In Jewish law, Abortion is not considered murder until quite late in the pregnancy – in fact, until the head crowns. While that is the case, abortion was not to be done lightly – not because it was murder, but because the fetus is considered a part of the mother’s body, and one may not mutilate a healthy limb.
Perhaps it is partly for that reason that the squabbling over abortion which sometimes dominates so much of American political blather didn’t seem to have made many inroads to Israel. Perhaps it’s only because children are much more part of daily life in Israel – they are cherished communally in way that they aren’t here. Or perhaps it was just another women’s issue which has been buried in the swamp of we’ll deal with that later, right now, we have a war to deal with. Why, yes, I am being a bit sarcastic.
RIght now there are so many mattersof democaracy and freedom on which Israel is moving backwards, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. On women’s issues, in particular, Israel has lagged behind the US – the usual saying is “by about 25 years.”
But on reproductive rights, the discussion seems to have been missing at least partly because, while technically legal, it is quite arduous to actually obtain an abortion, and nearly impossible for married women. In fact, women seeking abortion have to navigate some rather arcane process of approval from a committee, a social worker, a technician who shows you ultrasounds – and apparently married women rarely, if ever, receive approval. As the author here says, “we stayed silent when signs reading ‘The Jewish womb belongs to the Jewish people’ were hoisted.” Yes, indeed, instead of the fetus being a limb of the woman, apparently the woman is actually a limb of the state.
But in any case, the struggle over women’s ability to obtain an abortion has begun getting a lot more press recently. Apparently fake-clinics, modeled on those supported by the American Christian right have begun aggressively advertising in Israel. Efrat, the name of the main one of these organizations, has been not only advertising aggressively, but has also apparently taken it upon themselves to track down pregnant women and dissuade them from getting abortions. Creepy stalker much?
Well, now Efrat is also featuring rather prominently in a tragedy that has Israel suddenly paying attention to the issue.
A teenage boy, 18-year-old Raz Atias, was killed in a standoff with police who were trying to prevent him and his pregnant girlfriend from committing suicide. Police had found Atias and his girlfriend outside of Jerusalem, with Atias holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head and threatening to kill her and then himself.
The details of the incident are still not entirely clear, but the girlfriend’s sister reported that members of the Israeli anti-abortion organization Efrat had visited the pregnant teenager in the hospital to “brainwash” her against having an abortion, which led to significant emotional turmoil for the young couple.
Helpfully, Israel’s chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger issued a letter of support for Efrat, saying “Killing fetuses is murder.” As far as I can tell, the only rabbi who has responded Jewishly to the nonsense propounded by Efrat and the chief rabbis is Rabbi Benny Lau, who pointed out, correctly, that, “the organization interprets rabbinical law as ‘Catholic law’.”
As far as I’m concerned, the entire struggle just goes to underline what I’ve said for a long time: the hareidim don’t follow Jewish law – they have a reactionary social agenda. And they are willing to make up any kind of nonsense and call it halacha to expand it. So much so that they don’t care if they have to borrow from the more reactionary parts of Christianity to do it.
(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
Have you entered the January Madness pool yet? Once again, here is a guide to the 34 parties running in the election, with links to their websites if we can find them (English if available, otherwise Hebrew if available, otherwise Arabic if available). In addition, here are the lists of candidates running on each party list, in Hebrew (complete), English (incomplete), and Arabic (incomplete).
Parties represented in the current Knesset:
- Am Shalem: The name of the party (“Whole Nation”) is a play on the name of the founder, MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, who was elected as an MK from Shas, but broke with party orthodoxy (as it were) on issues such as conversion and whether haredi men should work for a living, and started his own faction. Am Shalem “seeks to unite all Jews and restore moderate Judaism to Israel”, and to integrate haredim into the workforce and the army.
