimate knowledge of God (with God writ large or god in the plural, depending on your understanding of the text), Balaam remained a slave to his own social context. Balaam certainly was capable of achieving holiness, but he failed by succumbing to external pressures until only a donkey could teach him otherwise.
Interestingly, all but one of the Biblical characters in the Pentateuch whose names are immortalized as parasha titles are figures born as non-Jews. In the cases of Noah, Sarah, and Jethro, each drew closer to God in her/his own way through righteous and deliberate actions (Sarah and Jethro being ‘Jews by choice,’ but I contend that in our modern times all Jews are Jews by choice—today to identify actively as Jewish is no small feat). Such is most certainly not the case with Balak, the Moabite king after whom this pericope is named. All we know of Balak is his fear and desire to thwart the Israelites in their attempt to pass through the land. In this way, Balak seems to forgo our most interesting and empowering birthright as humans: our capacity for choice and constructive conflict resolution.
Which leads into this coming Shabbat’s portion, Parashat Pinchas, which immediately follows Parashat Balak. The only born-Jew to have a portion named after him, Pinchas, is, in a way, the Jewish counterpart of Balak, the Moabite king. Here again, we are revealed the disastrous consequences of an over-zealous man whose only response to a perceived threat is violence and destruction. Ironically, the house of David emerges from a Moabite woman (Ruth), as if to teach us, at this intersection between the Balak and Pinchas narrative, that all Jews originate from non-Jews, and in all cases (whether Jew or non-Jew), holiness is a choice, and constructive co-existence is a worthy uphill battle.
Image from the Soncino edition of Meshal HaQadmoni. The above shot is from the third chapter, entitled "In Praise of Good Advice," which even includes a story involving a donkey
(And If you’re a fan of morals and religious teachings embodied through speaking animals, I hereby commend yourattention to 13th century Spanish qabbalist R’ Isaac Ibn Sahula’s wonderfully understated collection of fables, Meshal HaQadmoni, a kind of Jewish, Torah-inspired answer to Aesop’s fables.)
Yossi Sarid at Haaretz has a somewhat fiery condemnation of Haredi attitudes toward the State of Israel.
The ultra-Orthodox public, which has always been cutting down our trees, is now uprooting them. It will destroy basic values, without which a democratic, developed state cannot exist. It will be lost unless it fights back.
He raises some interesting questions: in what ways to Haredim benefit from the existence of the State of Israel as it currently functions? In what ways do they come into conflict with its values? These aren’t questions for which I have anywhere near the requisite authority or experience to give an answer (and I’m not trying to imply one, but they’re worth asking.
The premise behind the Love/Hate series is that social justice and Israel feel awkward together. They just mix poorly. And the Jewish establishment is breathing down our necks trying to get young people to check their liberalism at the door instead of their loyalties to Israel. So this event represents a coalition of emerging Jewish communities who want an open space to discuss the most difficult issues.
As a taste of what NIF and Makom have been cooking up, here’s a question from the interactive part of the evening. Agree or disagree with each of these statements:
Anybody should be able to become an American citizen.
Anybody should be able to become an Israeli citizen.
Whoa, the guilt-and-fear-o-meter just spiked. More »
One can recoil at Rav Schachter’s words and still be grateful to him for drawing an absolute line in the sand. The world of Jews committed to serving God through a life of Torah and mitzvot is divided between those who believe that gender roles are eternally fixed and immutable, and those who believe that new faces of Torah and halacha are revealed in every generation—as they must, if Torah is to remain a Torat Chaim, a Torah of life, dynamic and alive in every generation.
One can respect the integrity—not to mention the robust clarity– of Rav Schachter’s position. But I wish to make one very fundamental point: the time is long past for Jews to assume that the forces of reaction are somehow “more authentic” or “more religious” than the forces of dynamism, responsiveness, and creativity.
For generations now, those arguing against Chiddush (innovation) in halacha have prided themselves on their insistence that conservatism is just about always the (only) authentic position. There is nothing particularly surprising about that.
But what is surprising—and not just surprising, but profoundly damaging for the prospects of Torah in the modern world—is that those who have argued for Chiddush out of passion and conviction that this is what God wants have largely conceded the point. And thus, countless Torah-observant Jews spend much of their time anxiously looking over their right shoulder, hoping against hope that those on the other side of Rav Schachter’s line will somehow confer legitimacy upon them.
Last week, Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa and a persistent critic of the report, wrote in the newspaper Business Day that the judge should be allowed to attend the bar mitzvah because every synagogue “should welcome in a tolerant and nonjudgmental way all who seek to enter and join in our service and pray to God.”
Glad these guys realized the error of their ways.
But Rabbi Goldstein also renewed his criticism of the judge, saying his report “has unfairly done enormous damage to the reputation and safety of the State of Israel and her citizens.”
Oh wait, that’s right. Never mind.
He [Goldstone] added that Rabbi Goldstein’s “rhetoric” about tolerance “simply does not coincide with how my family and I have been treated.”
That just about covers it. It takes a pretty despicable lowlife to uninvite someone from their grandson’s Bar Mitzvah because of political differences. Rabbi Goldstein does not deserve to be a community leader.
One more thing. They didn’t just invite him back. They effectively “reached an agreement.”
A day earlier, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which represents most of the country’s synagogues, issued a statement that outlined something like a quid pro quo: a promise of no protests on the bar mitzvah boy’s big day, in exchange for a meeting between the judge and leaders of the South African Zionist Federation and other Jewish organizations.
