Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hooray for Conservatives with Brains

I have to say, I'm impressed.

Conservative bloggers have a problem with George Allen using saucy extracts from Jim Webb's novels as campaign weaponry.

"Are the passages in Webb's 'Lost Soldiers' bizarre and perverted? Yes," writes popular conservative blogger Michelle Malkin. "But they are no more proof of Webb's immorality and unfitness for office than the passages in 'Sisters' are proof that Lynne Cheney hates men or that the passages in 'The Apprentice' are proof that Scooter Libby endorses sex between children and bears."

The article also mentions that some liberal bloggers are trying to win the election via Google Bombing. I have to say, that's so sad and nerdy I think I'm going to cry. At least make your semi-sketchy electioneering practices interesting, guys. Like, get a bunch of people on World Of Warcraft to start leafletting for candidates. I can see it now:

After hours of trudging through the Marshlands of Muradin, your paladin and elf-mage step over the body of a recently-killed wooly mammoth-frog and encounter a rival horde on a quest of its own. You cautiously aim your plus-5-damage sceptre of destruction at their leader and type a message to him:


Agonizing seconds pass, and then, a response!

"Responsible Orcs support stem cell research. But Lord Proudmage doesn't want to talk about the issues, he'd rather sling enchanted mud from Scherazul that he got from the mud-farmers' lobby. Chaz Doomhammer opposes aggressive lobbying, and thinks you deserve to know where your gold goes... this election, vote Doomhammer for Congress."

(All apologies to the many gamer-losers out there who read this blog. By which I mean none.)

Not ok, Slate

Not work-safe. Or brain-safe, frankly.

Slate Quiz: Politician Porn

Incidentally, for those keeping track of recent Congressional Scandals, here's a little write-up of some of the bigger ones in the past year:

- Tom DeLay (R-TX)
- Duke Cunningham (R-CA)
- Abramoff, pt. 1 [associates include DeLay, Sen. Robert Ney (R-OH), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), James Clyburn (D-SC), and Bennie Thompson (D-MS).]
- Abramoff, pt. 2- the Indian thing [associates: DeLay, lobbyist Grover Norquist, and activist Ralph Reed].
- William Jefferson (D-LA) [associates: fridge]
- Mark Foley (R-FL) [people presently involved in the scandal: Kird Fordham, staffer, Repub. Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-NY), House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Rodney Alexander (R-LA), John Shimkus (R-IL), Sue Kelly (R-NY), Jim Kolbe (R- AZ), Dennis Hastert (R-IL), RNC Chair Ken Mehlman.]

What's there to say, except, OY?

A bit of humor that actually works

In googling examples of religious-responses-to-being-angry-comparisons just now, I came across something that was actually kind of amusing (if you don't think about it too much).

Muslim Riots Spread to Amish, Hare Krishnas, Jews, Others

The French Muslim riots, caused by an uncontrollable reaction to poverty, racism, and a profound sense of alienation from the larger society, have recently inspired some American groups who share very similar grievances, to use mass violence as a means of gaining recognition and respect.

As low income also immediately translates into uncontrollable violence, the first American neighborhoods to start rioting were the Chinatowns. Realizing that Chinatowns are among the poorest parts of the country, community leaders have encouraged the use of violence to raise the material wealth -- and self-esteem -- of the residents.

... When a waiter in San Francisco's Kum Kau Kitchen tossed hot oil at a pair of dining Jehovah's Witnesses, the other low-pay kitchen employees dragged them out and hung their charred carcasses from a nearby lamppost. "Their poor understanding of English left them no choice other than to kill their customers," mused one of the nearby business owners who cheered their actions. The kitchen manager explained, "Everyone else protests here, so why can't my waiters?"

The reaction of the Jehovah's Witness community has been one of understanding. That is, understanding that they too are victims -- not only of Chinatown massacres, but of society at large. Frustrated with their conventional missionary methods, they turned to wanton destruction of property and the assaults on anyone who was not a Jehovah's Witness. They torch cars, toss bombs at baby carriages, and assault roller skaters -- beating them, and then suffocating them with copies of Watchtower magazines. As a Watchtower spokesperson explained, "Violence has been in our blood since the days of Charles Taze Russell; when we cannot persuade others to convert peacefully, we perform ritual slaughters. Is it too hard to understand that when you are living amongst sinners, you must kill them?" As a result, for the first time in history, the ACLU has officially declared support for a Christian group.

...Taking their lead from the frustrated youth of France, the Pennsylvania Dutch have "found their voice" by burning hundreds of cars in Lancaster PA over the last few nights. The violence has also spread to Bird-in-Hand, Hempfield, and Intercourse, with attacks on police and the looting of 7-Elevens. A few horse-and-buggy details have even gone to Philadelphia, where they expressed their rage in the Philadelphia International Airport.

...According to leading media experts, the feeling of being excluded inevitably translates into violence against others. That is why, apparently, from Brooklyn to West L.A., Orthodox Jews have been on a week-long rampage. Their methods vary, but a common technique is for a dozen youths to cruise through suburbs in an oversized van (or "mitzvah tank"), looking for a brawl.

"They f***ed with my people, so this is payback, see?" says one youth who calls himself Shlomy. "So these motherf****n b****es gonna have their motherf****n p*****s f****d, sh*****d and b***d-h**d by my motherf****n h****s *** ******, know what I'm sayin?" His friend, "Yussie." chimed in, "It's called Jewish law, mother*****r. I tell these b*****s. you don't know what my people went through, so you just shut the f**k up and open up cause I'm gonna f**k you up, b***h."


Fun with haredim and the questions it raises

The crazy activists in Israel have had a busy week.

First, we have this "bleach war"thing in Jerusalem. I have to say, I never played bleach war, but I'm going to guess it's like "color war" at summer camp, only not as fun (whose team are you on?) and slightly more burny.

Oh. Ohhhh.


Man, torching clothing stores and burning holes in women's blouses? And no job? It must be great to be in a subsidized kollel.

I have to say though, I'm a little confused by this- wouldn't making the garment less immodest be exactly the opposite of what these guys want? I say they go around with some duct tape and some high-quality burlap sacks veils and just go to town on whoever's trying to poison their neighborhood with shoulder blades. For shame, maidens of Israel!

According to one participant, the rabbi said “those stores should be closed down – to show the entire world that we are Jews. This is the last place remaining on earth; if it is destroyed, the whole world will be annihilated.”

Dude, I think your beard and peyess are a dead-give-away already. Also, for the mystically-inclined, you'll note that this particular neighborhood is named Geula, or "redemption". Yeah, I'm sure this is how you'll bring the messiah- harassing your neighbors with acid-spraying seltzer bottles.

In other news, longtime wacko Dov Lior (yeah, that Dov Lior) has issued a "ruling" that Reform Jews are to be treated like lepers.

A new Halacha ruling issued by Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba instructs Orthodox Jews to steer clear of participating in any events held by Reform Jews and prohibits entering their synagogues. These new restrictions have turned the attitude towards Reform Judaism into one less tolerant than extended to Islam. The Rabbi's ruling was posted to the Beit-El Yeshiva website, after one of the visitors submitted a question on the matter to the Rabbi.

The question directed to the Rabbi was by a 12 year old girl whose American cousin was coming to Israel to celebrate the girl's Bat Mitzva. The cousin, who belongs to the Reform stream of Judaism, would also be coming of age soon and the Israeli girl would be expected to attend the right-of-passage ceremony in the US. "Can I pray in a Reform mixed synagogue? Can I even enter the synagogue itself?" asked the girl.