- Habayit Hayehudi: After an aborted attempt in the last election, the far-right National Union and the former Mafdal (National Religious Party) have succeeded this time around in forming a combined party. At the top of the joint list is newcomer Naftali Bennett: high-tech millionaire, son of American immigrants, and former head of the settler movement. Bennett’s positions have attracted controversy, including saying he would refuse military orders to evacuate settlements, and proposing the annexation of Area C (the parts of the West Bank where the settlements are located).
- Hadash – Democratic Front for Peace and Equality: This left-wing Arab-Jewish party, which includes the Israeli Communist Party, is led once again by MK Mohammed Barakeh. Hadash has supported a two-state solution since before it was popular.
- Hatenua: After former Kadima head and opposition leader Tzipi Livni lost the Kadima leadership election to Shaul Mofaz, she resigned from the Knesset. Now she’s back with a new centrist party, “The Movement”, and has recruited 7 of her former Kadima colleagues in the Knesset. As Kadima’s 2009 candidate for prime minister, Livni has put together an impressive list of fellow also-rans: in the #2 spot is 2003 Labor candidate Amram Mitzna, and in #3 is 2006 Labor candidate Amir Peretz. Hatenua has also joined forces with the Green Movement (whose leader, Alon Tal, is #13 on the list), which ran a joint list with Meimad in 2009 (but Meimad is not running in this year’s election).
- Israel Labor Party: In the 2009 election, Labor (the center-left party going back to the beginning of the state) hit a historic low, winning only 13 seats. And then it got even smaller: Party leader (and Defense Minister) MK Ehud Barak wanted to stay part of the Netanyahu government, and the majority of the party didn’t, so Barak and 4 other MKs formed a breakaway party, Atzma’ut (Independence), reducing the Labor faction to 8. (Barak has announced his retirement from politics, and Atzma’ut is not running in this election.) Labor is now trying to rebound, with new leadership (MK Shelly Yachimovich) and a focus on domestic issues. Labor’s candidate list includes some notable new faces: At #8 is Stav Shaffir, organizer of the tent protests, and at #27 is Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israeli Reform movement.
- Kadima: This centrist party, led at the time by Tzipi Livni, actually won the largest number of seats (28) in the 2009 election, but was unable to pull together 60 seats to form a coalition, so Netanyahu got to form the coalition and become prime minister instead, and Kadima has been leading the opposition. Kadima is now led by MK Shaul Mofaz, and has been splintered, with some of its members leaving for Hatenua and elsewhere.
- Likud Yisrael Beiteinu: The Likud, led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and its lead coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu, led by MK Avigdor Lieberman, have combined to form a right-wing superparty. Lieberman recently resigned as Foreign Minister after being indicted for fraud and breach of trust, but he remains at #2 on the party list for the election. The superparty hopes to remain in power for the next Knesset, and Netanyahu hopes to be reelected for a third term as Prime Minister, unprecedented since Ben-Gurion.
- Meretz – Israel’s Left: The leftmost majority-Jewish party in the Knesset, Meretz has been shrinking in recent elections. In this election, Meretz will be led for the first time by MK Zahava Gal-On, who has been active in working against human trafficking. A number of distinguished Israelis are in symbolic positions on the Meretz list, such as writer A.B. Yehoshua in the 109th spot.
- National Democratic Assembly (Balad): One of the two major Arab parties. Once again it is led by MK Jamal Zahalka, who took over after party founder Azmi Bishara fled the country. But the candidate who has been attracting more attention is #2 candidate MK Hanin Zoabi (the first woman elected to Knesset from an Arab party), who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and was banned by the Central Elections Committee from running in the election, but was reinstated by the Supreme Court.
- Otzma Leyisrael: Not everyone in the National Union went along with the Habayit Hayehudi merger. Two MKs stayed behind and started their own (also far-right) faction: the secular Jabotinskyite MK Arieh Eldad and the Kahanist MK Michael Ben-Ari. Also on the list, at #3, is Baruch Marzel, former leader of the banned Kach party.
- ShasM: This Sephardi haredi party often wins enough seats to make or break coalitions. Longtime leader MK Eli Yishai is at the top of the list once again, but the big news this year is that former leader Aryeh Deri has returned to politics (after serving time for bribery) and is running at #2. (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef is the party’s spiritual leader, but doesn’t run in the elections.)
