Friday, March 31, 2006

What'd I tell you?

In your face, Jerusalem Post analysts!

Ehud Olmert favors Yisrael Beiteinu over Shas in coalition

Olmert said Thursay in conversation behind closed doors that despite Lieberman's opposition to withdraw from the territories, he seems to be a convenient partner, reliable and easier than Eli Yishai and Shas.
Boo-frickin-ya, suckas.

Also, Peretz is taking the opportunity to be a bit of an opportunistic moron.
Meanwhile, Labor is working to convince factions to support Peretz for prime minister to raise the stakes in the negotiations. "Anyone who recommends Peretz will not be in the coalition," Kadima said.

...Sources in Labor said Peretz had begun talks with a number of factions to recommend him to the president to form the cabinet and thus to the post of prime minister. Yishai said in response that he did not discount the possibility that Shas would recommend Peretz to the president: "Shas has no preferred candidate; as long as [the movement's spiritual mentor] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has not stated his preference we will not discuss it."

It is believed in Kadima that in the end Shas will be part of the coalition, after Yishai signs the coalition platform, since Yosef does not want the party to remain in opposition for another term.
Yes, Amir, we're all impressed with the fun displays of your notorious "tough negotiator" tactics. But let's get real here and start cutting the crap. Anyone with a mustache like yours should know that playfulness has a limit.

Meretz decided at a meeting Thursday to recommend to the president that Peretz form the coalition said Ran Cohen, appointed chairman of the party's negotiating team. Cohen said Meretz's condition was that Peretz would not enter a coalition with the Likud, the National Union or Yisrael Beiteinu.

Cohen called Kadima's threat that a party that recommends Peretz to the president would not enter the coalition "irrelevant."
Sigh. And so it goes.


Congratulations to MK Rabbi his semi-holiness Eli Yishai for displaying this week's Independent Thought Award, sponsored by our free-thinking friends over at Fox News. Kudos, Eli. Keep on representing the best of the Jewish intellectual tradition.

Edit: Settlers are mad about the Kadima win? No way! Tomorrow's USA Today Headline: "New study finds Asians enjoy rice; noodles. Scientists stunned."

Revised Knesset elections count

All the votes are in and some seats have been shuffled around. The new tally, apparently, is as follows:
Kadima- 29
Labor- 20
Shas- 12
Likud- 12
Yisrael Beiteinu- 11
Gil- 7
Meretz- 5
UTJ- 6
Balad- 3
Hadash 3-
Ra'am Ta'al- 3
For those of you who (like me) flunked Math, that means that between Kadima, Labor, Meretz and Gil, there's already a slim majority (61). Obviously Olmert will want to shore that up with Beiteinu or the haredi parties, but at the very least, it does indicate the bottom-line foundational support he will have in the upcoming Knesset, particularly if he can pay off the haredim to keep them on board (add to this that Shas is already desperate to be in govt., and that if Olmert can convince Rav Yosef that he "really, really tried" to talk to the Palestinians, he'll probably give his blessing for unilateral withrdalws), and placate the Israeli Arabs to support a vote. With the beginning 61, plus the Arab parties, plus Shas & UTJ, Olmert's got 88 seats- comfortably within the 2/3rds majority of the Knesset that became such an issue with the last withdrawl, and that's assuming there are no defectors on the right (such as Lieberman, or individual opportunistic/realistic/pragmatic MKs in Likud or the NRP).

All in all, a rather promising start. Let's see what Olmert does with it.

P.S. In the interests of bashing both sides with at least a semblance of equity, here is an example of left-leaning Israeli stupidity. The author seems to indicate a microscopic level of political accuity, joined with healthy doses of myopia and undeserved self-congratulation. When I have time, I might rip it to pieces in the oh-so-satisfying manner of bygone WorldNetDaily or Arutz Sheva editorials. I'm going to be fairly occupied this weekend, but we'll see.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Ariga has some interesting analysis of potential Olmert coalitions, and also reminds us of exactly who Rafi Eitan is:
longstanding friendship between Olmert and Pensioner Party leader Rafi Eitan, the Palmahnik turned spy who captured Adolf Eichmann and ran Jonathan Pollard, spending the last 20 years making millions as an 'international businessman,' with close ties to the Cuban government.
Oh yeah... that should be interesting, particularly the next time a U.S. envoy meets with the government. Both Ariga and the Jerusalem Post, incidentally, favor the likelihood of a Shas and UTJ coalition with Kadima, not Beteinu. This sounds contradictory given Shas' rhetoric until you look at its track record, which is basically dictated by getting money for its programs. Observe:

Last week, Yosef said this:
"whoever votes Kadima [forward in English] goes backwards to hell"
Yesterday, he said this:
"I won't let our representatives enter the government if the child allowances aren't returned."
Consistency does not seem to be the Rav's strong suit.

In other Shas news, their token Ethiopian is going to the Knesset. Who'd have thunk? Probably not Shas, for one. Oh, and Shlomo Benizri (and his rabbi patron) was indicted for fraud and bribes. But never mind that; let's all celebrate Shas' love for black folks! (As long as they're Jewish.) Rabbi Bayana will be the second Ethiopian MK in Israel's history (the last one, Avraham Neguise, elected with Peretz's Am Echad party, only served one term).

And, in an interesting twist, though there were six other Ethiopian Jews running for Knesset, only Bayana made it in.

Speaking of Beta Israel- things still aren't going too well with them, either outside or inside Israel. Not only aren't they being integrated; they're actually becoming a sore spot with the "veteran" Ethiopians!
Israel's veteran community of Ethiopian Jews, the bulk of whom came to Israel in the airlifts of 1984-85 and 1991, are still struggling to find their way in Israeli society. Battling poverty, crime among the younger generation and unemployment, some are wary of scarce resources going to the Falash Mura community instead of their own continuing absorption. Others welcome the Falash Mura as extended members of their own families and see political and social strength in the growing numbers of Ethiopians in Israel.

Currently some 100,000 Ethiopians live in Israel. The government's plan is to expedite the immigration of 13,000 to 20,000 Falash Mura over the next two years. Some of the leaders of the veteran community had been outspoken against bringing additional Falash Mura to Israel but once the plan was approved by the government, the criticism on a public level has been largely muted.

...stark divisions between the communities when it came to religious practice. The veterans, for example, prefer to pray in the traditional Ethiopian language of prayer called Ge'ez while the Falash Mura pray in Hebrew. The Falash Mura will also often only eat food deemed kosher by the Chief Rabbinate while the veteran Ethiopians follow kashrut standards set by their elders.

The two communities, Hadane said, live fairly separate lives in Israel.

...Adding to the sense of alienation are rumors circulating in the veteran Ethiopian community that some Falash Mura return to Christianity once they are in Israel, even attending church services. Suspicions have been heightened by rumors that Christian missionaries who falsely converted to Judaism are among those immigrating.

..."We don�t feel like we are part of this society," he said. "If the first and second immigration waves did not work, why should the third and fourth ones work?"

I wonder how the people who think all Jews should move to Israel are ever given pause by stories like this which clearly expose Israel's failure to live up to the pie-in-the-sky dreams its emissaries in the Foreign Ministry sell to any poor Jews who will listen. Someone needs to stop and carefully consider exactly what the point of bringing more people to Israel IS. If it's just to have more Jews crammed in, fine. If it's to actually create a minimally just, cohesive and functioning society, they need to start working on that, and BEFORE the next batch o' settlement fodder arrives.

Lastly, there's this story from the Post on the ongoing Wall construction, and various settler reactions to it (they aren't all what you'd think).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Israeli elections breakdown.

First, the results:

Yisrael Beiteinu-12
Arab Parties-10
Gil (Pensioners)-7
Now for some ground-breaking analysis.

Who are the losers here?

Well, the Israelis, first of all. This was the lowest turn-out in the nation's history, and it's not exactly like there weren't some important issues involved. Theories abound, but a good bet is simple disgust with "politics as usual" in Israel, as Ynet editor Andrew Freidman wrote yesterday. This applies to both left and right, as well as the "new center", and is rather troubling, to say the least.

Next: Likud. It went from its biggest election win to its second-worst showing ever (Herut got 10 seats in the 1951 elections for the 2nd Knesset). The fact that even after the Kadima split, Likud couldn't even keep half of its remaining 27 seats speaks volumes as to how disenchanted the public was with it (both from the left and right). Bibi described the result as a "body blow" to the party, and he's right. Gideon Sa'ar was quoted this afternoon saying something like, "It's really painful to find out we are in the minority opinion in this country." The truth hurts, don't it? With the Likud the 5th largest party now, it is possible that we have just witnessed the final steps of the "reshuffling" move Sharon started- with Kadima ascendant (sort of- see below) and Labor doing well enough, Yisrael Beteinu seems to have effectively positioned itself to become the new dominant right-wing party. All that spells disaster for the Likud. If its peak was in 1977, we may have seen its death-knell today.