By 'mixed' the girl was referring to the Reform practice of treating men and women as complete equals and both sexes pray together as opposed to Orthodox synagogues where they are separated.

The Rabbi left no room for interpretation in his answer: "Do not go there and do not participate in the things they do because they do whatever they want with the Mitzvot. By participating you are legitimizing them, they think that you aren't bothered by their ways," he wrote.

Remember kids, you can still be frum and love your family- just as long as they're frum, too. Otherwise, you have to disown them. And buy bleach.

Luckily, not all rabbis in Israel are as militant as Lior. Yuval Sherlo, a longtime "moderate", says you can dance at their weddings, you just can't attend the vows.

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo of Petach Tikva also says he receives many questions about participation in Reform events, particularly weddings. He takes a more moderate stance than Rabbi Lior: "It's forbidden to attend the Chuppa ceremony," he says, "but later when there's dancing and merrymaking you can come and wish them Mazel-Tov."

Well that's nice, kind of. Any other thoughts, Rav?

Rabbi Sherlo addressed the comparison between Reform Judaism and other religious, saying that "The argument against Reform Jews is stronger than that against Christianity and Islam, due to the face that they are idolaters and enemies, but they're there and we're here. Reforms are fakers."

Oh. O...K... Well, thanks for coming out. [Failed Messiah notes that this isn't that different from the previous status-quo, it's just extremely in-your-face about it, per Lior's style.]

Non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have also petitioned the High Court recently claiming discrimination in use of mikvehs, or ritual baths, that are needed to perform conversions (also maintain "family purity laws", but come on, no non-Orthos would be interested in that, it would require them to let go of their Bacon McCheeseburger with extra idolatry sauce).

Not having a mikveh is particularly tricky because the water has to be constantly moving (no, I don't think a jacuzzi would count. Ok, maybe for Reconstructionists, but probably not). So what are some alternatives?

The only choice left, according to the petition, is use the sea for ritual immersions, but that presents a problem, especially during the winter because of the risk of drowning. Three years ago during an immersion ceremony in Netanya, one convert almost drowned and rescue services had to be called in.

Thank God for Israel, where for the first time in thousands of years, Jews have the freedom to convert and drown due to Jewish bigotry! It's just like Herzl said, we really can become like all the other nations. *Tear*

The (Orthodox) government Minister, of course, had some brilliant insights:

The minister in charge of the Religious Affairs, MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) said in response to the petition: "Conversions of reform and conservative organizations are virtual conversions, and they deserve to immerse in a virtual immersion. This is a vexing petition. The only immersion the reform are aware of is Baptism. So they can continue to walk on water and leave the people of Israel alone."

Leave the people alone, eh... kind of like sequestering yourself behind "Sabbath Protection" barriades and bleach-armed Modesty Patrols and sponging off govt. welfare like a mollusc with a hat? You mean like that?

Incidentally, for those interested in comparing how different religious groups respond to perceived persecution or threats- you might note that no Reform Jews are stoning the Orthos, burning down mikvehs they're banned from using, calling for them to be killed as rodefs or mosers, or any other examples of apalling behavior that radical members of the frum community engage in and which many others, sadly, seem perfectly happy to rationalize and defend. Interesting.

Lastly, Failed Messiah muses about the fact that 60 years on, Israel still has no civil marriage option. His thoughts seem easily applicable to a lot of other issues, as well (like the lack of a Constitution):
is Israel a Jewish state or a state made up primarily of Jews? Orthodoxy holds the former, either as the official doctrine of Rav Kook's followers and most of modern Orthodoxy or as the unofficial policy of all haredim. The rest of Israel primarily adopts the latter view, although the stridency of this adoption varies widely throughout society.

In a perfect world, Israel would have been a benevolent Jewish state, with a constitution based on halakha at its most lenient, with great effort made to deal kindly and thoughtfully with those whose status as non-Jews, safek Jews or as kohanim puts them at odds with a cursory reading of halakha. But the world is not ideal. And the state's handling of these issues of personal status has been and continues to be atrocious, and this is due in no small part to the malfeasance of the rabbis who implement much of it.

Hillel Kook, known more commonly by his adopted name Peter Bergson, the great rescuer of European Jewry during the Holocaust, made this point long ago in near-prophetic terms. Speaking with the insight of a man who came from a distinguished rabbinic family – his uncle was chief rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook – and who had much experience dealing with Orthodox rabbis in organizational and administrative settings, Kook argued that Synagogue and State mist be separated. If not, he warned, Israeli society would be crippled and fragmented, and the people would be driven away from, not to, religion. Kook was ostracized and hounded for his remarks. He withdrew from politics as a result. [Sort of. It's a little more complicated than that- Kook got in trouble for taking on Menachem Begin, his superior in the right-wing Herut party, which was more "traditional" than religious.]

But Kook was right. Orthodoxy has had almost 60 years to both make its case to non-Orthodox Jews, and to show the rest of Israel they can honestly, fairly and compassionately deal with issues of personal status, Shabbat observance, kashrut and the like. And Orthodoxy has failed miserably and completely in each case. Rather than being the kindly faces of God they have instead become his corrupt and fanatic messengers, ripping Jews away from Judaism and Israelis away from the state.

It is too late now to go back and do it all over again. You had 60 years. You wasted them on Sammarian hilltops and on Mea Shearim riots, on nepotism, cronyism and corruption. You had chances. Plenty of them. You blew it.

Israel will soon dismantle the corrupt Rabbinute and fire the even more corrupt chief rabbis. It will close down the state apparatus for religious affairs. And it will separate Synagogue and State.

Is separation inevitable? And is it desirable? Should the American model, which is incidentally constantly under attack by its opponents as unfair or delusional (who hasn't hear the "but there IS no separation in the Constitution" argument?), be applied in a place like Israel? If not, what is the alternative? Is the present situation optimal or viable?

I think I know where I stand. What about you?

Hat-tip: Failed Messiah.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Can't Believe I Missed This

Or that the world didn't explode.

You want proof God doesn't intervene to stop awful things from happening? Take a gander at this little snippet from almost one year ago:

Katherine Harris: Kabbalah Water will fix Citrus Canker! No? Well how about we spend taxpayer money to make sure?

She tested Kabbalah water and still got into the House. Now she's running for the Senate. My brain is burning.

Please Jeebus, come soon. I can't take much more of this.

Something bit David Mamet in the butt

And I swear, it wasn't me.

David Mamet, perhaps best known for his body of "brilliant" (if you're a drama geek, or alternately, "excruciating", if you're me) plays and for once placing third in a "Wolf Blitzer face-stubble-look-alike-contest", is in the news. See, he's written a book about Jews and anti-Semitism. Wait, a Jewish celebrity has an opinion about Jews? And people who don't LIKE Jews? And why some Jews don't like themselves?

Why, that's positively Revo-freakin-lutionary!

Mamet's book is getting a fair amount of attention for the book, and much of it doesn't seem very complimentary. Apparently part of the controversy revolves around the fact that a lot of the people reading and critiquing it don't think Mamet is as brilliant or insightful as he does.

Mamet confronts what he sees as an insidious predilection among some Jews to seek truth and meaning anywhere–in other religions, in political movements, in mindless entertainment–but in Judaism itself.