- United Arab List (Ra’am) – Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al) – Arab Democratic Party (Mada): One of the two main Arab parties, made up of multiple factions, including the southern faction of the Islamic Movement, where party leader MK Ibrahim Sarsur comes from. Another faction is the Arab Democratic Party, led by MK Taleb el-Sana (running at #5). Ta’al is MK Ahmad Tibi’s operation (Tibi is in the #2 spot), and has allied with Balad and Hadash in the past.
- United Torah Judaism: Despite haredi population growth, the main Ashkenazi haredi party’s representation in the Knesset has remained remarkably stable. It is led once again by MK Yaakov Litzman, who represents the Agudat Yisrael faction and the Ger Hasidim. At #2 is MK Moshe Gafni, representing the Degel Hatorah faction and the B’nei B’rak yeshivish crowd.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner said he may be interested in running for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in the special election. Some believe he should jump in with both feet, up to his neck, and go for it with the belief of a zealot. This is a bad idea.
If the report in The Boston Phoenix about this run was a test balloon, I hope this blog post at least starts a leak.
Rabbi Pesner—for all his political maneuvering in the Jewish world—is not a politician. He is a community organizer sure, but a politician with national chops he is not. Blah blah, President Obama, blah, blah. These two men should not and cannot be compared in the same breath. Now that this is out of the way, we will get into the meat of this disastrous move. More »
(this guestpost is from a political organizer friend of the blog. –mgt)
Dear Rabbi Pesner,
Greetings! You don’t know me, but my facebook feed has lit up about you in the last couple hours. And so I wanted to say congratulations! It appears there is a trial balloon on whether or not you will run for Senator John Kerry’s seat shortly. Whether it is coming from your camp or from folks who want you to run, that the article is out is a good sign for your nascent campaign. I don’t know you, and so I don’t have an educated opinion on whether or not you should run, but I want to offer you a small piece of advice, one progressive yid to another. Looking at our friends in common on facebook, I have a feeling this is advice you’ve already heard, but I feel compelled to offer it nonetheless, free of charge.
If you’re going to do it, do it. Be like Nachshon. Take the plunge and run like you mean it. More »
Shayna Weiss is from Jacksonville, Florida. In 2007, she graduated from Brandeis University with a double major in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and International and Global Studies At Brandeis, she received highest honors for her thesis on religious women in the Israeli Defense Forces. After studying at Drisha, Shayna is now a doctoral candidate at NYU in Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Taub center for Israel Studies, focusing on issues of religion and gender in Israeli society. She is currently in the midst of a dissertation on swimming spaces in Israel. Shayna is also obsessed with Lipa Schmeltzer, frozen yogurt, and yoga. Tell her your favorite Israeli reality tv show on twitter (@shaynamalka).
Jewschool: Tell the folks out there what your research is about and why you chose to pursue it.
Shayna Weiss: Currently, I am researching the origins of gender segregation in Israel by looking at fights about pools and beaches—fights against mixed swimming, and to establish gender-segregated swimming. My two historical main examples are the first public pool in Jerusalem (which was controversial because it had mixed swimming) and Israel’s first gender segregated beach in Tel Aviv. I then compare these controversies to what is happening with separate buses now, to draw larger conclusions about how gender and religion work in the public sphere, and how we can think about religious-secular relations in spatial terms.
I have several other projects swimming in my mind. I dream of learning Russian to research Israel’s residents from the former Soviet Union. Another unfinished project I have is on Israeli television, and especially on Srugim, the first show to focus on the religious Zionist community. My fifteen minutes of internet fame so far have come from co-authoring a recap blog on Srugim, a wonderfully fun project. That project lays dormant for now, but I cannot wait to return to it one day—television is wonderfully understudied, and Israeli television is experiencing a renaissance—just look at Homeland. (You can listen to Shayna’s presentation at the 2010 JOFA conference on Srugim, gender and feminism here.) More »
(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
Now that January is here, and the Israeli election is just a few weeks away, it’s time for… JANUARY MADNESS!!!! You may recall March Madness from 2006, or February Madness from 2009. Now, Jewschool and Mah Rabu are excited to announce our third Israeli elections prediction pool!
