Thursday, November 29, 2007

Say what?

I saw something like this on television just now.

Men's Sherpa Lined Hoodie

Now, I've read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, so I have a very specific idea of what a Sherpa is. But I thought I'd be fair and check out Wikipedia to be sure.

Sherpa can refer to:

So let's review- exactly how can you have a Sherpa-Lined ANYTHING?

Next season: Lakota-lined Borsalinos.

Sophistry at its best

When is a bum not a bum? When he has a beard, apparently. Oh, and tzitzit.

That seems to be R. Levi Brackman's argument in his latest column. Taking umbrage with some potentially antisemitic statistics that indicate, to no one's surprise, that 70% of Haredi men in Israel don't work, he feels the need to explain.

The question immediately arises: If they are unemployed what are they doing with their lives? The simple answer is that they are involved in advanced Jewish studies.

Indeed the study says that 60% of haredi men claimed Jewish scholarship to be their primary focus. Now, one can either say that haredi Israeli men are unemployed or that they spend their time in pursuit of a higher goal—religious study and spiritual excellence. I prefer the latter approach.

Of course you do.

R. Brackman points out that Jews have always valued education, and tries to connect this with the fact that a lot of Jews have won Nobel Prizes. Of course, this would be a lot more convincing (and help his unspoken argument that having hundreds of thousands of kollel students somehow benefits mankind) if there was a Nobel Prize in Talmud. The fact is, all those Jewish Prize Winners, down to the recent (and quite frum) recipient for Economics, Robert Aumann, made a decision at some point that they were going to engage with the world, and learn about the world, and not lock themselves in a self-imposed ghetto library for their entire lives. I'm not saying religious study is meaningless or useless- on a personal level, or even a communal level, text study can be deeply meaningful and moving. But it remains a closed circle; the act is ultimately self-directed and only extends as far as the next student (or rabbi).

Not to be crude about it, but what are all those kollel students contributing, either to Jewish life or the world at large?

Jewish religious scholars are encouraged not only to delve deeply into the texts but also to come up with novel ideas based on the sacred scriptures and the Talmud. Thus, innovation, within certain well defined boundaries, is encouraged in the hallowed walls of the Yeshiva.

Oh really?
How many of them will go on to produce original work, research or commentary? Let's be generous and call it a thousand- does that justify keeping (or saving, depending on your POV) so many others from the world? Even then, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency among Haredi scholarship to remain cloistered. How many Christians in the world do you think have heard of Rabbis Shach, or Elyashiv? From what I've read, there is a sizable proportion of kollel learners who aren't even particularly good students!

Clearly the pursuit of further learning within the Haredi communities is something to be respected rather than derided. In fact, one of the great achievements of modern Israel is creating a renaissance of Jewish learning.

Clearly according to who? And it is not a willing achievement, it has only occurred through political blackmail and coercion from a religious minority that, had Israel had a republican instead of parliamentary system, would have never had the influence to start their legal no-man-zones in the first place. Yeah, let's all give the Haredi leadership a big hand for showing us the joys of loopholes.

Finally, R. Brackman admits that the picture isn't all gemara and roses.

The problem however is that in the secular world only the very promising and studious go on to pursue a lifetime of fulltime study and research. Most people are not suited to that type of intense study. Undoubtedly this is also true in the haredi communities—most are simply not cut out for a life time of study.

Unfortunately, however, within the haredi communities that follow the Lithuanian school of thought—which seems to dominate in those circles today—there is social pressure to follow that path even if the individual would be better suited to a different occupation.

Yes, in fact most haredi men are essentially forced to remain in kollel for life because it protects them from serving in the army or having to work. Those who attempt to find ways around this, be it through exemption, national service, or Nahal Haredi are attacked within the community, whose leadership acknowledges (as Jameel so damningly documented) that they keep their people in kollel-prison so they can continue to stay in power as the Haredi-on-the-street's protectors from the big, bad, secular state. The haredi leaders, rather than teach their people self-sufficiency, as their fathers and grandfathers in Poland and Russia did, and as their cousins in every other country on earth have done, instead have taught them to view religious study, and a life of sloth, as an entitlement owed to them by... who? God? Their fellow Jews? This is a travesty of Judaism and a true disgrace to God and the principles that the Torah and Talmud are supposed to espouse, not to mention the whole idea of religious study in the first place. It makes no more sense to declare that Haredi Judaism should be a whole "culture of learners" than that it should be a "culture of blacksmiths." Yes, blacksmithing is a useful vocation, and some elements of blacksmithing can indeed be taught. But there are people who are cut out to be blacksmiths, and people who aren't- and ultimately, you only need so many.