An interesting premise, but what does Mamet actually do with this? A couple of editorial blurbs on Amazon seem to hint at some basic stylistic problems- first, Mamet doesn't seem very interested in using sources:

"[Mamet] sets his sights on both anti-Semites and apostate Jews, whom he refers to as "the Wicked Sons." Mamet marshals his passion and mastery of language to argue that only religious observance is an authentic, non-self-hating expression of Judaism. Organizing that argument coherently, however, doesn't seem to be a priority, as he moves from discussions of the State of Israel to excoriations of assimilated Jews and contemporary culture and back with no apparent order. The tone is that of the condescending expert: alternately Talmudic scholar, academic, psychoanalyst and anthropologist. But nowhere is Mamet's expertise proven; he provides no source materials to back up his pronouncements on everything from Santa Claus to gun control to religious observance. The implication of this bombastic text seems to be that anyone who disagrees is a coward, an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew."-Publishers Weekly

Frankly, this just sounds downright obnoxious, and very much in keeping with the partisan polemic with which we've become familiar with in the past 20-plus years regarding political issues. Is Mamet trying to play the part of a counter-counter-culture, Jewish, Michael Moore?

Booklist is a little kinder-

[Mamet's] repeated allusions to the Bible and other literary sources are strained, and he paints with too broad a brush ("the world hates Jews"). If one can cut through the fog and tolerate his generalizations, it is evident that Mamet is on to something, particularly in his views on the apparent increase in Jewish disdain for and rejection of their own culture. He ties Jewish self-hatred to anti-Semitism, asserting that the victims eventually wonder if they somehow "deserve" the opprobrium heaped on them. So called "emancipated" Jews may try to cleanse themselves of racial taint by disparaging "Jewish" traits. Of course, Mamet finds the worst manifestations of this self-hatred in those Jews who seem to delight in attacking the very existence of Israel. In Mamet's view, they absurdly condemn Jewish passivity during the Holocaust and condemn Jewish aggressiveness in defending the State of Israel. This isn't an easy book to read, and it will likely outrage many Jews and non-Jews, but Mamet's blunt, passionate assertions have to be seriously considered."

Mamet may indeed have a point, but the development he's describing is nothing new- any student of Jewish history is already well-aware of it. Self-hatred is neither new, nor are studies of it as a phenomenon. I have to wonder how Mamet's analysis is supposed to be terribly innovative, particularly if it's primarily full of personal observations, generalizations, and polemics?

On the issue of observance, incidentally, Mamet belongs to a trans-denominational shul in LA, that, from its brochure, basically seems to lie somewhere between Reform and Conservative in practice, and Recon-ish in ideology (except on the God part). Mamet's rabbi has some thoughts on Wicked Son:

When [Mamet and I] talk in private conversation, he bursts out with a heart full of thoughts and feelings about what to do and what must be done. He is one of those too few non-Orthodox Jews who has seen into the palace: Torah channeling the divine mind, traditions as vessels for divine light, the people Israel together anchoring and being transformed by that light. He looks around at other parts of his life and sees people who are not superficial; they are deep and searching and questing, but their connection with Judaism is so painfully shallow. And some are smug that their connection to the transformative dimension is so shallow. They are so sure they don’t need it. He and I commiserate, plan, and hope.

Faustus is the false, self-deluding penitent. The Magus asks question and makes comments—subtle, lacerating comments. In The Wicked Son, the spiritual voice of the Magus becomes the lacerating, barely disguised rage of a Chasidic Mussar teacher who knows that his student is just so full of shit but does not have to be. Okay, in both books Mamet is talking to himself. He is helping all of us talk to ourselves. Read the play and the book at your risk of being exposed to yourself.

Mamet can’t stand complacent bull-shitters and Jews who content themselves with being superficial Jews. He would like to kick their asses as a way of bringing their souls to consciousness, but he wrote The Wicked Son instead.

OK, so he's passionate. I can understand that. But you can't ass-kick people into going to shul. And it really is a two-way street- Rabbi Finley, who was ordained by the Reform movement, had this to say in a 2003 panel, recorded for posterity on Luke Ford (it takes a bit of scrolling down to find)-
Why have American Jews left Judaism in such overwhelming numbers? Rabbi Finley (RF) says it is as though Hebrew schools were run by anti-Semittes. Jews go to them, get Bar Mitzvahed, and learned to hate Judaism. About 50% of American Jews intermarry and about 70% of them apostasize.
We need to rework the way we present Judaism. "Business as usual is not working."
RF: "I was Bar Mitvahed at the Compton Community Center and confirmed at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach. That was still a time when a Jew could be shamed into being Jewish. It was a shame if one intermarried.
"Starting in the 1970s, people began looking for meaning and relevance and the Judaism they saw did not meet their needs. Synagogues are not well-run. Things don't address them. Once the claim of continuity and tradition is gone, people are going to the place that will spiritually benefit them the most.
"I was asked to do a board retreat at a local Reform synagogue. I asked them, 'If someone walked into your synagogue Friday night, what would make them want to come back?' And they looked at each other and said, 'Absolutely nothing.'
"So much of my vision that has transformed me as a person comes from the fact that I've been around Orthodox Jews. I was a friend and student of Rabbi Danny Landes. I met Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. Yitzhok Adlerstein. I learned a love of Torah that I had never known growing up at a Conservative synagogue or at Reform rabbinical school. I met people who were ecstatically in love with Torah. They brought me into an ecstatic love of Torah.
"I went to the non-Orthodox institutions in which I was working and that wasn't there. When I was a student rabbi in Irvine, just before meeting my wife Meirav, it was hard for me to be in the yeshiva world [without wanting to join it]. I davened twice a day at the Library Minyan at Beth Am (C). I no longer wanted to be a Reform rabbi.

While I can appreciate Mamet's enthusiasm (though not his judgmental attitude), I really don't see how beating alienated Jews over the head (and trying to revert back to the "shame" model) has any real potential to be productive. There's a place to be critical and a place to issue challenges, but does Mamet offer the "Wicked Sons" any positive reason to be Jewish? Or does he simply attack them for descisions he disagrees with?

Some have taken Mamet to task for the book's incredible heavy-handedness. Sanford Pinsker notes,

David Mamet is a more-than-credible writer, but I can easily imagine the subjects of his withering criticism shouting back at him, “Who died and made you king (or perhaps God)?” One could remind them that Mamet belongs to a prophetic tradition given to launching exactly such jeremiads to backsliders. But that, of course, would require explaining who the prophets were and what a jeremiad is.

Pinsker also compares Mamet to his observant grandfather (somewhat predictably, not in a particularly kindly way):

I could have imagined many of this tome’s shrill paragraphs emanating from my very Orthodox grandfather, a man who never passed up the opportunity to lambaste anybody in the family who ate treyf, drove on Shabbos, or spoke too much English. And that was only the beginning, for Grandfather was aware, even if he could not have expressed it exactly this way, that America stood for freedom and Judaism stood for the fences of Law.

And ironically enough, Pinsker's zaydeh, I'm sure, would have lumped Mamet in with all the rest of us apikorisim as "Wicked Sons". Mamet can say what he wants, but personally, my ire-level always becomes a little more elevated when someone plays the holier-than-thou card- and they really aren't as great as they think they are. Mamet is observant, but certainly not frum. He doesn't seem to be advocating frumkeit as a matter of course, but the suggestion that he's become some sort of prophet or authority who can dictate with such certainty the myriad problems with American Jewry (and, conveniently, lay most of the blame at the feet of apathetic, or worse, self-hating, individuals rather than pointing out the many substantial organizational and leadership issues which ALSO contribute to this process) is just plain arrogant. Which, again, goes back to the earlier question- what does Mamet expect to accomplish with this? Does he actually believe that a whole generation of Jews who told Zaydeh to get bent is going to turn tail and run back to shul because the great HaRav Mamet, shlita, issued a proclamation from his holy pew? Get real.