Kadima is also a loser here. While 28 seats is more than decent, the significant loss from its polls less than a week ago (what happened to mid-30s?) speaks volumes about how the party is essentially perceived as ideology-less. Olmert should feel accomplishment at having kept the party's momentum up and won the elections, but he also needs to be extremely attentive to this wake-up call. He needs to prove himself, and fast.

Some winners:

Yisrael Beteinu, first of all. Liberman has quite successfully managed to navigate his small immigrant party through the ranks and towards electoral gains. Leiberman is also very politically astute, and seems to be, above all, a pragmatist. He's got his eyes on future campaigns where his party becomes more dominant, so you can be sure that he'll be using this term to try to work on his image. If it's to his advantage to oppose Olmert and supplant the Likud as the major right-wing opposition, he will. At the same time, if Olmert plays his cards right, it shouldn't be too hard to snap Liberman up into a coalition, firmly cementing his parliamentary majority.

Labor. While they didn't dramatically increase their seats, the ability to hold onto them (unlike Likud) after having lost people to Kadima is notable. It's also a lot better to be the second-largest party by only seven seats as opposed to twenty-one. Labor has all but ensured a place in the government, and should be able to play a prominent role in the arenas of both economic and diplomatic policy.

Shas. Sorry to say it, but as the 3rd largest party and a strong mandate from Ovadia Yosef, is seems likely that our favorite black-hatters are going to be making their presence felt again.

Gil. The new Shinui, this one-issue party led by, as Doron Rosenblum put it, a guy who "who until yesterday was basically someone whose name sounds like the late general Rafael 'Raful' Eitan" has managed to claw its way into the Knesset thanks to Kadima apathy, dedicated seniors, guilty middle-agers, and, possibly... trendy teenagers? Whatever the reason for their success, these guys are also going to be throwing their weight around, and the present wisdom suggests they'll probably go left on issues relating to the Palestinians.


At this stage, a lot of people seem to be confident that Olmert is going to swing left and go with a Labor coalition. This may also include Shas, Yisrael Beteinu, Gil, and/or Meretz. Unfortunately, any coalition is going to need the inclusion of either Shas or Yisrael Beteinu, and that's where things might get tricky, particularly when Olmert tries to start implementing "Convergence", or Disengagement, pt. 2, where keeping his majority will be crucial in order to avoid a repeat of Barak's post-Camp David II collapse. It seems likely, however, that Labor, Gil and Meretz will have no problem backing Olmert, which will only require him to woo Y.B. or Shas (UTJ would also probably go along with it, for the right price). Push comes to shove, I'd be willing to bet that Liberman would be willing to follow Olmert if he thought it would benefit him. That would leave the haredi parties and the various right-wing parties screaming bloody-murder, but basically unable to do a damn thing about it. I also suspect that after the Disengagement fiasco, Olmert might be more willing to go with a secular "sometimes"-rightwing Zionist than someone like Shas, who have very clear lines they won't cross, and who demonstrated this before.

Bottom line: a decent victory for Olmert, and notable for Peretz, who nobody thought could accomplish anything. Both of them have the opportunity to raise their parties up now, and prove themselves. And if they want to know what the consequences will be if they disappoint... well, they can just look at Bibi.


Misc. Links:

A7 points out some interesting analysis reg. Kadima's seat gains (and right-wing in-fighting).
Meanwhile, the Labor Party is celebrating the modest performance of Kadima – which basically inherited the Shinui Party’s mandates (15) and retained those Knesset seats its members held up until Tuesday (14).

MK Danny Yatom (Labor) said that the results are a "great blow to Kadima, and bring great joy to Labor."
Both Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post have some thought-provoking pieces on the results. And A7 also gives some interesting info reg. UTJ's base (which doesn't seem to have been reflected in the elecitons) and more IDF-Mafal crises.

Oh, and Yediot has this cute/mean piece (see title) on the smaller parties hoping & waiting for better news. Apparently Marzel was convinced he was going to get in. That's cute. Not as cute as the Gil-niks, though. What nice punims!

Got that, Baruch? The potheads got more votes than you. Go home. (I bet Boaz Wachtel has something that will ease the pain, if you ask nicely.)

Israeli Election coverage

With the amusing exception of a couple of fistfights, this election looks like it will be most noteworthy for being a dud.

By 2 P.M., voter turnout in Tuesday's election for the 17th Knesset was the lowest in Israeli history.

At 2 P.M., only 30.9 percent of voters had turned out compared to 35.3 percent in 2003... The total expected voter turnout is some 66 percent - around two percent lower than the rate in the 2003 elections, the lowest turnout in Israeli election history. The prevailing assessment is that low turnout will work to the detriment of Kadima and Labor.
Andrew Friedman from Ynet offers an explanation, one I think is quite convincing.

...Whatever the description, a large part of the settlement community feels not only that it has been abandoned, but also that Israeli democracy is little more than a club with which to beat political opponents over the head.

True, the Gaza move was technically "legal", but even supporters of the Gaza disengagement now admit that the process of approving the move was something significantly less than Jeffersonian democracy. To paraphrase another not-quite-kosher move in the annals of history, the whole thing stank.

...It is not only the settler community that seems to be opting out of the election process. T
he current election is the country's sixth in 14 years – an average of one election campaign every 2.3 years. The same candidates that have failed to take responsibility for their failures and have failed to serve the country's needs again and again and again, have the audacity to spout the same election jargon as they did 10 years ago –without the slightest hint of shame.

With several notable exceptions, our elected representatives are not in the game to serve the public. They are in the game to serve themselves. More than that, the parties have made their disdain for the public clear by assuming people will vote for them simply because the country has called elections. Party chairmen have been scant in the news, and potential foreign, defense and justice ministers have remained entirely absent from this campaign.

Nor is it merely the large parties that take the public for just so many morons. The
Meretz Party calls for "dialogue" with the Palestinian Authority, offering neither apology nor explanation for the fact that such talks produced the bloodiest terror offensive Israel has ever known.

And right-wing leaders spout on about "saving" Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria without acknowledging that their anti-Oslo/anti-disengagement campaign of the last 13 years has yielded exactly nothing, and without bothering to tell the public what their plans are to solve the demographic threat that many demographers say is less than a generation away.

The notion that our politicians simply have no shame, that they view the electorate as little more than a bunch of morons, defines every single political party in the country.

Sad, but all true. In light of Friedman's explanation, the turnout results really don't seem terribly surprising (and also seem to jive with the "election day surprise" the pollsters were warning about).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Borrowing a page from Lazer's book.

Lazer Brody had a lot of success with his "Lazy Interactive Parable" about a month ago, so I decided I'd try it, too.

So... what the hell is Yossi Sarid talking about?

On Tuesday, G-d willing, the Friar will publish the best (or only) responses and analyze/puzzle over this bizarre article.

Or make fun of the Israeli elections. Whichever.

More on Eliyahu Avinu

It has been pointed out to me that Rav Eliyahu's ruling is actually an attempt to address two prohibitions:

1- No other Gods.
2- No Graven Images.

I would add a third (had Eliyahu actually thought about this, which he probably didn't,) which is No covetting, ironically, probably the one issue with the materialization of American and Israeli societies that I agree is something of a problem.

So, let's examine each of these.

Number 1- There has been no evidence offered that people are worshipping, or in any way treating, these toys/art as Gods. There is also, as we said previously, no real argument that defacing or otherwise damaging these objects would lessen their veneration, even if they were being worshipped in the first place. (This applies equally to number 3.)

Number 2 actually deals with a physical question. Irregardless of what people are doing with their stuff (i.e., idolatry), graven images are not allowed.

Fine. One problem, though- who has engraved toys anymore? No one, as far as I can tell. Most dolls are stuffed, and most plastic toys are injected into molds. I guess things that are carved out of wood or metal could count, but that's about it, and I really don't think they're all that popular with the kiddies. (Hey! Does this mean that everyone has to start mutilating their gingerbread men?)

The one thing that IS a graven image is some kinds of sculpture (asuming it's been carved and not merely poured into a plaster-mold, like the toys), and I'd be curious if there's actually so much anthropomorphic sculpture in frum households that Eliyahu thinks it poses a danger to their frumkeit.