Both the 2006 and 2009 pools were won by graduates of Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School. Will the streak continue, or will the rest of the world start to catch up? The answer is in your hands.
How to Enter: Go to the January Madness link and put in your predictions for how many seats each of the 34 parties will win. All predictions must be non-negative integers (0 is allowed), and your predictions must add up to 120. Entrance is free, but there is a suggested donation of $10 to the organization of your choice dedicated to making Israel the best it can be. Israeli citizens are encouraged to vote in the actual election as well.
Prizes: The winner gets a copy of The Comic Torah, which one Jewschool contributor has called “the perfect match for the zany lunacy and unbridled blood lust of today’s Israeli politics”. Second place gets a copy of Ghettoblaster by So Called, because the Yiddish Hip-Hop Accordion Party wouldn’t be out of place in the Knesset elections.
The Rules (for the real election): The 34 parties have submitted ordered lists of candidates. Here are the full lists in Hebrew, and partial lists in English. On election day (January 22), Israeli citizens will go to polling places in and near Israel, and vote for a party (not for individual candidates). All parties that win at least 2% of the vote will win seats in the Knesset, proportional to their share of the vote. For example, suppose the Pirate Party wins 1% of the vote, One Future wins 33%, and Kulanu Haverim wins 66%. Then the Pirate Party wins no seats in the Knesset (since it was below the 2% threshold), and the other parties will proportionally split the 120 Knesset seats: One Future gets 40 seats (so the top 40 candidates on its list are elected), and Kulanu Haverim gets 80 seats. If vacancies arise later in the term, there are no special elections – the next candidate on the party’s list (e.g. #81 on the Kulanu Haverim list) enters the Knesset. It is mathematically possible for all 34 parties to win seats in the Knesset, but experts say it is unlikely.
The Rules (for the January Madness pool): The deadline to enter is Monday, January 21, 2013, at 11:59 pm Israel Standard Time (4:59 pm EST). When the final election results are published, each entry will receive a score based on how many Knesset seats were predicted correctly. For example, suppose the results are as in the above example (Kulanu Haverim 80, One Future 40). I predicted 60 seats for One Future, 50 for Kulanu Haverim, and 10 for Da’am Workers Party. Then my score is 90, since I correctly predicted 40 seats for One Future and 50 seats for Kulanu Haverim.
Ties will be broken based on two tiebreaker questions:
1) Of the parties that do NOT win seats in the Knesset, which will come closest?
2) Which party will get the FEWEST votes?
The tiebreakers will be resolved in this order: exact match on question 1; exact match on question 2; closest on question 1 (if you picked a party that DOES win seats, you’re out of consideration for this one); closest on question 2.
In the coming weeks, we’ll put up a post with a handy guide to all the parties, and links to their websites.
If you have other questions, post them in the comments. Good luck!!!!
For the last couple of weeks, as the fallout from Newtown continues, as the NRA displays its absolute contempt for anyone who finds anything other than guns of value, Jews have also been participating in the conversation about gun control in the US.
While Jews tend toward the liberal positions about guns, Judaism does not, in reality, always correspond with American 21st century liberal politics. Does Judaism have a position on gun control? Rabbi Aaron Alexander of AJU’s Ziegler school, writes a commentary in HuffPo that, although it focuses on one aspect and one commentator that gets at the crux of the Jewish view.
There is simply no rational way of escaping the fact – not opinion- that gun ownership raises risks of death and injury for everyone in the house where the gun is owned. Nor is there any credible evidence that gun ownership deters crime or stops crimes in progress. Jewishly, significantly increasing safety risks to oneself without showing a significant benefit to offset it would require a ban on gun ownership.