A few more responses:

- Cynthia Ozick really hated Mamet's book, and bashes him for not doing basic research (like finding out what an apikoros actually is, or using the "Jewish race" terms that Pinsker noted), though she gives him credit for identifying Jewish anti-Zionism that often is really a screen for something far more insidious and troubling.

Apostasy, Mamet is persuaded, can actually be cured. How? By diligent ritual observance and devotion to Torah learning, until the apostate finds that "the habit of investigation, of study, of curiosity, has supplanted what he will now be able to recognize was the habit of apostasy." The italics are touching. Does Mamet imagine that sending Noam Chomsky, say, or Norman Finkelstein or Judith Butler or Tony Judt to yeshiva will undo their practiced enmities?

Novick concludes:

""The Wicked Son" is a weakly argued work in the service of a pair of powerful indictments. The first points to an intractability: the persistence of anti-Semitism from generation to generation, a kind of cross-gender mental hemophilia endemic to the brain that carries and transmits it. The second charge is lodged against anti-Semitism's Jewish accomplices, nowadays noisome with peace-and-justice sloganeering and often mistakenly accused of self-hate. But the craven motives that spur Mamet's inauspiciously named "race treason" are no different from Nicholas Donin's 13th century opportunism. All are equally rooted in self-promoting callousness, servile ingratiation and other stigmata of excessive self-love.""

In other words, Mamet may be somewhat accurate in describing what he's seeing, but that still doesn't mean he gets the causes or motivations right- which makes the problem all the harder to solve, particularly if your method of engaging with these already alienated people is to insult and abuse them.

- In the Forward, Lawrence Bush says Mamet is little more than a shrill malcontent (he says "heckler"), and accuses him of exhibiting some similar hatred and disgust for his "Wicked" subjects as he charges they show towards Judaism. "Weirdly, this most modern of playwrights and film directors writes like one of the pioneering Zionist theorists of the late 19th-century. He repeatedly describes Jews as a “race”; he romanticizes Judaism as a “six-thousand-year-old tradition”; he deplores his people’s attraction to “the Irresistible Other”; he is revolted by the very Jews whom he seeks to redeem." Bush also lambasts Mamet for having no real program or agenda, just a laundry-list of complaints, with plentiful straw-men and overgeneralizations to round it out :

"Mamet offers no distillations of Jewish philosophy or religious insight to spark the interest of assimilated Jews. Belonging, not believing or behaving, is the only aspect of Jewish identity to which Mamet truly testifies (“There’s no place like home”). Nor is there much Jewish worldliness in these essays. He says nothing about Jewish outreach-to-the-intermarried programs, about the upsurge of a new bohemian Jewish culture, about creative innovations in Jewish religious practice, about any of the numerous programs that have sought to release Jewish life from the forces of fossilization. Mamet simply does not believe in innovation: Jewish “self-loathing,” he writes, “will not be overcome by revelation…. Only habit will suffice.”"

Hmm, this doesn't seem to jive too well with Mamet's shul, which describes itself as incorporating and combining "Reform and Recon views of evolutionary halakha", "Conservative balance between tradition and change", "Orthodox love of God and Torah, devotion to study and observance," and even "a Chassidic feel". Question- since when has it been Reform habit to sing Hasidic songs and throw farbrengens? What is that, 1960s? Egad, the dust of time, it's so thick! My asthma!

- Jewlicious takes a middle-ground: "it strikes me as misguided to equate Jewish religious observance with feelings of Jewish national solidarity. Plenty of observant Jews are anti-Zionist or self-hating, and plenty of secular Jews (well, me, for one) reject nostalgic, shtetl Judaism, yet care deeply about the survival of the Jewish nation... But whenever I read about Jews who fit the general idea of what Mamet’s up against, I wonder, why bother? If many Jews, including some of the brighter among us, do not see Judaism as national, worth fighting for, and so on, why not just let it be?"

Which is basically where I fall in this discussion- People will ultimately vote with their feets and their hearts. The interested, even tangentially-interested, should be encouraged as much as possible, and the truly disinterested should still be loved and welcomed- the model should be the Thanksgiving dinner table (or Passover, if you like, to keep with Mamet's theme)- you don't have to agree with everyone or even do everything the exact same way, and maybe some people won't even show up- but the invitation should be there. You don't excoriate the Wicked Son, you teach him.

On Passover we open doors for guests, even invisible ones. I just don't see that what Mamet is doing here is going to encourage anyone to drop by.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This is Just Stupid

So it's a little over one year after the pullout, the settlers are still homeless, Israel isn't really any safer, and its internal and external political processes have all but ground to a halt. The government has stagnated, Olmert is a lame duck PM, and at present the only real developments in the Knesset involve the right and left camps trying to restructure and organize themselves to best avoid getting punished in the next coalition reallignment or early elections.

And so what are they spending their time arguing over? This crap:

No, I want the Israel Prize!

MK Yitzhak Levy (National Union-National Religious Party) said Wednesday he plans to ask the Israel Prize committee to collectively award Israel's most prestigious accolade to settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

...Levy's suggestion came in response to a letter sent by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), recommending the award be given to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, whose decision to withdraw Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip resulted in the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlements.

That's right, the Israeli government can't figure out what to do about its educational system, about cronyism or corruption, about feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, or solving the Palestinian issue, but this, they make time for. Brilliant.

Let's look at the qualifications:

The prize is awarded in the following four areas, with the precise subfields changing from year to year:

-the humanities, social sciences, and Jewish studies
-the natural and exact sciences
-culture and art
-lifetime achievement (since 1972)

The recipients of the prize are Israeli citizens (or sometimes organizations) who have displayed particular excellence in their field, or who have contributed strongly to Israeli culture. The winners are selected by committees of judges, who pass on their recommendations to the Education Minister.

Pardon me, but I don't see how the Disengagement even qualifies here- no one, not even Sharon's biggest fans, could credibly argue that it was the defining point of his career. Claiming that they just happen to want to give Sharon's life recognition now doesn't wash, either. (For God's sake, Shamir and Eban didn't get theirs until 2001!) This is a political move to grant legitimacy to Kadima's for-all-purposes departed leader, and by implication, the party itself.

Similarly, there is, under the above criterion, no reason why the Gaza settlers, as a undifferentiated large mass, qualifies. What would you base this determination on? Did all 7,000 of them make "major" contributions to Israeli culture at the same time? How?

This is nothing more than playing tit-for-tat- while Sharon's nomination is questionable and certainly made in less-than-stellar faith, Levy's response is downright ridiculous, and even a little patronizing. "Yeah, settlers, I know you're all still living in trailers, but don't worry, I got you a prize! I figure we can melt it down and split it 7,000 ways." Please. Stop grandstanding in the Knesset and start doing more to actually help your supposed constitutents, especially if you're trying to show how much you "stand by them".

If you really want to hand out some prizes, how about giving the award to Israeli scientists and entrepeneurs who are helping the economy continually bounce back after terror attacks? Or humanitarian organizations who helped in the north during the last war?

To suggest giving a government prize to either side of the disengagement debacle so soon after it is not only shamelessly political but also largely symbolic- and the whole discussion is a waste of time and taxpayer money.