The proper way to deal with questions of idolatry, as I see it, is not to damage the physical object, but to address the roots of idolatry- the PEOPLE. If your kid is overmaterialistic, taking away his toy and giving him a rock is not going to fix anything. I had a rock collection, and would regularly subsitute school supplies for toys in the classroom (I had four highlighters who I pretended were King Arthur's Knights... anyway...). Like I said before, this is an easy target, and an even easier fix. The logic holes are gaping, not unlike Eliyahu's other semi-recent pronouncements.

Rabbi Eliyahu smashes idols (or does he?)

Former Chief Rabbi and often-Kahanist supporter Mordechai Eliyahu has decided to become the new Abraham, sort of.

Israeli rabbi orders maiming of dolls
Jerusalem - In a tough break for the children of Orthodox Jewish families, a former grand rabbi of Israel has urged parents to amputate their dolls to avoid the perils of idolatry.

Basing the move on a Biblical ban on the possession of idols, Mordechai Eliyahu, a Sephardic rabbi, broadcast his edict on a religious radio station calling for an arm or a leg to be dismembered.

In the case of a teddy bear or other stuffed animals, the children will see their beloved toys lose an ear or an eye instead.

...Shmuel [Eliyahu] revealed that his father had forced one of his followers to snap off the ear of a replica of a statue of Moses by Michelangelo that he had bought at an exorbitant price.
As a friend of mine pointed out, you'd think the horns would have been the real deal-breaker. No?

Now, some of the folks I've talked to have criticized people for poking fun at this. "Who are you," they say, "to question the great Harav? The Rishon Letzion? The Sultan of Sages, the Great Rav-bino!"

Who am I? Nobody. I don't know the tradition of dealing with graven images. However, I would be very curious to learn how frum Jews have traditionally gotten around this problem. Why is the old approach (whatever it was) no longer acceptable? Or is Eliyahu's latest pronouncement in response to people "losing their way"? What were people doing with dolls and art last week? Have we seen a backsliding?

Now, why do I think is this problematic and/or stupid? Among other things, saying that dolls are being treated as idols seems more than a little ridiculous. Are haredi children really setting up shrines to their teddy bears? (Insert Rebbe King Moschiach joke here.)

There are a couple of defenses of Eliyahu's logic that I've heard. One explanation is that the real problem is the over-humanization of the dolls or art in question. To which the obvious question seems to be, why not just buy your kids stuff that bears less resemblance to humans? Like this, or this, or this?

The alternative issue raised is that this is really a strike at materialism, at the urge to hold something up beyond its value. That's a nice gloss, but there's a very obvious problem with this, and which also applies to the first apologia. Namely, that slightly mutilating something does not necessarily change it. Is your GI Joe less "humanized" because he's missing a limb? There are people walking around without arms and legs. Moshe Dayan was missing an eye. Does that mean a doll of him is idolatry-safe? Will this lead to an increased popularity of pirate dolls among Haredim? The argument that a toy or object being covetted is so dangerous they must be defaced has a serious flaw, which is that something with that much potential for corruption is not likely to be changed simply because you've dinged it up a little. Does the Orthodox Jew in the article value his statue less because it's missing an ear? For that matter, isn't there a major logic hole in presuming that nobody could possibly "worship" (in whatever form you pick) a broken idol?

Am I glad Haredi kids can have toys and their parents can enjoy art? Sure. But the fact that this is deemed a logical solution just underlines how absurd a world these people are living in. I'm very curious how many people are actually going to follow this ruling.

Failed Messiah says, "Better the children should deface their gedolim cards." This raises an important point- aren't the demarcation points being established here for "idolatry" rather arbitrary? No one can worship a photograph? Why not cross out the ears on pictures of rabbis? How would Eliyahu deal with something like this? Or this? And doesn't this ignore the fact that frum Jews, like everyone else, struggle with materialism in many other areas, too? Why is having a thousand-dollar streimel or spodik ok, but not a Judah Maccabee doll? Why can the Belz Synagogue have 100 Torah scrolls, but little Rivka has to content herself with a disabled kitty?

Isn't this, to a certain extent, an easy target, and a rather ridiculous solution? Has Rabbi Eliyahu not lifted himself and his righteous crusade against (wait, what is he fighting against, again?) above and beyond its value?

Who's really the idol here? And who's worshipping him?

Well that's just great

Two teams of US investigators managed to sneak dirty bomb supplies into the U.S. Now we can all look forward to more FOX-style idiocy of "Dirty Bomb watch" and the like. I was intruiged that both the nortern and southern borders were tested. It'll be interesting to see how the "death to Mexicans illegal aliens" crowd square that with their "the only reason I'm pissed about the Mexico border is because of Natl. Security" B.S.

Death to Canada!

Also, enjoy this great quote from one of the staffers on the Senate Subcommitee:
"It's just an indictment of the system that it's easier to get radiological material than it is to get cold medicine."

Know your MK candidates

Today's focus: United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi haredi party in Israel. Cute pics of all the hot studs can be found on their boy-band-sounding website,

A quick run-down of the candidates:

1- Yaakov "Bushy-tailed rabbit" Litzman. Ger Hasid, major political player in Ger for the past decade-plus. Along with Ravitz, is the primary mover and shaker among the Haredim, and basically serves as the Ger Rebbe's right-hand man (i.e., gets money for yeshivas, permits for new Bnei Braks, and spends his spare time fighting with non-Orthodox Jews). Before and after? I guess time moves a little differently when you think the world is precisely 5,766 years old and wear your alter-zayde's underwear. Litzman has managed to become Chairman of the Finance Ministry in the last two Knessets. His qualifications for controlling Israel’s economy? He went to yeshiva in high school. Got a problem with that, you dirty anti-semite?

2- Avraham "Grumpy" Ravitz. Degel HaTorah, MK since 1988. Served in Lehi and the IDF. Wow, a model for all Haredim. Ravitz has actually been quoted making some sense, something few of his counterparts can boast.
The Zionists were wrong, the deputy minister says. There is no need to foster love of the Land of Israel through political and military rule in the entire land. One can love Hebron even from Tel Aviv. By the same token, there is no need to link the attachment to Hebron by means of Israeli rule there; the city can be loved even if it is under Palestinian rule. The State of Israel is not a value... "Only matters of spirituality belong to the family of `values.'"
Well done, Rabbi. You should be careful, though; you go around saying stuff like that and Rabbi Eliashiv might put you in cherem.

3- Meir "My friends call me Simba" Porush. Represents the smaller, primarily Hungarian, Hasidic sects. Served in the IDF, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. Thinks, like Bill O'Reilly, that judges should be elected, thereby eliminating an even semi-independent judiciary. Supposedly started a short-lived hunger strike in 2003 to protest budget cuts from the Finance Ministry. Says secular Jews don't know how good they have it. "...without the political lobbying of Haredi MKs, the Haredi education system might collapse." Poor, poor Meir. Heaven forbid that the Haredim raise some money and finance their own damn schools. I mean, particularly since they give so much back to the IDF by studying gemara. I don't know how to feel about Meir. I mean, I'm happy he served in the IDF and was educated at a Talmudic college (hey, at least it has "college" in the name). At the same time, Meir's descended from a bunch of Lithuanian Misnagdim; his ancestor was Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Porush, the namesake of Meir's illustrious cousin, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, one of Jerusalem's bigwig Misnagdic rabbis. So what's he doing over at Agudah? How can I trust a man who turns his back on his own family's traditions? Sorry, Meir. No dice.

Meir, incidentally, replaced his father, Menachem, "I enjoy spitting on Reform prayerbooks and getting kicked out of Knesset meetings" Porush in 1996, after the former started running out of spit and left politics in order to devote more time to his hobbies, embezzling money from Bikur Holim hospital, and accusing the Israeli Supreme Court of antisemitism by making token gestures of semi-acceptance to non-Orthodox movements in Israel. Some might also remember Menachem's public synagogue beating from a group of Ger Hasidim in the 1980s after he told Simcha Bunim Alter, the rebbe at the time, to shove it when he instructed him to step down from the Knesset.

4- Moshe "I only have 3 kids? What kind of haredi am I?" Gafni. MK since 1988. Moshe does a lot of the general behind-the-scenes back-and-forth negotiations on behalf of Degel now that Ravitz is getting increasingly older and coming to resemble Jabba the Hut. He was the primary force behind getting UTJ back together for their new tour, the “Let’s screw these silly Zionists some more so our kids can pretend to sit and learn in kollel” tour. Better watch out, Black Sabbath, the UTJ Experience is gaining steam!