Disgusting. They actually felt the need to make political deals to preserve their image. Couldn’t have their constituents believing they were bighearted people willing to put aside political differences to celebrate together, or anything radical like that.
I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.
What are they code words for, Professor Beck? Please, enlighten us.
Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That’s what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: ‘social justice.’ They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy.
Right. Clearly, the heinous policies we associate with the Nazis were the result of their social justice programs. Therefore, social justice leads to gas chambers. QED. More »
In short, it isn’t. The latest liberal-minded organization to be targeted by all manner of far-right, close-minded, single-issue, “pro-Israel” advocates is the New Israel Fund. If you haven’t heard of them before, the first two paragraphs from their About page are an excellent intro:
The New Israel Fund (NIF) is the leading organization committed to democratic change within Israel. Since 1979, NIF has fought for social justice and equality for all Israelis. We believe that Israel can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race or gender.
Widely credited with building Israel’s progressive civil society from scratch, we have provided more than $200 million to more than 800 cutting-edge organizations since our inception. What’s more, through our action arm, SHATIL, we mentor, train and lead Israeli civil society in an ongoing struggle to empower the underprivileged.
Sounds pretty innocuous, huh? An organization that funds civil society programs in Israel with the result of promoting universal rights and equality. Definitely not free from all controversy, but probably not evil.
Image from Promised Land blog
Think again. The Zionist Im Tirtzu organization has taken it upon themselves to smear the NIF with just about anything they can dig up, including but not limited to, caricatures of its leader, former MK Prof. Naomi Hazan, claims that the NIF is responsible for “90%” of the evidence behind the Goldstone report, and that the NIF is behind the British moves towards prosecuting IDF officers for war crimes.
As should be pretty obvious, these claims are patently untrue (Hazan does not actually have a horn on her forehead, the Goldstone report got most of its evidence from Palestinian eyewitness testimony, and no one has produced any kind of evidence whatsoever linking them to British legal action). But that hasn’t stopped current MKs as well as Shin Bet and IDF officials from getting behind them. J.J. Goldberg reports that there are calls for parliamentary hearings on the work of NIF grantees (a situation which my fellow Jewschool contributor chillul Who? points out is eerily reminiscent of the Defund Acorn Act).
From my perspective, which is that of someone without extensive experience in Israeli domestic politics, I see this as misinformation intended to elicit exactly the response it has. Clearly, Im Tirtzu believes that the NIF is an existential threat to Israel (and given the NIF’s mission, that should tell you something about Im Tirtzu), enough so that they believe a smear campaign based on a flawed, narrow, and biased reading of the facts (Goldberg reports on the questionable methodology they used to get the 90% bit) is an acceptable discrediting tactic.
Ultimately, this sort of thing is totally preposterous and regressive. Unfortunately, it’s what I’ve come to expect from too much of the right. Still pushing the same tired narrative of “criticizing Israel or Israeli policy is unequivocally bad”, they resort to underhanded smears and falsehoods to attempt to delegitimize those who they disagree with. It’s no way to offer support or honest advice to a nation, especially one with as complicated a political and domestic arena as Israel.
It’s shameful that members of the Israeli government would cheapen their society by stooping to this level. Organizations like J Street and Peace Now have issued statements in support of the NIF. I echo their call.
Other references not linked in the body of the article:
Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Yoni Stadlin, founding director of Eden Village Camp. Many of you celebrated at this summer’s Bereishit Festival or you may have justheard of them through the grapevine. As we look toward our next Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, we invite you to hear Stadlin’s inspiring story. Oh yeah, and thanks to three huge Jewish organizations for investing millions in such an awesome project!
My name is Yoni Stadlin, and I am a redwood-tree-sitter. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, can grow up to 300 feet tall, and can live for two thousand years! I lived aloft in redwood trees for two months of my life. Tree-sitters are people who live up in trees that are slated to be cut down, on the wager that no one would cut down a tree with a person in it.
Tree-sitting has been effective in protecting huge groves and helping change many policies, but many of these ancient beauties have been logged nonetheless. Ninety-five percent of coastal redwoods in the northwest U.S. have been logged for making things like decks, playgrounds and tools. The practice of clear-cutting – leaving no trees standing – has turned huge, lush, vibrant and ancient redwood forests into eroded wastelands, destroying habitats, contaminating water, and massively increasing our species’ footprint on this planet.
Imagine, people in trees! One person, name Julia Butterfly, lived aloft for two and a half years on a suspended platform in a tree named Luna. Imagine where you were two and a half years ago, and imagine being held by a gigantic tree from then until now. Imagine seeing no doors, not one building, road or florescent light, and your feet never touching the ground. This is what I did for two months, and I loved it. More »
Shabbat at the Hazon Food Conference is an exceptional experiment in pluralism. I wish I had the time to comment on it, but perhaps that will be saved for reflections tomorrow evening once I’m back home. For now, I will report on the sessions I sat in on today. The first involved a private meeting with current and future rabbis (and the occasional educator) and Nigel Savage, the director of Hazon and a true visionary. The second session, titled “The Vegetable Monologues,” after “The Vagina Monologues,” focused on the stories of three Jewish, female farmers. Before Havdallah, I attended a session of the status of Genetically Modified Organisms in Halakhah put on by Zelig Golden, an environmental lawyer with the Center for Food Safety and Rabbi David Seidenberg. More »