A prize isn't going to change anyone's mind one way or the other on whether or not the Disengagement was good or Sharon was right. AFAIK, the vast majority of the settlers acted with dignity and restraint, as did many of the rank-and-file IDF. For that they should be commended. (Though it already seems sad and a little absurd to talk about giving these groups an award for having the civility to NOT attack each other.)

Bringing the Israel Prize into this doesn't help anyone- it just corrupts whatever respectability the award still holds.

Congrats, Knesset.

Agnosticism: Not just for wusses anymore

A post of Anagrysis' got me thinking about agnosticism.

In discussing an article by the now-quasi-in/famous Dr. Richard Dawkins:

[The article] is called "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God". Why the half-measures, Professor? Why "Almost"? He seems to be a pretty committed atheist—in fact, this is the subject of his latest book—but he seems to be waffling on the very last point:

We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

Agnosticism is so uninteresting and unprovable, because you have eliminated the need to prove anything by saying "Oh well, we just don't know." Pascal's wager is a load of bull. Take a stand. Don't sit on the fence. Either be an atheist or a theist. Don't weasel your way out, sir.

I'm assuming at least part of the ire here is specifically directed at the good doctor for personally fence-sitting (particularly given his reputation, and the fact that he's written a whole book which seems to place him firmly in atheist-country), but I feel like I should stand up for "the other A" just a little here. Aside from the issue with choosing your belief system based on what's interesting (I'd go for a combo of the Norse and Greek pantheons, with the book of Judges tossed in for fun), which I suspect Anagrysis only means in quasi-seriousness, there's the fact that, for some people, agnosticism simply seems to be the most honest option.

Background: I was raised an atheist. Not even an ideological atheist; we were atheists by default. We had a mezuzah on the door, a menorah in the window, the occaisonal Passover seder (one year we had burritos instead), and no God whatsoever. I thought "Messiah" was a Christian idea until I was thirteen.

I find the idea of a diety rather far-fetched, but I also know that when it comes down to it, I don't have a damn clue how the universe "really" works. I barely know how we THINK it works. This stuff's pretty complicated, and there's no shame in admitting that I don't know, that I can't know.

Agnosticism, as I see it, isn't about hedging your bets in a game of cosmic craps, or cautiously fence-sitting and avoiding the debate- it's its own specific POV in relation to the debate- my agnosticism is more than "I don't know"- it's that the very question is unknowable. We can talk about odds and disprove Pascal's wager (and Dawkins does), and say that God is unlikely to exist- but I, for one, can't go farther. Because I don't believe I can know that.

That's what I believe.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mea Culpa

Apologies to Richard Dawkins, whose attempt at humor obviously went over my head. The ever-plug-happy Anagrysis assures me that the dear doctor was kidding.

It's a long-standing policy of mine to defend people's right to make jokes I don't get and don't think are very funny. Also, as Dawkins is British, I can only assume that had I heard him, rather than read him, I might have better understood his purpose. Inflection goes a long way. On the other hand, Brits can be very good at straight-humor, so maybe I would have remained unenlightened either way.

Sorry again, Dick. My bad.

Edit: I leave the question as to whether Dawkins' humor is effective, appropriate, or funny in your hands.

(Someone should really tell Jewish Atheist.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When Life imitates Men in Black



K: All right, Beatrice, there was no alien. The flash of light you saw
in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a
thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus.

J:Wait a minute. You just flash that thing, it erases her memory, and you
just make up a new one?

K: A standard issue neuralyzer.

J: And that weak-ass story's the best you can come up with?


Well, listen, we've never been "stay the course"


Sounds like a good time to remember the other quote from that movie:

J: Did you ever flashy-thing me?
K: No.
J: I ain't playing with you, K. Did you ever flashy-thing me?
K: No.

If anyone's on good terms with the Spirit of the Mishnah, HEEEELP!

Scary commentary

From a Cross-Currents comment thread discussing differences between Judaism and other religions. One person asks a pretty interesting question-

Someone is bound to ask you how Muslims killing non-believers are different than
Jews killing Canaanites. What do you answer?

Several people offer some thoughtful responses- and then there's this one:

they SAY Allah/G-d told them to do it, which we know is not true, whereas Hashem
actually did tell us to slay the Canaanites. Where’s the comparison?

Yipes. Welcome to comparitive religion, folks, and the many problems it brings.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Election thoughts

I spent a few days at the family homestead recently, and took the time to talk with some of my kinfolk about the upcoming election. My father, Abbot Yid, works for a consumer advocacy group that spends most of its time tilting at windmills as it attempts to actually hold utility industries' feet to the fire. The funny thing is, Dad's the group's "resident conservative".

The more Dad works at this place, the more radicalized he seems to get. Which is understandable, given that they never seem to win any of these legal battles, and watch as the utilities get away with bloody murder by referencing the all-mysterious "market" and the favorite watchword of the industry, "competition".

Incidentally, Dad yells a lot.

We had a long talk the other night about the election, and about how one of my biggest issues isn't even with policy per se, but the fact that politics seem to be about spin, personalities, and general disengenuousness much more than the actual issues. I also mentioned that this behavior didn't seem limited to a single party.

Dad agreed with me, but pointed out that at this stage, he'd be willing to vote for anyone that wasn't this present administration. To an extent, I can really identify with this "changing-of-the-guard" mode of thought. The issue, of course, is that it seems to be the institutions themselves (government as well as party) that are far more corrosive, than the individual cogs in the machine.

I don't like the idea of settling for the lesser of two evils, and I don't like that the only options are "vote the ticket" or "waste your vote". On the other hand, I understand the logic behind, "time for a change". It could be because I'm more politically aware now than I was under Clinton, but the sheer chutzpah of these politicians, Reps and Dems, Prez and Congress (and yeah, the Supes, too), is just so damn frustrating- the utter contempt for the truth, straightforwardness, and basic respect for Americans is really apalling. There's just no shame. Maybe there's never been any shame, but there's certainly none here. Rummy stonewalls till he's blue in the face, Bush sidesteps by saying "it's my job to protect you"- and in the meantime, there are tons of domestic problems (education, health care, illegal immigration, terrorism, economy), AND we're getting screwed in Iraq.

Iraq: We can't win it. I've resigned myself to it. We were doomed as soon as we went in, and there's no way that this isn't going to end in disaster for the Iraqis. They're doomed any way it goes. The best we can do now is play damage control- we need to make a plan to consolidate US control, try and shore up the govt. as best we can, and run like hell. The Sunnis and the Shiites are going to kill each other no matter what we do- if the Shiites want to become part of Iran and the Sunnis part of Syria, well you know what? It won't be any less arbitrary than the straight-lines that made up Iraq in the first place.

Support the Kurds, they've got their shit together and have consistently proven they can be counted on- more so than us.

But this thing is melting-down like a fondue kit on hyper-drive. We're getting killed, tons of civilians are getting killed, they're killing each other constantly, and oh yeah, there's increasing rumors of a coup. We can't be there when that happens. We can't get drawn into this any more than we already are. There's going to be another Civil War, and we can't be part of it.

Oh, and while this is all going on, let's not forget the god-knows-how-many American businessmen that are making money off of this war through defense contracts- which is a horrible idea, incidentally. Private soldiers accountable to no one, who don't act in concert with the military, and who when things go wrong are totally expendable by their bosses. THAT'S the real shame here for me. Not only do you have this massive clusterfuck, but you have people getting RICH off of it, including people in our own government! How the hell is that ok?

...And no, I don't know that it will be better under Democrats. I really don't. But at this point, I have to agree with the "better than Bush" line. Change the guards. Get these guys out.