5- Shmuel Halpert. Vishnitz Hasid. MK since 1981. Grandson of the Nadvorner rebbe. (Know what this means? Shmuel and the Clevelander Rebbe are cousins! Well, he's got my vote.) Speaking three languages in addition to Hebrew, Shmuel is tied with fellow sometimes-MK Israel Eichler as the most multilingual of the UTJ list. Unfortunately, Shmuel's languages (Yiddish, German, and Rumanian) don't seem like they'd be all that useful in Israel.

6- Yaakov Cohen. Looks like he's totally stealing Shmuel's look. Hands of, Yaakov! Go practice your Vulcan salute. (Yaakov is going to be replaced by Israel Eichler mid-term because, as we all know, Belz has to have its chance to stick its fingers in the pot, too. BTW, Belz is apparently rather pissed about all this. Could there be a potential rebbe-fight in the future? Will we get to watch the caftans and gartles fly? The Friar will keep you posted.)

7- Uri "My hat weighs more than me" Maklev- Degel HaTorah. Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. In 2000, Maklev, along with Porush, accused the Masorti movement of torching one of their own synagogues to "provoke" and incite against Haredim. When Meretz MK Naomi Chazan confronted the two, Ravitz called her an "antisemite and a liar". Classy.

8- Who am I kidding? We all know these guys aren't getting more than seven seats.

Israeli elections are tomorrow- time to sit back and watch the stupidity happen.

When I have more time, I’ll probably flesh out the UTJ experience some more- this could be the greatest hair band since Poison. (“On keytar: Meir the Beard Porush!”)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Muslims can be assholes, too.

Release Abdul Rahman. No, like, right now.
Rahman is being prosecuted under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for converting 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The case has put Karzai in an awkward position.

While the United States, Britain and other countries that prop up his government have demanded Rahman's release, the president would be reluctant to offend Islamic sensibilities at home or alienate religious conservatives who wield considerable power.

...The trial highlights a conflict of values between Afghanistan and its Western backers -- notably American Christians who cheered the administration of President George W. Bush when it toppled the oppressive Taliban regime in late 2001.

Bush expressed alarm about the case this week, but Christian lobby groups have urged him to do more.

...Afghanistan's constitution is based on sharia law, which states that any Muslim who rejects Islam should be sentenced to death, according to Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

But the constitution adds that "the state shall abide by the ... Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Article 18 of the declaration guarantees the freedom to worship and to "change" religion or belief.

And therefore there is nothing to debate. This isn't a matter of religion- the UDHR is quite clear. Karzai, this is the point that you demonstrate you have balls. And Bush-lovers- this is the point at which you lean on President Monkey-Man to do something and exert pressure for an actual justified reason, for a change. Incidentally, this will also help determine whether or not Hamid "President of Kabul" actually controls anything beyond his apartment, as Bush & co. have been parroting since they installed him, or, if as anyone with eyes has been pointing out, Karzai's "control" over the country is as fictional as Bush's election victory in 2000 (or Bill O'Reilly's sense of decency, or Ovadia Yosef's tact... fill in your favorite insult here.)

Edit: an update, sort of. Apparently Rahman's going to be released while authorities "review his case". Not terribly promising-sounding, but it's a start.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Picking and choosing?

The next time someone frumer-than-thou gets in your face about driving to shul or the (non) validity of non-Orthodox rabbis, ask them if they observe mitzva number 74.

The Complete List

(Scroll down)

Found it? Good. Here's the relevant passage.

Adultery? That ain't good.

Double-points if, after they concede that they do not observe mitza 74 because it is illegal under most countries' legal system (well, not Saudi), you ask them- "If it wasn't illegal, would you observe it?"

Wow, selectivism isn't just a Reform practice. Who knew?

Edit: This article from Tikkun describes the various legal and interpretive blocks the rabbis put up to ensure it would be almost impossible for a Jewish court to carry out an execution. What say you, Right-wingers? Is this not a case of both religious and judicial activism? Is the Sanhedrin not legislating from the bench? It isn't their job to interpret the law, just enforce it, right?


Even the rabbis of the Sanhedrin and Talmud had their lines. They saw things in the Torah that went against their own values, and they used every means at their disposal to shift the interpretation of the law towards something more compatible with God's and Israel's will as they understood it.

Take note, Conservative movement. It's your Torah. YOU decide what you want Leviticus 18 and 20 to mean and how they should be interpreted. That's part of your JOB as leaders, and trying to shy away from that is downright shameful. Ordain gays, or don't. I've got news for you, though, some sort of split is going to happen either way, and this ridiculous farce of fighting over procedure rules isn't helping.

Make a decision. You owe it to yourselves and to your members. The greatest shame going on here is not the refusal to grant gays acknowledgment, but the timidity, inertia, and cowardice that is gripping your leadership. You have the right to decide this issue, you are indeed worthy. So DO IT!

The Talmud's Judaism isn't set in stone; why should yours be?

More O'Ridiculousness

O'Reilly talking to Eric Burns about how the liberal media hates Bush & sides with... well, people O'Reilly dislikes.

This was great, though.
O'Schmuckface: You can bet that back in colonial times, the media wouldn't have had these kind of issues about church and state.
Burns: Well, no, it used to be a lot different. People had a difficult attitude about church...
O'Moron: And you can bet that they wouldn't dare sympathize with child rapists!
O'Reilly seems to have conveniently forgotten a couple of things. First, while apparently the Pilgrims and Puritans didn't marry their kids off that early, the Southern colonies DID.
For ladies living in the South during this period, they could marry as young as fourteen.
As the site goes on to explain, this was at least partially because the average lifespan at the time was a fraction of what it was today. (Incidentally, the Friar's illustrious ancestry contains several incidents of early marriages, as well, including one bizarre birth record that suggests, while not stating outright, that the mother of the child in question was only NINE years older than the son. It's not just a Christian thing.)

Let's also not forget that other odious things were tolerated at the time, such as slavery, as well as the rape of slaves, children and otherwise. Jefferson, anybody? Helloooo?

BTW, as some may have guessed, O'Jackass is also drastically oversimplifying early America's relationship with organized religion. From Richard Shenkman's I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode or Not:

“As for the beliefs of the founding fathers, the remarkable thing is not that so many believed in Christianity, but that so many expressed doubt about it... Ben Franklin never believed in the divinity of Christ and as a young man he toyed with polytheism... as an old man John Adams became fascinated with paganism... Thomas Jefferson believed in God and considered himself a Christian, but he seemed to reject the divinity of Christ and considered Calvin's sermons blasphemous. Alexander Hamilton, both at the beginning of his life and near the end, expressed faith in Christianity, but during the revolutionary period he was utterly indifferent to it... Thomas Paine condemned the "monstrous belief" that God had ever spoken to man. George Washington, though he belonged to the Episcopal church, never mentioned Christ in any of his writings and he was a deist.

Certainly the founders weren't hostile either to religion or the clergy... but
neither did they insist, one and all, that religion was a pillar of liberty. Indeed, many of the most illustrious founders plainly rejected the idea. Historian John Diggins says those involved in writing and defeding the Constitution, men like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, "expressed profound ambivalence about religion, often seeing it as divisive rather than cohesive." And some of those who later came to believe in the necessity of religion, such as Adams, originally thought religiosity was of little matter.

... The founders have been pressed into the service of religion so long now and with such force that it is almost impossible to recover what they really thought. But we can certainly reconstruct their actions... Consider the practice of public prayers [such as] opening meetings of Congress with a prayer...
we do more of it than they ever did (not because they opposed praying but because they thought politics and praying didn't mix). The Constitutional Convention opened without a single prayer and several of the first presidents, including both Jefferson and Madison, generally refused to issue prayers, despite importunings that they do so. Under pressure, Madison relented in the War of 1812, but held to his belief that chaplains shouldn't be appointed to the military or be allowed to open Congress."

Luckily, Dr. Bill doesn't let pesky things like facts get in his way. It might make it harder to say stupid things.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Israeli poll update- three days and counting.

According to the latest polls, Kadima has continued to drop slightly, following the downward trend that has been plauging it since Sharon's stroke when it peaked at 40. Still, 36 isn't anything to scoff at. Labor is up to 21, with Likud down to 14. Again, Shas & Yisrael Beteinu are tied, but this time at 11, instead of 10.