Secondarily, hunting for sport, as Rabbi Landau says (the commentator that Alexander is writing about) is considered negatively by Jewish sources. Taking pleasure in something that causes pain is contrary to Jewish values. Even when we eat meat, we are required by Jewish law to slaughter it in a way that causes no pain to the animal (that is why an animal whose slaughter is performed with a knife that has even a single nick in it is considered treif). Arguments aside about whether or not such a death is truly painless (and there are certainly those who advocated vegetarianism – such as the gadol hador – the great one of his generation, Rabbi Soloveitchik), the value is clear: Jews are not supposed to engage in such behavior, except if there is no other option – in other words, one may stave off starvation by hunting, but it’s not something Jews should do if there are other sources of food.
Finally, it is worth knowing that the ban on Jewish hunting is not merely a halachic matter (matter of Jewish law) custom too has long viewed the hunter as a negative character. Those who make their living by killing are considered the very height of what my mother would have called “a goyishe kop” (please excuse, non-Jewish friends). If one looks through old haggadot, the wicked son, the rasha is often portrayed as a soldier or a hunter.
Sport hunting is not a value. Hunting for food – outside of a starvation case- is not a value. Safety for one’s family is a value, and the evidence is that having guns in the home not only does not protect one from intruders, but increases risks of accidental shootings, suicide deaths, and deliberate shootings, particularly in cases of domestic violence. Societally, then, there is one last case to be made. Many people argue that the case for owning guns is that the second amendment is determined to let us protect ourselves from a tyrannous government. God knows the Jews know from tyrannous governments.
To consider this rationally: does the possibility that a bunch of neighbors with assault weapons might gather together to fend off the United States government when it comes for us to send us to the camps balance out the overwhelming numbers of American gun deaths, and the evidence that very tight gun control, or even banning guns would reduce (not eliminate, of course, but reduce) gun deaths. That leaves us two questions actually. First, would those assault weapons stave off tanks, rockets and the very latest in military technology? Not likely. Second. If by some miracle there was a chance that it did, would it be worth it? I suppose that is a calculus that in general society could be argued, but Jewishly, I would say that the decisive view is no. The risks are too clear, and the protection far, far too little – if there is indeed any at all.
Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine
Recently, Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine created, published and distributed a Zine called “Birthright? A Primer” for folks contemplating going on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. The primer includes testimonies from previous trip participants, as well as resources for exploring Israel/Palestine after the trip. Tufts SJP organizers Matthew Parsons, Anna Furman and Dani Moscovitch spoke with Jewschool about the primer, how and why it happened, and what impact they hope it will have.
Jewschool: What was the impetus for creating the primer? What’s the goal?
Anna Furman: The goal of our zine is to equip students who have chosen to go on Birthright with a body of knowledge that they will not find otherwise. I think the most important section of our zine may be the section that encourages students to extend their trips and to go with various groups to the West Bank. If I had a zine like this when I had gone on Birthright 3 years ago, I am pretty certain that my whole understanding of the region and my relation to it would have been very different.
Shira Abramowitz, student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, illustrated her notes from her visit to Hevron. See more here.
This is a guest post by Sandy Johnston. Sandy is a recent graduate of List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary and of Columbia University, where he majored in Bible and Archaeology, respectively. He currently lives in Chicago. His interests include, in addition to the study of ancient Israel, railroads and transit systems, urbanism, Israeli and American politics, and critical thought about the future of the American Jewish community. And cats.
(Map of verified incidents, Monday, November 19, 2012. Via the Guardian.)
Now that the latest bout of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip is behind us, the time has come for analysis, postmortems, prognostication, and punditry. I take issue with a particularly simplistic, troublesome, and unhelpful strand of what passes for “progressive” thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that surfaced in threads I saw on Facebook during the latest round of fighting. My desire is not to legitimize Israel’s operations against Gaza nor to delegitimize criticism of the same; in the vein of criticizing most heavily those with whom one most identifies, I write to hopefully help sharpen the arguments and solutions that my fellow progressives put forward about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yes, if I had the energy, I would write a response to some of the equally unsophisticated, idiotic, hurtful, and insensitive propaganda that came from the “Pro-Israel” side.