Next post: my brother and I ridicule SF Republicans.

And we called Jesus crazy?

Ok, truth time- does anyone really think that Yosef Karo's Maggid was any less crazy than the "I am Bread" speech?

[Karo] and I.... agreed to stay up all night... on Shavuot... No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah than our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice soeaking out of the mouth of the saint [Karo]... It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. [We all] heard the voice but were unable to understand what was said... The voice began to address us, saying, "...Behold, I am the Mishnah, the mother who chastises her children and I have come to converse with you... If you could only imagine one millionth of the anguish which i endure no joy would ever enter your hearts and no mirth your mouths, for it is because of you that I am cast to the ground... We all broke into tears at the great joy we had experienced and when we heard of the anguish of the Shekhinah because of our sins, Her voice like that of an invalid in her entreaties."
-Letter from Solomon Alkabetz, in Jewish Mystical Testimonies by Louis Jacobs.

Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with having trippy guilt-ridden personnified Mishnah visions, of course. Though I do have to say, I'm glad that the whole "Shekhinah as suffering Mary Jewish mother" thing didn't catch on.

I can be even-handed

Lest any accuse me of never going after liberals, progressives, or people on the non-or anti-religious side of the spectrum-

This guy is a total asshat.

Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place. I had a letter from a woman in America in her forties, who said that when she was a child of about seven, brought up a Catholic, two things happened to her: one was that she was sexually abused by her parish priest. The second thing was that a great friend of hers at school died, and she had nightmares because she thought her friend was going to hell because she wasn't Catholic. For her there was no question that the greatest child abuse of those two was the abuse of being taught about hell. Being fondled by the priest was negligible in comparison. And I think that's a fairly common experience. I can't speak about the really grave sexual abuse that obviously happens sometimes, which actually causes violent physical pain to the altar boy or whoever it is, but I suspect that most of the sexual abuse priests are accused of is comparatively mild - a little bit of fondling perhaps, and a young child might scarcely notice that. The damage, if there is damage, is going to be mental damage anyway, not physical damage. Being taught about hell - being taught that if you sin you will go to everlasting damnation, and really believing that - is going to be a harder piece of child abuse than the comparatively mild sexual abuse.
Let me be one of the first to say this:

(Uses his best "Stan from South Park" voice.)

Up yours, Richard Dawkins, you douche.

Exploiting and minimizing the pain of children in order to advance your own anti-religious agenda is total bullcrap. Tons of people dislike the Catholic church, for a whole bunch of reasons. But comparing questionable theology to being forcibly sodomized is not only offensive, it's also unfair.

The word atheism sounds negative; let me call it rationalism. It is a rational view of the world where you stand up proudly, in your humanity, you look life straight in the face

You have offcially lost the right to use the "r-word", Rich. There is nothing rational or logical about using a fallacious and hyperbolic comparison to anal rape to get a cheap shot in at a religious system you disagree with. Next you'll be saying female circumcision isn't nearly as bad as learning the Qu'ran.

Here's an idea, why don't you go look some of these folks straight in the face? Then try telling them, "you know what, this is nothing compared to catechism".

You ass.

Edit: See Mea Culpa.

Hat-tip: Jewish Atheist.

Know your enemy

Or don't. You know, whatever. We're trying to develop a more 'low-key' image over here at the House Intelligence subcommittee.

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

"Do I?" she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. "You know, I should." She took a stab at it: "It's a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it's the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia."

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda's leaders follow?

"Al Qaeda is the one that's most radical, so I think they're Sunni," she replied. "I may be wrong, but I think that's right."

Brilliant. Excuse me while I take this hacksaw to your scalp. Maybe we'll find something usable in there. Like ethanol.

Things like this are why we're hearing media idiots say things like, "all the terrorism in Iraq is being supported by Iran"- yes, Iran especially loves the Sunni militias, right? That just makes total godamn sense, doesn't it? Maybe next we'll get to hear about how the IRA are funding the KKK.

Incidentally, for those actually interested, such things can in fact be determined using the wonderful world of the Internet.

This aneurysm provided courtesy of Anagrysis.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dusting off an old chestnut

Here's an interesting suggestion- not being attracted to every woman you meet means you aren't really heterosexual.

Who said it? Rabbi Shmuley "Never met a woman I didn't want to boink" Boteach.

The male overexposure to women has even led to the death of the heterosexual man as we know him. If the definition of a heterosexual man is a male who is attracted to women, then most men today are barely heterosexual. Think about it. Nearly all the men I know are only attracted to about one in ten women, that is, the ten percent of women they consider ‘hot.’ The other ninety percent leave them cold. Doesn’t that mean that they are ninety percent asexual? And I’m not trying to be funny. If a man is not attracted to a woman, then he is not heterosexual. Period. And if he only attracted to a small fraction of the women he meets, then he is fractionally heterosexual.
Makes total sense, really. Just like if a person claims to like meat but won't eat their dog or grandmother, they can't really like meat. Or if you say you're a dog lover but refuse to live in the same house with a homicidal pit bull. Look, I told you, honey, he's trained now, ok? No, that time it actually was the mail-man's fault! Well he shouldn't have been delivering that sample of A1 steak sauce, ok? It's just common sense. Hey, you're avoiding the real issue- why do you hate dogs?

Wait a minute, Shmuley, haven't you been telling us for years that we aren't supposed to put that much stock in mere animal attraction? Aren't attraction and intimacy supposed to develop over time, like decades?

So now if we are physically attracted to women we're dogs, and if we're not, we're gay, or at least bisexual. Great, why don't I just move to an island now and save myself some grief. I hear those lepers make nice neighbors.

But don't worry, guys-with-preferences-and/or-standards. Shmuley isn't really saying you're gay- just asexual. And really, as long as you're not queer, everything else is gravy, right?

Well, I'm off to go pick up my new tallis- I got a hot pink one, with glitter tassels for tzitzit. If anyone named "Raymondo" calls, tell him to use my cell.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

O'Reilly on LGBT History Month

Last night Bill O'Reilly demonstrated exactly what the gap between folks like himself and progressives are in regards to LGBT issues:

O- "What if you're a parent and you don't believe in homosexuality. For whatever reason, you just don't believe in it- why should you have to deal with your kids being taught about it? Why do they have to deal with these books like King & King?"
Guest- "Well, first of all, public schools aren't a forum for parents to try to dictate cirriculum."

O stares, stunned, and tries to digest this.

O to his guest-"What's your nationality?"
Guest- "I happen to be Jewish."
O-"OK, you're Jewish, I'm Irish. That's who I am, that's my identity, my bloodline. But why talk about what people do? Why put that on the same level?"

The issue here, of course, is that O'Reilly's definition of identity is extremely narrow. People identify themselves according to all sorts of different criteria- and frankly, classifying people by what they do, especially in terms of history, is by no means new. You study all the US Presidents, right? They're studied based on what they DID- a specific occupation. You don't study Garfield because he was left-handed. Identity (and significance) are measured by more than just genetics. (With all apologies to Disabled groups who like pointing to folks like FDR as "a famous differently-abled dude".)

On the other hand, using this argument, you might go on to critique the whole idea of identity studies, identity history, etc... and that might be a legitimate discussion. But if you're going to say "Irishness" and "Blackness" are legitimate identities, you have to recognize that for a lot of people, "Queerness" is also an identity- if you have an issue with Black and Irish history month, and I think there are legitimate points to be made there, than that's one thing- but you can't have Black History month and then bitch when the gays want to write about their famous people, too.