Also: NU-NRP up to 9, Arab parties 8, and Meretz up to 6. UTJ, however, is down one to 5. I guess Gafni isn't as effective a campaigner as he thought.
...sometimes a few votes is enough to lose a mandate that could have been crucial to the fate of chareidi Jewry in Israel in the coming years. In history one will be able to examine what was the turning point for the worse in 5766 and calculate how one or two mandates were lost...
Mazel Tov, Moshe. Maybe you should leave this stuff to your Hasidic counterparts, like MK Litzman, who has apparently shifted his loyalty from Ger to Ruzhin.

Edit: Actually, if even his Grand Holiness the Prophet HaRav Eliashiv super-duper shlita can't get people to vote for UTJ, they're probably up shit creek.

On the other hand...
The UTJ campaign headquarters notes that everyone can daven for the success of the list.
Great. Maybe they'll even vote, too.

Double-edit: Incidentally, note who ISN'T getting any mandates. Shocking, I can't imagine why their brilliant campaign strategy of being racist assholes isn't working.

Lastly, as always, remember: polls don't have all the answers. This explains why.

Sharon suffered a stroke on Jan. 4, and the militant Hamas group swept Palestinian parliamentary elections Jan. 25. Yet neither major event caused a ripple in the polls. Pollsters are wondering what's going on.

"All this gives me the impression of quicksand," said pollster Rafi Smith.

The main added variable is Kadima itself. It sprang from nowhere into the lead. Previous attempts to forge centrist parties in Israel have ended in flashy failures. Now the pollsters have to readjust their assumptions _ or throw them out.

With predictions of a turnout of less than 60 percent and polls showing more than 20 percent undecided, the trick is to figure out who is going to vote at all, and where the wavering voters will come to rest.

Pollsters say a key to predicting what undecided voters will do is what they did last time. Follow-up questions allow pollsters to cut the undecided number to 3 or 4 percent, Zemach said. In the end, they tend to "go home," voting the same way as before. With the emergence of Kadima, that no longer works. Likud and Labor are traditionally Israel's largest parties, but they're suddenly also-rans.

"This is the hardest assumption we have to make," said Zemach, who has been conducting pre-election polls since 1973 and is Israel's best-known pollster, adding that "we no longer have the luxury" of putting voters back in their old parties...His own polls consistently show Kadima winning about 35 seats, but his gut feeling is different. "I don't have the impression that every third person is actually going to vote for Kadima," he said, warning of election night surprises.

Very informative.


Bill O'Reilly was in rare form Thursday night. First he bashed Hillary Clinton for daring to refer to Jesus in relation to a political issue. (The segment in which Bill ass-rapes Bill Frist for this little stunt is presumably only available to premium members on his website.)

Typical O'Reilly tactic: Quote someone saying something outrageous, agree repeatedly, act as if playing devil's advocate, and then back away from it.

In this case, it was some random preacher who said Clinton was "despicable" for using Jesus' name in a political context. O'Reilly parroted the statement multiple times, and then when confronted by the token liberal (an attractive blonde, incidentally), said, "hey, I don't think she's a bad person."

Yeah, right. Media Matters has more on the segment's O'inconsistencies, including when Bill suddenly gets his Divinity degree. What they don't have there is the part where O'Reilly opines on how Clinton's religiosity is "obviously" fake. Nice double-standard. Democrats invoking faith must be full of it, and Repubs are always sincere? Good to know.

But Father Bill isn't done. Next up, he has a Black woman on to talk about PETA's latest mornic stunt. Not satisfied with Holocaust on Your Plate, they've thought up a new outrageous trick to get media attention: compare chicken farms with the slave trade. Ridiculous? Of course. So what's to discuss? The strawman, of course.

O'Reilly: what do you think about this?
Woman: I'm outraged. It's horribly offensive, etc.
O'Reilly: Don't you think that this shows that various liberal groups who like to compare themselves to you are out of touch?
Woman: Yes.
O'Reilly: Like the gays, for instance. They say that denying them marriage is like denying you guys rights.
Woman: And it's absolutely ridiculous, and offensive. Don't use us as your poster boys for your struggle, we have problems of our own!
O'Reilly: Yeah, those gays, they just don't appreciate the differences... marriage is a privilege, not a right. It's not like eating at a lunch counter.

O'Reilly conveniently avoids citing any example of any gay groups comparing gay marriage to the slave trade. The only semi-comparison I can recall (and I followed some of the s-s-m controversy fairly closely) was the argument that "saying that s-s-m will destroy society is ridiculous. People said the same thing about inter-racial marriages 50 years ago." Obviously, not the same thing, O'Douchebag.

And incidentally- how is being able to eat lunch where you want substantially more of a right than being allowed to marry whom you want? Feel free to point me to the "lunch counter" ammendment, Bill.

Incidentally, Bill's also full of it when he claims that his show is "number one in cable news"- Fox's ratings, and O'Reilly's in particular, have been steadily dropping since the beginning of 2006. Is this a sign that people are becoming smarter, or more liberal? I doubt it. It probably has more to do with the fact that (if my household's viewing tendencies are at all representative) most people can only take so much of "the Factor" before they get the urge to shove a falafel through O'Reilly's nose.

More on the Conservative movement and its non-decisions.

First, a rabbi from Masorti movement in Israel accuses his colleagues, both in Israel and America, of "singling him out" as "persona non-grata". His crime? Conducting 10 same-sex weddings in the past 5 years.

Now, there's the argument that rabbis shouldn't be doing something that their own movement disallows, and I think that actually has some validity. But it's also clearly a symptom of the deep divisions, and lack of clear-cut leadership (and a process through which change can be addressed, or effected) at work in the Conservative Movement. The kind of anarchy that Lazar's activity illustrates seems to be a rather glaring example of some of the major problems Conservative Judaism is suffering from. Instead of actively grappling with the halchic (and policy) problems and issues that the existence of gay Jews creates, the C.M. instead prefers to stall, pleasing no one and perpetuating a status-quo of "see no gays, speak no gays" that has yet to appease anyone.

In a related matter, the Forward has some analysis about the latest reversal by the C.M. Law Commitee:
The motion, passed 106 to 37 with 24 abstentions, allows the Conservative movement’s top lawmaking body, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, to approve major revisions to Jewish law with the approval of 13 out of 25 voting members. It overturns the decision by the R.A.’s executive council last June to establish a 20-vote threshold for major changes.
Very interesting. The Friar will be keeping a close eye on this. Stay tuned.

Also, at the same conference, we got to hear chancellor Ismar Schorsch remind everyone how old he is.
"If the Conservative movement chooses to do something at the expense of the halachic system, then it's going to pay the price down the road," Schorsch told the Forward in a reiteration of his longstanding opposition to lifting the ban on homosexuality. "The erosion of our fidelity to Halacha is what brings us close to Reform Judaism."
Heaven forbid! It's always nice to see some bridge-building between the traditionalist C.Js and the Orthos- in this case, Reform-Bashing. Nice send-off, Chancellor. Don't let the car door hit you on your way out.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Being realistic

I sympathize with the Palestinians, I really do. They've gotten the shit end of the stick for quite a while now, not the least from their fellow Arabs, and particularly, their leaders, who seem most reminiscient to the "President for life till the next coup"who have be-speckled many African nations in the past 50 years- get in, get money, get out while the getting's good. And while Hamas may not be corrupt (yet), it has other qualities that are far from encouraging (such as its various troubling "Death to Israel", "Death to Palestinian Gays/Christians", "Hooray for Honor Killings", and "Let's encourage children to kill themselves" policies).

All that said- this is kind of stupid.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, predicted to win the Israeli election on March 27th, said in an interview Thursday that any parties who wish to join a coalition government with him will have to agree to his unilateral plan to take 20% of the Palestinian West Bank and surround the rest with a Wall.

The plan, which is already being put into effect in various parts of the West Bank with accelerated Wall construction and displacement of Palestinian populations, has been termed 'unilateral withdrawal' by Israeli leaders. But Palestinians argue that the term 'withdrawal' is misleading, as Olmert's plan calls simply for a shifting of illegal Israeli settlers from one part of the West Bank to another part, not a withdrawal.
Ok, first off, any politician's "declared goal" is never what the final settlement winds up being. That's the basic premise of any diplomatic process. And Olmert's also in the middle of election season, meaning there's all the more reason to take anything he says (whether pandering to the right or left) with several etrog-sized grains of salt.

Second, obviously any unilateral proposal is going to be less beneficial to the Palestinians than a negotiated one. That's just a plain fact. All the more reason to encourage them to negotiate with Israel (cough, cough, Hamas).