So too with kollel learning. If the Haredi leaders let their students go out into the workforce, within a generation they could be earning enough to subsidize their own programs, and create their own kollels, where, since there would be a limited number of spaces, there would be more of an incentive to only have the true geniuses there- conversely, people that didn't want or weren't cut out to be there would have plenty of other options. This would free Haredi society from being dependent on a largely secular government, and the government from wasting so much time and energy trying to deal with (and cater to) the Haredim. If the Haredim can make themselves self-sufficient, as they were generations ago, and still are around the world, they can create something to be truly proud of- instead of continuing to nurture a culture of laziness, complacency, and entitlement.

Lest anyone think Muslims get off scott-free

I admit that I'm often hard on conservative Christians. And Jews. I try not to randomly bash, but depending on your POV, I can see how one could see it that way. One thing I am aware of is that I often don't talk about Islam on this blog. This does not mean I think Islam or Muslims should get a pass when they or their peers do or say things that make them seem like absolute loons, idiots, or just plain schmucks.

On that note, there are two news cases I've been following that make me absolutely furious. One is the Saudi rape case- one of the clearest examples of "blame the victim" I've ever seen, and an indictment of the Saudi legal (and political) system as well. By just about every Western and liberal standard, Saudi Arabia is morally bankrupt.

Ditto on the Sudan Teddy Bear case. As if you needed any more documentation that Sudan has absolutely lost its damn mind. And America continues to give Sudan aid, even while the government continues to do almost nothing about Darfur.

Is this an indictment of Islam? No. It's an indictment of lunatics. Call them Wahabbis, call them psychotics. Call them the "Dipshit" School of Islam. Whatever. This is wrong. In the twenty-first century, to imprison a teacher because HER STUDENTS voted to call a bear a name, is so mind-boggling I can hardly keep it all in my head. Get a godamn skin. And the same criticism, by the way, applies to other Muslims elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and apparently Europe, who think that they have a religious justification to kill or attack over being offended. That's my line in the sand. Be as offended as you want, give sermons, speeches, write a letter, stage a protest. The moment you throw a punch, or a bomb, or try to hurt someone, you cross a line, and this shit simply cannot be tolerated.

Do we have the right to tell these countries how to run themselves? Maybe not. Are we in a position to flex our military muscle? Certainly not now, thanks to Iraq. But we have no business supporting these regimes, either diplomatically or economically. If we can't stop them from oppressing their citizens, we can at least stop legitimizing them by being fig leaves for their madness. Start calling them on their crap, start pressuring the International community to lean on these guys. Neither the Saudis nor the Sudanese governments deserve our friendship or support. Draw a freaking line.

What's Good for the Goose...

It seems corruption isn't just a Christian thing...

Among those arrested on Wednesday was Rabbi Yosef Aharonov, the chairman of the Chabad Youth Organization in Israel, who was charged with tax evasion. On that same day, Israeli police arrested several other members of the organization and staged a raid on the town of Kfar Chabad, seizing documents and detaining several people for questioning.


“He has a lot of power because he has a lot of money to spread,” said Menachem Friedman, a sociologist at Bar-Ilan University who studies ultra-Orthodox society in Israel. “The youth movement is the most active part of Chabad, because all the activities of Chabad are done through the youth.”

Great, so how about Chabad trying to manage their institutions with some fiscal transparency? I mean, even if they only look at it as a simple cost-benefit analysis, I don't see how this is good publicity for them (especially since they can't blame this on random "antisemites").

Israeli newspapers reported that the Chabad Youth Organization’s budget is 30 million shekels, or $7.7 million, of which 7 million shekels, or $1.8 million comes from the Israeli government. The organization also controls the country’s 220 Chabad houses, which are funded separately. Ha’aretz reported last year that the youth organization and the houses together receive about 100 million shekels, or $25.8 million, per year from the government.