And who heard of Irish history month, anyway? Is this another public school thing I missed out on?

For the curious, here's a list of some people LGBT history month might- heaven forbid- teach kids about. Not Michaelangelo, Tchaikovsky and Jane Addams! Think of the children!!

(Oh, and apparently this isn't the first time Bill's gone after "King-Squared", which, for the curious among you, resulted in a sequel.)

Rich Lowry almost makes a point

From Natl Review.

What does Cromwell’s rule have to do with contemporary American political life? If your answer is anything other than “nothing,” you are probably in the grip of the “theo-panic” that is sweeping precincts of the American commentariat. They warn that America is beset by raging theocrats seeking to overturn our liberal democracy.

The theocracy charge relies mainly on blowing Christian conservative positions out of proportion. Do Christian conservatives oppose the public funding of embryo-destructive stem-cell research? Well, then, Calvin’s Geneva can’t be far behind. Never mind that in opposing such funding, they are usually supporting the status quo. It’s a little like saying that because Democrats oppose cuts in Medicaid, they favor a dictatorship of the proletariat.
Rich has a point here. He really does. Alarmism is stupid, dishonest, and politically opportunistic, and sad to say, everybody does it.

On the other hand, I'm not sure he doesn't go too far in the other direction in downplaying the theocratic wing of the Christian conservative movement. I have little question that a majority of Christian conservatives, rank-and-file as well as leadership, are pragmatic and relatively realistic, who don't actually think that voting a certain way on a ballot is going to make Jesus show up or, alternately, smite their neighborhood with a hurricane.

I agree, it is unfair to conflate a certain political position with a grandiose end-game like theocracy or Communist totalitarianism. But it is also dishonest to whitewash the fact that some Christian conservative leaders, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, have gone on record explicitly saying that they want to change American society. Sorry, saying "only Christians and Jews should be allowed to be in government" is actually a departure from the "status-quo".

Purveyors of the theo-panic love to exaggerate the influence of the bizarre Christian Reconstructionists who actually want an American theocracy. As New York Times religion writer Peter Steinfels notes in a review of the spate of new books, Christian Reconstructionists play “a greater role in the writings of the religious right’s critics than they ever have in the wider evangelical world.” He notes that the flagship evangelical journal, Christianity Today, almost never shows up in these books, because, inconveniently, it is “moderate, reflective and self-questioning.”

National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out that you can take all Christian conservative positions — including far-fetched ones like banning sodomy and contraception — and if they happened overnight they “would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.”

No, now you're conflating positions- just as not all Christian conservatives are Christian Reconstructionists, so too, not all Christian conservatives hold positions as harmless as the Cleavers. First of all, 1950s America was not that great- you had anti-miscegenation laws, Jim Crow, McCarthyism and Black Listing, homosexuality being defined as a mental disorder, etc...

Second, there's the issue that contemporary American society is so significantly different (particularly as regards people and groups that don't or wouldn't have fit in with the ideal-1950s society) than it was in the 50s that attempts to turn back the clock to that period would require a MAJOR degree of coercion, both from government and civilian peers, in order to enforce it. No one's suggesting that the 1950s was the same as contemporary Iran, but it's BS to pretend like that sort of society didn't exist without certain people imposing that lifestyle and worldview on others- and it would be all the more so in order to obtain a similar situation today. Forcing school prayer, for instance, would definitely qualify as a theocratic act today, because you have a much larger percentage of people, including children, who identify as atheists, than did in the 1950s.

So, yeah. Xian Recons don't just want the 1950s, and imposing the 50s on the rest of us wouldn't be very cool, either.

What is it about Russians and gays?

Ah, the Russian Orthodox- so like us.

Over the last 18 months, Sacramento Russian-language church members have picketed gay pride events, jammed into legislative committee meetings when gay issues were on the agenda and demonstrated at school board meetings.

Incited by firebrand Russian Pentacostal pastors and polemical Russian-language newspapers, the fundamentalists turn out en masse for state Capitol protest rallies.

Last June, urging readers to attend a massive rally, the Russian newspaper the Speaker told them:

"Make a choice. It's your decision. Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: 'Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?' "

No, really.

The resignation of a longtime leader of one of the largest Reform congregations in Ukraine has thrown the spotlight on a bitter controversy over homosexuality within the post-Soviet Reform movement.

...While Ukrainian Reform leaders cite Kapustin's age and health concerns as reasons for his resignation, Kapustin said his resignation stemmed from his opposition to the movement's acceptance of same-sex commitment ceremonies.

"I don't want to participate in a movement that has organized a chuppah for lesbians, which happened in Moscow this year," Kapustin said.

He was referring to Rabbi Nelly Shulman, who officiated at an April 2 commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. It is believed to be the first Jewish, same-sex commitment ceremony in the former Soviet Union.

A strong backlash greeted the move by Shulman, who insisted she officiated at the ceremony on her own private initiative and was not backed in any way by her group, OROSIR, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism in Russia.

In a strongly worded statement, the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities, the largest stream in the former Soviet Union, urged a boycott of the Reform movement. There were also repercussions within the Progressive movement, as Reform Judaism is referred to in the region.
Chabad doesn't like Reform Jews? NOOOO!

In late April, Zinovy Kogan resigned as chairman of the movement's Moscow-based umbrella group. In August, a Reform congregation in the Ukrainian town of Pavlograd wrote to all Reform synagogues in the country, urging them to "renounce all religious contacts with the people who committed that crime," a reference to the lesbian ceremony.

Responding to the wave of criticism from their communities, the six Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have agreed to ban such ceremonies for the time being, saying that post-Soviet citizens, including Jews, are not yet prepared to accept the Reform movement's liberal approach to homosexuality.

Homosexuality was only decriminalized after the fall of the Soviet Union 15 years ago. According to a recent poll, 37 percent of Russians still believe gays and lesbians should be criminally prosecuted.

Well, at least Russian Christians and Jews can agree on something. Kind of reminds me of this.

Na Na, Na Na, Na Na, Na Na, Na Na, Na Na, Na Na, Na Na, Tzinus!

Blacks to the back of the bus. Well, "black" women, anyway.

Every year before Rosh Hashonoh the editorial board of the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman pays a visit to Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita, who closely oversees and guides the newspaper throughout the year, setting aside valuable time to issue instructions, answer questions posed by the rabbonim of the Vaada Ruchanit.

This is usually when we beg him to not ban us.

At this year's visit as well, the members of the editorial board sensed his concern for the paper and the importance he attaches to it as the mouthpiece of Torah-true Jewry — a shofar calling for unadulterated truth.

A menorah to illuminate the dark corners of the universe, a grogger to drive away the evil spirits of the Englightenment, a tallis to cover up sex scandals, a... well, you get the point.

During the course of the conversation HaRav Eliashiv shared his concern over the present and future of the Bais Yaakov system, mentioning the Education Ministry's pressure to require a third year of studies for seminary students. During the past year Maran issued instructions to stand firm against the decree...

More education? What gives? Teacher's don't need education, man! It's not like a butcher or a mohel.

Still HaRav Eliashiv said the matter of continuation courses for Bais Yaakov teachers must be rectified. "It is unconscionable for future teachers of girls to take all sorts of advanced courses when there is no oversight or guidance by gedolei Yisroel over every last detail regarding what is taught and what is not taught. Without oversight and setting the study arrangements and curriculum, heretical material is liable to make its way in. How can somebody who absorbs these kinds of studies then teach bnos Yisroel?" said Maran with deep concern. He also said he does not know how this has gone on unchecked for so many years.