Third, it has long been a de facto reality that some Israeli settlements adjacent (or semi-adjacent) to the Green Line are going to become part of Israel. This was reflected as far back as the talks at Camp David & Taba, as well as the Abu-Mazen-Beillin plan & Clinton Proposal, all of which took place from 1999-2001. Even the Geneva Accord, touted by Palestinian intellectuals (and which included Abu Mazen, Jibril Rajoub & Mohammed Dahlan as supporters), has Israel getting some settlements, in exchange for Palestinians getting some land around Gaza and some area in south-central Israel west of the Green Line. How much land the Palestinians get in exchange, and how many settlements the Israelis take, will be determined by if and how negotiations occur.

Now, is this fair? Arguably, no. But this whole shitstorm is long past any issues of fairness, and it's particularly ridiculous to grumble about stuff like Olmert's campaign promises:

A- Before he's even gotten into office & formed his coalition.
B- While Hamas is still talking about not recognizing Israel and continuing attacks against it (given justification by Israeli attacks against them)
C- While the Palestinian government is imploding.

So, yeah, sorry, Israel's going to keep some of its settlements. No major news there. The Palestinians aren't going to be getting back all of the 67 land. Should they be pissed? Sure. But I'd think they'd be more interested in getting IDF soldiers and psycho-settlers out of their backyards than in protesting senseless minutia like Olmert's peace plans, which, incidentally, they will have zero impact in changing, unless they start pressuring their new leaders to TALK to Israel, instead of just lobbing Kassams at it. We're long past fair- let's just grit our teeth and try and come to some sort of agreement both sides can tolerate. Holding out for all of the 67 land is just plain stupid. I'd focus on more pragmatic things, like trying to limit Israeli inclusion of settlement blocs far inside the West Bank under their category of "priority" settlements to keep, and which will ultimately make a viable Palestinian state much harder to achieve.

Global Warming

Yes, you morons, it does indeed exist. And if we don't start doing something, most coastal cities are going to be majorly fucked before I hit retirement age. And where will we start stashing all the liberals (and old Jews) once places New York, Florida, and California are gone? They'll be moving in with YOU, all you semi-retarded mid-Western/Southerners who don't believe in evolution, gay marriage, or global warming.

Now, think about it. Do you really want those liberal elitists as neighbors? You've heard about Postville, right? It could happen to YOU. Neither of us want my Bubbe living in Alabama, so do your part, and convince that developmentally-challenged monkey boy of a President you elected (probably because his very existence disproves evolutionary theory) to get on the godamned ball.

Toute suite, assholes, before people start drinking their mocha-frappa-chai-tinos through snorkels. (Because the next stop on the hipster-train will be your house.)

Powerful words from a victim of terrorism

"My brother was killed by ETA".

They hold the Basque country as the most cherished region on earth.

But you can't say that if you don't cherish the people who want to live peacefully within it.

How true- and how applicable to so many other places mired in their own conflicts. Hamas and Kach, anyone?

Edit: some analysis on why "old-style" nationalist militias/terrorism groups are going out of business.
In a new atmosphere, where violence gives way to a ceasefire and then a cessation, there can be compromise.

Governments have made concessions to the nationalist aspirations of the populations that have supported the armed groups. They have realised that making concessions does not mean defeat.

Food for thought, Olmert.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Crusades? Wuzzat?

Apparently the "Crusades weren't so bad" pseudo-argument is spreading. No longer confined to mere morons, it's now on its way to becoming official Vatican policy.
The Vatican has begun moves to rehabilitate the Crusaders by sponsoring a conference at the weekend that portrays the Crusades as wars fought with the “noble aim” of regaining the Holy Land for Christianity.At the conference, held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Roberto De Mattei, an Italian historian, recalled that the Crusades were “a response to the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the Muslim devastation of the Holy Places”.
Right, because we all know how respectful the Church has been of other folks' holy places.
He said that the Crusaders were “martyrs” who had “sacrificed their lives for the faith”.
Where have we heard that before?
Professor Riley-Smith has attacked Sir Ridley Scott’s recent film Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom, as “utter nonsense”. Professor Riley-Smith said that the script, like much writing on the Crusades, was “historically inaccurate. It depicts the Muslims as civilised and the Crusaders as barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality.” It fuels Islamic fundamentalism by propagating “Osama bin Laden’s version of history”.
Yes, and obviously the answer is to go to the opposite idiotic extreme.
He said that the Crusaders were sometimes undisciplined and capable of acts of great cruelty. But the same was true of Muslims and of troops in “all ideological wars”. Some of the Crusaders’ worst excesses were against Orthodox Christians or heretics — as in the sack of Constantinople in 1204.
Yes, and THIS is why the Crusades are an example of something BAD, genius. Because it was an ideological war that contained a lot of cruelty and brutality. Condemning Muslim jihad and Christian crusades is not meant to exhonorate either, it is a way of demonstrating that ideological, and in this case specifically religious, war, is REALLY dangerous, and often has crappy results. Pope Rottweiler's attempt to whitewash this is sadly not really surprising, and rather scary.

And who turned up at the conference? Surprise, surprise.
The American writer Robert Spencer, author of A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, told the conference that the mistaken view had taken hold in the West as well as the Arab world that the Crusades were “an unprovoked attack by Europe on the Islamic world”. In reality, however, Christians had been persecuted after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.
And so, obviously, counter-persecuting Muslims was just fine and godamned dandy. And killing tons of Jews while they were at it, just for good measure.

What a bunch of a-holes.

How did you spend your spring breaks?

I used to spend mine watching TV and playing video games. A few of my more enlightened (or nerdy) friends would occaisonally do things like Ecuador service projects, or build houses in Mexico.

No one ever mentioned something like this, though.
During March and April the Soulforce Equality Ride is visiting 19 religious and military schools to give voice to those who can not speak up themselves because of oppressive school policies. Many of these schools expell lgbtq students who come out or are outed.
What's that? Gay christians trying to stand up for themselves? Heaven forbid!! I know, let's arrest them for trespassing.

Now, yes, all of these Universities are is private property, which, coincidentally, is why they can ban whoever they want to (like, gays, or Jews). At the same time, arresting peaceful protestors seems a little bit... what's the word?

Oh yeah. Pussy-ish.

Because I have a special fondness in my heart for Jerry Falwell, I'm going to focus on him. Jerry, I know you enjoy saying whatever diarrhea spews to yout mind, and like being given forums left-and-right for it. So you of all people should appreciate how important the right to free speech is, right? How can you be threatened by a bus-full of gays who simply disagree with your policies? And why arrest them? Why not, say, challenge them to a debate?

News flash, Jerry. God doesn't talk to you, Jesus is mad that you're exploiting his memory for cash, you're a general douchebag, and, to top it all off, you're a god-damn coward. Go eat your twin brother. (No, I'm not making that up.)

So far Soulforce has gone to five universities, and arrests have been made at at least three of them. Their bus was sprayed with anti-gay graffiti at a fourth. Charming.

For updates, check out their website and news section. You can also check out each of the 20 planned stops and see why they made the cut.

Edit: You think they'll be making the yeshiva circuit next year?

Food for Thought...

I like cartoons. They make you think. Well, sometimes, anyway.

I think political cartoons are also really interesting because they show how differently liberals and conservatives see things.

For instance, take South Dakota banning abortion.

Liberal take.

Conservative take.

Or the Hamas win.



Neat, huh?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Matisyahu Musings

There's a very good break-down of various Matisyahu coverage (both critical and anti-critical) over at the Jewish Week. Liel Leibovitz's analysis is quite fascinating.

The only problem with the column is that Leibovitz references various opinion pieces and blog entries without linking to them. But fear not, for they have been tracked down for you, dear readers, by your friendly, humble Friar.

NY Times' Kelefa Sanneh (which really isn't as bad or outrageous as Canonist seems to think).

Slate's Judy Rosen (which even I found overly-snarky)

Canonist's responses to both, here and here. Be sure to read the comments, some are quite good.

Theodicy Watch: Part 2

Who caused the bird flu in Israel? We have a new contender. More details here. (Warning: link probably not work-safe if you live in the South.)

Rabbi David Basri, head of the Magen David Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on Tuesday lashed out at the left of center Meretz Party for running election ads supporting same-sex marriage.

Israelis elect a new government this month and Meretz is the only party supporting gay marriage.

"The Bible says that God punishes depravity first through plagues against animals and then in people," Basri said in a religious edict.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency Basri's son quoted the rabbi as saying the bird flu outbreak stemmed from the leftist pary "strengthening and encouraging homosexuality."