Aharonov has long been a political player in Israel. He was widely reported to be one of the main forces behind Israeli Chabad’s controversial decision in 1996 to support Benjamin Netanyahu’s candidacy for prime minister, and there is a picture of him with Netanyahu on Netanyahu’s website.

Aharonov also leads the Israeli branch of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the umbrella organization for the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Also arrested on Wednesday was George Segal, the former financial manager for the Chabad Youth Organization, who is accused of embezzling 17.5 million shekels from the organization. Last year, the Chabad Youth Organization sued Segal for 17 million shekels and Segal responded with his own accusations that Aharonov had pocketed organization money and was paying salaries in cash to avoid taxes and save money.

Where's Shinui when you need them? Or better yet, the ACLU. I can only hope some would-be telethon donors hear about this before next year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ho Ho Hogwash

The Bill O'Reillys and World Net Dailys of the net are slapping themselves on the back over the latest great culture victory they achieved, smacking down the evil secularists over in Ft. Collins, CO. Not content with that, they're also now trying to create post-victory ripples.

A county sheriff who had publicly expressed frustration with "politically correct" antagonism from secular America toward the religious foundations of Christmas now is under investigation for his thoughts...

Alderden said he's gotten about 400 e-mails and telephone calls about the issue, and only a handful were negative. "Locally the response has been very positive. We've gotten $1,200 in donations. People are dropping off lights and ornaments. We've had some people donate a tree, and a tree services company volunteered to dig it up, and plant it again."

Brilliant, those culture warriors.

"In general the response has been that people are tired of political correctness," he told WND. "I've even had agnostics, atheists and pagans come in and see me and support what we're doing, just on the grounds that spirituality should be allowed," he said.

He said officers in other departments across the country, where tolerance for the Christian meanings for Christmas are less tolerated, have called to commiserate. One major U.S. city's airport, he noted, was installing footbaths for Muslims, but refused to allow Christmas trees.

"Where have we gone?" Alderden asked.

However, he did say the repercussions for his support for Christmas already are developing. He said county commissioners were reviewing his comments in his column, a statement confirmed by Commissioner Glenn Gibson.

"The sheriff's not accountable to the commissioners. He's accountable to the public," Gibson told WND. But the commentary on the sheriff's department part of the county website causes concern, he said.

"I have questioned whether that is the correct, proper place to air one's opinion," he told WND. "That is what is being looked into. That probably will be addressed in the future."

Gibson said Alderden was free to have his own website, something Alderden told WND he already was exploring.

"It's just that my concern that being on the county website, that also shows county approval. That's what we're going to have to address," Gibson said.

No kidding it's an issue- especially when the whole controversy is pure spin.

That's right, J-blogger Golda Leah lives in Ft. Collins, and according to her, the whole thing is crap.

...the original story got it wrong, and the Task Force did NOT recommend the complete non-Christmas-ifiyng of our city displays.

What it said was this:

Christmas trees can be part of the primary, multicultural display at the city Museum. Christmas trees can remain in city buildings, and it would be up to those building managers to design the displays.

Colored lights could be part of the display at the museum. The lights in the downtown area have always been white -- the trees that line the square look magnificent -- and that would not change. Colored lights would be allowed in city buildings -- again, the city manager decides.

The main thrust of the Task Force document was a request for sensitivity to the diversity of Fort Collins.

But you'd never know that by reading the papers or watching Fox News.

And now there's a pretty ugly subtext starting to emerge, both locally and nationally.

...I've had quite enough, and I'm sick of the Jews being blamed every time a government official or City freaks out about holiday displays. The Chabad Rabbi here never mentioned one word about taking down the Christmas Tree or the colored lights. Lots of Jews I know who were previously ambivalent about the menorah are downright rabid about putting one up now. It's polarizing, and I can't see anything positive coming from it.
Amen. Golda Leah's got a point- just take a look at what some people are saying about the panel:

Most of the speakers were very critical of the 15-member task force and accused it of deliberately downgrading Christmas.