Yeah! In fact, why do we even bother teaching them the same alphabet? Back in the old country, women didn't even get taught Hebrew, only Yiddish! I know, let's make them take all their courses in Esperanto (phonetically printed into Chinese). That ought to keep them cloistered!

According to the Education Ministry, teachers who have passed their courses are better qualified to teach, added Maran, but we should see this in a totally different light. He said every teacher who has taken or takes advanced courses under the current circumstances is actually at a lower rank in terms of her ability to teach at Bais Yaakov and therefore school principals and parents should give preference to teachers who have not taken these courses.

Brilliant. It's just like I was telling my friend David Hasselhoff- you think that getting lifeguard certification makes you qualified to swim, but it actually makes you less qualified to swim. And why? Because I just said so, bitch, and it's my newspaper. Besides, swimming is stupid, just like higher education.

Oh, incidentally, Yated- there was nothing about buses in this article. Freudian slip, maybe? Sorry, sorry- I know, he was an apikores. Hmm... 'Eliashivian' just sounds silly... oh well, I'll work on it and get back to you.

The new tznius-war isn't just over the minds of haredi women, but also their bodies. Haaretz reported on a one-man Haredi "Vice and Virtue Squad" which Emes Ve-Emunah rightly identifies as downright Taliban-esque.

Why can’t these people just get a life? Why do they need to interfere in the lives of others? Why, according to him and those rabbinic leaders whom he represents, must we seek to live like the Taliban? And why should our precious resources be wasted on this nonsense?

Because that's when the wars start, silly! (Incidentally, how do we know the Hezbollah war didn't happen because of Tel Aviv bikini-wearers? Where's Lazer when you need him?)

Oh, speaking of good laughs from Yated-

Torah Judaism Embraces Both Faith and Reason

It sure does. Too bad Rav Eliashiv doesn't.

Thus, in describing his purpose in presenting a series of television programs (on PBS, entitled "Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason," which we read about), Bill Moyers describes "the tug of war between reason and faith."

Uh huh. They "read" about a freethinking goyish reporter talking about his TV show, and thought they'd just share it with their readership? SUUUURE. These guys better watch out that somebody doesn't send the Jew-liban to search their house.

Let the self-congratulation begin

Go Israel! Let's hear it for finally striking a blow for world Jewry! Boo-ya!

What, you didn't hear? Oh, it's nothing major, just some Jewish philanthropies and the Israeli govt. finally did something right for a change. That's right, they saw a problem and fixed it. Not since "Operation Solomon" have we seen something as monumental as this.

Really, you didn't know about this?

Israel pats itself on the back until it bleeds

Jewish Agency rescues two Torah scrolls from abandoned aliyah center in Ethiopia

Two torah scrolls, which the Jewish Agency secretly snatched from a center for Ethiopians awaiting aliyah in Addis Ababa, arrived in Israel Thursday.

Jewish-American organization Nacoej took the initiative to bring the torah scrolls to Israel. The organization, which owned the center in Addis Ababa, closed it on Tuesday, and put it in the hands of other groups, one of which was “Jews for Jesus”.

Nacoej asked the Jewish Agency to save the two scrolls which were used in the past for prayers in the center, for fear that they would fall into the hands of missionaries.
The two scrolls were saved in a coordinated operation involving the Addis Ababa police, since the non-Jewish inhabitants of the center insisted on not giving them up.

A Jewish Agency envoy, Uri Conforti, arrived in Israel Thursday along with the scrolls. He said, “I was on vacation in Israel when we received the information that the aliyah center was being abandoned and put in the hands of the Ethiopians.”

“I immediately got on the first plane out with a legal document in hand giving me the authority to enter the center and take the torah scrolls,” he continued.

Addis Ababa police and Israeli embassy guards escorted Conforti in order to prevent unexpected problems. “There was a fear that other groups would take over the scrolls,” he said.

Conforti said it was a quick and almost problem free operation. Once inside the center, those present told Conforti they did not have a key and asked him to come later, but he insisted on taking the scrolls right then. “Within five minutes we broke the lock and took the books,” he said.

Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski pointed out that saving the two scrolls on Simchat Torah eve was symbolic of the verse, “And out of Zion shall come the Torah”.

That's right, the Jewish Agency broke into an absorption center and stole Torah scrolls, just as psuedo-Christians were about to get their grubby mits on them. What a mitzvah!

And what about the Ethiopian Jews? Oh. Well, they're still there. 26,000 as of February, actually. But, you know, who cares about them. Simchat Torah is about saving the TORAH. We only care about saving Jews on those "other" holidays, like Passover and Hanukkah.

What should we call this grand episode in Israeli history? "Operation Solomon's left shoe?"

Don't get me wrong, "saving" Torahs is a wonderful thing. But to see the JA congratulating itself for raiding this place (why not use the police you were "working with"? Is this the JA's job?) and to have it being presented as a VICTORY for the Jews (the Jews who have managed to get to Israel, maybe) is ridiculous. Hooray, we got two Torahs out of the hellhole that is Ethiopia. Now the Beta Israel still there have no absorption center, two less Torahs, and oh yeah, an even worse relationship with their non-Jewish peers. Not to mention what a great Kiddush Hashem this is for the Jewish Agency, I mean, Torah Rescue Squad. Look out, that rabbi's yarmulke looks like it isn't shatnez! Let's steal his stuff. On the other hand, let's be real- what were a bunch of mere Ethiopians going to do with Torah scrolls in the first place? After all, they aren't even "real Jews", according to the Chief Rabbinate. The smart thing to do would be to steal all of their Torahs and ship them to Israel. And maybe some menorahs if they've got any laying around (come on now, how are goyim going to be able to enjoy them as much as Jewish pyros?)

Hey, maybe this should be the JA's new job. They could start breaking into Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. They're all basically as bad as J4J anyway, right? What about Chabad? The Karaites? Come on people, think! I'm sure there are tons of tiny Jewish fringe groups out there with stuff we could "liberate"!

Oh, and speaking of people convinced they can do no wrong, haredim are blaming gays for the Lebanon War again.

Haredim: J’lem gay parade may lead to another war

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox protest at Jerusalem’s Sabbath Square against holding of 2006 Gay Pride Parade in city; ‘war in Lebanon broke out as soon as the parade was announced,’ haredi man says. Head of Eda Haredit rabbinic court: We did not succeed in Lebanon due to promiscuity in Holy Land

Ok, actually, it seems like they're blaming them for a bunch of things. Some guys are saying the Jerusalem gay parade (which didn't occur) caused the war. Others say that the parade (which didn't occur) caused the war to go poorly. And still others say the parade (which might actually happen now) will cause a FUTURE war should it actually take place!

Brilliant, really. Now these guys know how to cover their bases! "If there's violence next week, it's your fault. And if it's hard to put down, that's your fault, too." After all, we're talking about Israel here. That's like saying it's gay people's fault if it's hot tomorrow.

Oh and it's even better than I thought- not only the haredim are doing this, but also Kahane's storm-yidden! Awesome! And what reasoned statement do we have from Baruch "Kach doesn't exist, I'm just a peaceful activist" Marzel?

Marzel declares 'holy war' against gay parade

Thanks for coming out, Baruch. And may I say, what a lovely turban you're wearing. You look positively Rambam-esque.

Speaking of congratulations, many thank yous to Joel for his assistance with the html. You get as many aliyot as you want. Also one of those cool cantor hats, if I can find one.