...Basri is no stranger to attacks on gays. In 2004 he lashed out at gays on the eve of pride celebrations in Jerusalem.

"This is not a disease or a deviation, but a straight-out abomination. Even animals don't behave this way... There is no place in the Holy City for such a phenomenon," he said.

Now, yes, Basri is quite the dill-hole, but just to be fair, let's note that he actually blamed MERETZ for the bird flu, not gays themselves. So for those of you keeping score at home- gays actually aren't powerful enough to incurr God's wrath on a bunch of innocent birds; political ads about gay marriage ARE. Just so we're all clear. Maybe there should be a law passed making TV ads a registered weapon. I mean, if gay-marriage leads to bird flu, who knows what commercials for evolution would do? (Turn Rabbi Eliashiv into a frog, maybe?)

...Hey, I wonder if the birds were gay? Someone should do some checking up on this.

Anyway, I'm hoping that this jackass and Marzel will hear about each other and, infuriated that someone would dare have a differing interpretation than them ("That's like, so Reform of you!"), challenge each other to a death-match, Elijah-style. I'm thinking a nice, tasteful, "whoever can make their God spontaneously combust the other one first" sort of thing. Maybe they can show it on Lifetime or Fox Family Channel.

(Spodik-tip to DovBear, my personal Maggid.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

News Roundup- March 20

Liberal Muslim Cleric Bashed: Interesting, and sad. Still, at least it shows such a thing does indeed exist, contrary to what some might have people think.

Also, am I the only one who finds this ironic? Perhaps even a form of karma (obviously for Gush Katif, though, right?)

Other news:

- A 95-year-old member of the Nazi-allied security police in Lithuania has gone on trial there for war crimes. This is only the THIRD such trial in any of the Baltic states since the Soviet Union collapsed (though whether that's due to the age of the defendants, the extended period between when the acts occured and now, and basic anti-Semitism and/or indifference is debateable. I say it's a combination of all of the above).

- The Simpsons has been commissioned for another two seasons. Is this good news, dear readers? Well it is if, among other things, you like feeling superior to your fellow Americans, or just towards Americans in general. (I got four out of five, btw.)

- Also, two interesting developments in the ongoing War on Terror morrass. One, the family of the football star that the right-wing all adored when he became a martyr for their cause (and provided another example of "liberal bombthrowing" they could beat people over the head with) has decided that they aren't satisfied with his various posthumous promotions, medals, or memorial bridges. You see, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, and his family's understandably a bit perturbed. What's the Army's response? Zip, apparently.

Mr. Tillman, 51, is a grieving father who has refused to give up on his son. While fiercely shunning the public spotlight that has followed Cpl. Pat Tillman's death, Mr. Tillman has spent untold hours considering the Army's measurements, like the 70 yards.

He has drafted long, sometimes raw, letters to military leaders, demanding answers about the shooting. And he has studied — and challenged — Army PowerPoint presentations meant to explain how his son, who had called out his own name and waved his arms, wound up dead anyway, shot three times in the head by his own unit, which said it had mistaken him for the enemy.

"All I asked for is what happened to my son, and it has been lie after lie after lie," said Mr. Tillman, explaining that he believed the matter should remain "between me and the military" but that he had grown too troubled to keep silent.

Lies? From this administration? No way!
The debacle continues:
No one wants answers more than the Tillmans. But by now, they said, they have lost patience and faith that any Army entity, even the Criminal Investigation Command, can be trusted to find the truth.

..."There is so much nonstandard conduct, both before and after Pat was killed, that you have to start to wonder," Mr. Tillman said. "How much effort would you put into hiding an accident? Why do you need to hide an accident?"

An examination by The New York Times of more than 2,000 pages of documents from three previous Army administrative reviews reveals shifting testimony, the destruction of obvious evidence in the case and a series of contradictions about the distances, the lighting conditions and other details surrounding the shooting.

Hey, maybe all those Republican theories about "trickle-down" immorality actually do have some basis in fact. Sorry, conservatives. I know it's easier to memorialize dead soldiers than actually do anything about investigating their deaths.

Second, in another sad & ironic twist- Bush has finally succeeded in bringing some investment to Iraq. Well done, Dubs. Maybe next we can divert some of the valuable resources we're spending on researching alternate fuel (snicker) to invent a non-explosive car. We can call it the "Sand Turtle".

Or something.

The Cycle Continues.

We've all heard the "vicious cycle" cliche when it comes to the Middle East. The Palestinians do something stupid and violent, such as, say, blow up a bus, and the Israelis retaliate, by, say, killing some Hamas leaders (or some bystanders, whatever). Double-points if the settlers take it upon themselves to kill some of those super-threatening olive trees. Gotcha, you bastards! We all knew it was only a matter of time until Islamic Jihad would start recruiting Olea europaea to do its dirty work. It's a little thing called pre-emptive strike, people, you know, ticking trees bombs?

What was I talking about? Oh yeah.

Sometimes the cycle model manifests itself in other ways. Case in point:

Kooky leftwing nutjob Uri Avnery, former reformed Irgun fighter, Knesset member and muckraking journalist, personal pal (sort of) of Arafat, and generally something of an irascible old coot called the recent IDF operation in Jericho a "disgusting exercise", and mentions equivalency between killing Ze'evi and killing Yassin.

And what's the response? Stuff like this from our favorite "ex-"Kahanist:
In response to comments by Avnery calling the 2001 assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi a Palestinian "targeted killing" - a term generally reserved for IDF strikes on terror leaders - Marzel said the IDF needs to target Avnery.
That's really mature, Baruch. Way to like, have a rational conversation.

Now, you might disagree with what Avnery said, but his op-ed wasn't without its points. For instance, noting (as other media commentators did) how close to an election this happened, and how it seems fairly transparent as a gimmick to win votes. Indeed, several analyses I read following the Jericho developments seemed to agree with this interpretation: one phrased it like, "Olmert did Amona for the Left, and Jericho for the Right"- and the responses by Peretz and Bibi in the aftermath of these actions seem to back it up.

Similarly, Avnery's point that stripping the prisoners and photographing them before arresting them was dehumanizing also seems right on point. You can argue that it doesn't matter- they're terrorists; they're murderers, they're Arabs, whatever. But the official explanation that it was part of a "security" check clearly seems to be a bunch of BS.

Yes, Avnery's piece makes moral equivalency, and it humanizes Ze'evi's murderers. I also have some issues with how much you can blame Israel for not living up to an agreement to respect Palestinian sovreignity of prisons when Israel was responding to the prison releasing convicted terrorists.

But, in his favor, when he's talking about how killing Ze'evi is like killing Yassin, he's being up-front about it. He isn't, for instance, arbitrarily picking and choosing when violence and brutality is ok and when it's not. He says what he thinks, plain as can be: "I oppose all murders."

Then again, maybe it isn't that surprising that Marzel's response was what it was. "You hate murders? HULK SMASH!"

Liberal in the U.S., Conservative Abroad?

It's interesting; over here I tend to support the Democratic party line (while not-so-secretly enjoying bashing idiot politicians regardless of affiliation), which I know includes more government involvement in people's affairs. But in Israel, I realize, I have a very different take. The problem, as I see it, is exemplified in a post over at Ben Chorin's about the Israeli take on Religious Zionism. The real problem, as he identifies it, is that the Israeli RZs have bought into the weird pseudo-mysticism of the Kooks (N.B.: that's the rabbis, not an insult) that said the state of Israel was magically delicious "imbued with sanctity" and is a vehicle for redemption, bringing the Messiah, saving ten percent on your car insurance, what have you.

A major consequence of this is that
They are all convinced that the State should be solely responsible for curing the ill and supporting the poor, the State should be building shuls and mikvaot, the State should be appointing rabbanim and dayanim, the State should be legislating religion, the State should decide who is a convert, who is married, what is kosher.
Ben Chorin goes on to say that this is bad for religious Jews because the state is mostly run by an anti-religious oligarchy. That's an interesting take on it; I'd say that's partially true, but another aspect of this debacle is that the non-religious segment of the population, which is a clear majority the last time I checked (granted, this is somewhat dependent on how you choose to count "masorti"), is held hostage by the religious (and anti-secular) oligarchy, namely, by their institutions, which control every aspect of Jewish life in Israel.