President Obama won his reelection. And while American Jews supported him just as much as in 2008, there is one Jew who very publicly backed the losing horse: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Officially, Netanyahu said in a short statement that he will “continue working with President Obama in order to safeguard the interests crucial for the security of Israel’s citizens.” Netanyahu stepped boldly into American electoral politics by appearing with Romney and participating in Republican ads in Florida. More »
My latest post on Justice in the City.
It seems that every third line in any debate or speech by any candidate or advocate of public policy is about money. About the so-called bottom line. Who can and who cannot balance a budget? Who should and who should not pay taxes and how much taxes? What can we as a State, as a Nation, as a society afford to spend money on? Defense? Education? Poverty relief? How do we make these decisions? The overwhelming talk about the bottom line has been crowding out the conversation we should be having—a conversation about values and about justice.
Its not that the economic strictures of budgets or revenues are not important. We all live in a world in which the government cannot supply services—from defense to preschool—without paying for them. However, the economic voice should be neither the first nor the loudest voice in the conversation.
It seems that spokespeople (and just people) advocating for any cause are more and more frequently framing their advocacy in economic terms. “If everybody has access to preventive care the state saves money on emergency room visits.” “Preschool programs are a big factor in keeping kids off the street and out of jail—which ends up saving the country a bucketload of money.” “The death penalty costs way more than Life Without the Possibility of Parole.” We have monetized our morals.
continue reading here then come back and discuss.
In August, Jewish Council for Education and Research approached author Adam Mansbach (End of the Jews) with an idea for a pro-Obama spoof of his profane book for new parents, Go the f**k to sleep, the video of which had been later narrated by Samuel L. Jackson for audible inc. It was quite the hit with those whose children would not hit the sack.
The Jewish Council for Education and Research was previously responsible for Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep” and “Scissor Sheldon” videos (did you think she did that all herself?). Rather than give his permission, Mansbach offered to write it himself and as the project developed, reunited with Samuel “Snakes on a Plane” Jackson to narrate and star in the project.
The result is Wake the f**k up, a new video reminding us to vote (for Obama) that is getting a lot of attention and play on the youtubes.
I don’t personally feel it any great accomplishment of craft or cleverness, but is noteworthy in that JCER is now officially a Super PAC, has funding from George Soros and is using its funding to offer campaigns rooted in Jewish culture as a counterpoint to the Adelson cash flooding the election. Its also noteworthy in that it is circulating virally (voluntarily) rather than mass-cast on the airwaves. Its not Ezekial 25:17, but it has about the same amount of profanity (you have been warned) and is just as entertaining.Watch it here.
So what else is there to say about Mitt Romney’s tax returns? I would suggest that we could learn at least two things from them. First, on a personal level, it seems that Mitt and Ann Romney are very generous people. They donated $4.02 million in charity in 2011 (out of $13.7 million of income) and $3 million in 2010 (out of $21.7 million in income). If these figures are accurate (and there is no reason to doubt them) the Romneys donated almost 30 percent of their 2011 income to charity, and 14 percent of their income in 2010. That is a sizeable chunk of their income donated to charity.
A large percentage of that money went to the Mormon church, which supports political activities that I think are appalling, however, giving that large a percentage of one’s income to charities is still a laudable thing.
The second thing that we can learn is that this display of personal largesse and philanthropy reinforces the wisdom of the Rabbinic tradition which demands that poverty relief should be a function also of municipal institutions. continue reading here and then come back and comment.
Something to consider when you are doing whatever it is you do on Yom Kippur: on the holiday in September 1907, Emma Goldman held a picnic “for free thinkers and radicals” in Central Park. Leah Berkenwald wrote last year over at the Jewish Women’s Archive about the way Occupy Wall Street and other activisms and movements have changed the way we think about prayer and observance and religion, and how Judaism can be a lens to unthink things as much it is to fit them together.
Gmar Tov, folks.