The bottom line, to me, is that I don't think Israel's Orthodox population either needs, nor particularly benefits, from both controlling the lives of people who don't want to live by Orthodox rules, or from being so attached (and dependent) on the Israeli government. Just because Israel is the "Jewish state" does not mean that it has to be run by Halacha- and indeed, it isn't. Why are people pretending like the Orthodox monopoly on marriage serves as some sort of bulwark against secularism? Fine, yes, there are issues with mamzerut. But this can be easily dealt with on a personal basis, and same with children who are the result of mixed marriages and who then want to marry an Orthodox person (I'd like to see some figures for how often this happens, btw). First, they can always convert. Second, if the in-laws are too snooty to have their kid marry a convert, that's their issue. I don't see why millions of Israelis should have to have halachic standards shoved down their throats for the sake of some hypothetical heart-broken b'aal teshuvahs who don't even exist yet.

So, how do I justify my two positions? Easy. The separation of church and state. Or, rather, the issue of government/state interference in one's personal life. It's fine for the government to help the poor and put money into healthcare, and it's even (theoretically) fine for the Israeli government to fund religious schools. But the frum and the chilonim are presently enmeshed in a parasitical embrace, and it's unhealthy and unecessary. The state shouldn't be the primary form of support for the Orthodox sector. Haredim- get out of kollel and get a job. Mafdal/Chardal- put some of the money you saved on housing and fund your own damn shul. That way you can do your own thing, regardless of state approval. (And the haredim can even have textbooks without science in them.) Similarly, the Orthodox shouldn't be enforcing halacha on everybody in Israel; they should be acting as leaders and standard-bearers for their own communities, and stop pretending like they have any sort of real rapport with, much less represent, secular Jews in Tel Aviv. Abolish the post of Chief Rabbi. I repeat- ABOLISH IT. It's unecessary and essentially meaningless, except when the people occupying the post use it for corruption or to push their or their supporters' interests (cough, cough, shmita-gate, anyone?)

That's the real way to put a damper on some of this Jew vs. Jew stuff- get out of people's business and give them some damn space. Maybe secular Jews will stop joyriding through Haredi neighborhoods on Shabbos if they stop burning down their sex shops. Everybody just chill out.

Hey, when did this post become an ad for Ale Yarok?

(Spodik-tip to Hirhurim.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ze'ev shows us the way

You know, dear readers, after taking a look at the direction this blog's been going over the past two weeks, it's become apparent to me that the vast majority focuses on Israeli politics, and settlement issues, specifically.

This made me wonder: is it really my place to opine, critique and ridicule the ideas, personalities and problems of a country I don't even live in? I have no plans to ever make aliyah (though I do have family there and I would like to visit), and perhaps putting so much attention on this sort of stuff is really no more than a horrible case of armchair-advocacy on my part.

But then I came across this little ditty, written by Ze'ev Orenstein, my online mentor and (one-way) dueling partner, written during the Disengagement:
Another common statement made by Jews who don't live in Israel is:

"Jews who don't live in Israel shouldn't have an opinion about what goes on in Israel, as they don't live there and don't have to live with the consequences."

I strongly disagree. When one doesn't have an opinion about something, it means they aren't interested in it. If one doesn't make the effort to be well informed or educated about a particular issue, it means they don't care about it. There is no excuse for any caring, involved Jew to be ignorant about anything relating to Israel, and certainly not something as momentous as the tragedy that is befalling the Jewish People today.
You know what? Ze'ev makes a good point. It's not that I don't care about American politics; it's that at the moment, Israeli politics are a hell of a lot more interesting and (somewhat) personal to me. So thanks, Ze'ev. Thanks... a lot.

Settler violence: finally, a kippa sruga who gets it.

Dr. Yisrael Medad, a community leader and longtime settler activist from Shiloh, writes about how settlers aren't going to get any pity from their Lesser Israel, Green-Line counterparts for stuff like Amona as long as their image as lawless, violent, racist cowboys in the "Wild West Bank" persists. He also has the integrity to point out what some of the settler advocates just don't seem to get- you can't only be mad about violence when you're on the receiving end. That means a little less Kahane, and a little more Ghandi. Sorry, Rav Levinger.
...the understanding that we need marshals, that we have to be as non-violent in appearance as possible (like sitting down with no rocks to throw anywhere, etc.) is lacking...I have tried to give seminars and workshops (I appeared as an expert on non-violent civil activism at the sedition trial of Feiglin and Sackett) but have been rebuffed and basically ignored.

But maybe things will improve.
Dr. Medad and I have little in common, and I care little for his various causes (such as blowing up the Dome of the Rock to stop Oslo). But I wholeheartedly support him on this. Bravo, Doc.

(Edit upon re-reading: That is, assuming the emphasis here is actually on promoting the principle of non-violent protest, not just appearing to do so. But surely that wouldn't be what he meant, right?)

If the settlers, and the Palestinians, for that matter, would calm down, put down their respective rocks, molotovs and Uzis, and attempt some reasonable conversation like actual human beings, who knows? Maybe we'd finally get somewhere. (Or not. But it'd be nice.)

Also: Israeli politics fun continues. Last month, Shas had ads that said if you voted for them, you went to Heaven.

Now we get to hear the flip side.

Rabbi: Vote Shas or go to hell

Well, at least they're consistent. (Also check out Tommy Lapid's comeback. Good old Tommy, he's still got it!)

Put off until tomorrow...

I was going to write a giant post about how by delaying its decision about gay rabbis and same-sex unions, the Conservative movement has yet again managed to both display internal cowardice as well as demonstrate why it is semi-slowly dying as a movement...

And then I thought I'd just take a page out of their playbook.

So I'll talk about this some other time. Maybe a month, maybe eight... who knows? I've got to wait for word from the Friar Yid Law Committee.

More from the peanut gallery

Our old pal Marzipan has stepped up his campaign agitation (see here), despite the fact that it seems fairly clear he won't make it into the Knesset (again). Must be taking a page from Moshe Feiglin's book.

Apparently Mars-bars is going to rely heavily on footage of his old mentor, the Brooklyn Bigot (other aliases include the Hebrew Hitler and the Adolf of Avenue C), and will call for evicting the "Arab enemy" from Israel. I'm trying to be optimistic; maybe he'll slip up and get another racist neo-Kach party banned.

So, just so we're clear, his campaign strategy is the following:

1- Run even though you have no chance of winning and have sabotaged any possibility of getting elected.

2- Pander to racist soccer hooligans.

3- Talk about deporting one-sixth of your country's population.

4- Use your amazing powers of prophecy to explain an outbreak of bird flu.

5- Condemn police brutality and in the same breath, encourage it against someone else. (Hypocrisy much?)

And this is why no one outside of Marzel's immediate circle of nutballs will ever vote for him.

At least the system is good for something...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Jackass Watch: Part One

Of what I'm sure will be an ongoing series (hey, maybe I'm a prophet, too!)
Leader of National Jewish Front says bird flu outbreak 'punishment from God' for kibbutzim used to house 'expulsion headquarters'

The bird flu outbreak in southern Israel is God's punishment for the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank disengagement, National Jewish Front Chairman Baruch Marzel says..."You were punished by God and now you'll have to ask for the forgiveness of Gush Katif residents," Marzel wrote in a letter to southern residents whose communities were affected by bird flu.

In the wake of the bird flu outbreak, rightists have been voicing various theories regarding the connection between the disease and the implementation of the pullout. Marzel himself is certain such connection exists
...Marzel added southern residents should ask former Gazans for forgiveness and then seek advice with leading rabbis.

"Maybe that will help them," he said.
Of course, outrageous theodicy is nothing new from Kahanists like Marzel:

Jan 6, 2006- Far-right activists took credit Thursday for the severe deterioration in Ariel Sharon's health, claiming that a pulsa denura - Aramaic for "lashes of fire" - death curse they instigated against the prime minister in July was the real catalyst behind his current state of health.

"I take full responsibility for what happened," far-right activist Baruch Ben-Yosef, one of the participants at the July pulsa denura, told The Jerusalem Post. "Our pulsa denura kicked in. Nothing could kill Sharon and he said his ancestors lived until they over 100 years old but we got him with the pulsa denura."

On Wednesday night, Ben-Yosef and additional far-right activists gathered...Upon hearing the news of Sharon's stroke, Ben-Yosef said, the group broke out in song and dance and celebrated the prime minister's fall throughout the night.

And yet Marzel thinks he should lecture other Jews on how to set a good example. Putz. (Incidentally, check out the great caption on Marzel's picture in this link. That's why Yediot is such a great source for hard-hitting news!)

Vote for Baruch Marzel: the only one since Moses to speak directly to God (besides Shabtai Zevi and Ovadia Yosef, of course.)