John Morris said the task force was only tolerant of its own arguments and had no intention of being tolerant of Christmas

“The work of the task force has been hijacked by activists,” he said, adding that the ultimate intention of many on the panel was to create an atheist state.

Really? I can't help but think that would be news to them. Golda Leah describes the task-force being made up of "representatives from our congregation, another local Jewish organization, an ACLU person, ministers and priests from local churches, etc."

So come on Mr. Morris, they can't ALL be Humanist Jews. (Check out the membership here.)

Luckily, plenty of people seem to be holding the culture warrior dopes' feet to the fire on this, including Karen Schwartz, who was on the much-maligned taskforce. And my personal favorite, Bill Johnson, who notes that Christmas trees have almost nothing to do with Christmas (and asks, quite rightly, how Christians will react in a few years' time when Muslims want to get in on this public square action).

Oh, and incidentally: they still haven't solved the menorah issue.

Hat tip: On the Fringe.

WND: My Ever-Faithful Punching Bag

First a guest columnist suggests that abortion can lead to lynching:
Minorities ought to be terrified of the logic of abortion, because it places the hangman's noose in the hands of the powerful, and it completely legalizes extermination of convenience by the elite class. Unless we regard Sovereign God as the only Being with the power of life and death over the innocent, we abandon the concept of universal human rights and replace it with a special-class tyranny.

This is fairly hilarious if you consider how many murders have been carried out by supposedly God-fearing individuals over the past several centuries.

Michael Savage is bitching about CAIR urging advertisers to boycott his show.

"This is a dry run against free speech in America by the Islamists and the illegal aliens who are now becoming one and the same," said Savage in August. "It's the same organizational structure. … I am the target of this dry run. They want to see how far they can get in silencing a voice of freedom in the United States of America. They want to see which, if any, governmental agencies will stop them."

"Guess what they learned so far?" he continued. "That not only will no governmental agency stop them in their attempts to kill free speech, they will aid them in their attempts to kill free speech. We have lost our freedoms already.

"Lady Liberty has been hog tied. She is being raped by the illegal aliens. She is being raped by the landlords who are using the illegal aliens. Lady Liberty is there in bindings screaming for us to release her," he said.

Funny, I don't recall conservatives complaining when Bill O'Reilly and the American Family Association lead boycotts against companies for not saying Merry Christmas (or, say, France). If it's ok for Christians to use their buying power to pressure companies into doing what they want, why shouldn't Muslims be able to do the same thing? Put another way, assuming some stores actually are "censoring" Christmas (that is, promoting non-denominational versions of "Happy Holidays" instead), isn't trying to hurt them financially in order to get your way another form of censorship? Isn't Happy Holidays also a form of free speech? And doesn't this swing both ways? (Incidentally, though I always like to stay on the side of free speech I have to say that if I was going to pick one thing to try to censor, I find Savage's crap far more odious than "Happy Holidays"- but maybe that's just the liberal Jew in me.)

Pat Boone has many things to say. Too many, in fact.

First of all, Pat, it's spelled Tevye. And no, you're not him. Not even close.

Second, not only is it dishonest and cowardly to hide stupid ad hominem attacks in the mouths of hypothetical children, it's also makes you look like a fool:

it's been obvious to objective observers that the liberal media treat the leading Dems as "rock stars," with Hillary and Obama the political equivalents of Brad and Angelina or Tom and Katie. What's a busy, distracted and too largely uninformed public to think? Why, the empress has gorgeous new clothes, ultra fine and royal, of course – befitting the media-nominated, elected and inaugurated first woman president.

But wait! Whose voice is it that we hear exclaiming, "Daddy, that Hillary lady looks like Bill Clinton in a pant suit!" And "Mommy, is that Obama or Osama? They sound sort of alike to me." And "Look, Daddy, that little kid Johnny Edwards is trying to be president of the United States!" Who's voice?

Why, it's the conservative media, with childlike clarity, actually telling it like it is, revealing the underbellies and warped political ploys of the liberal favorites! There's Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and a host of other articulate and informed talk-show hosts...Thank God for the other voices, the honest, childlike observations of the biased reality we voters are facing in this country.

...Thank God there are spokesmen and women in the land who can see as if through a child's eyes and help us separate reality from naked ambition.

Yes, indeed, Pat, only an imbecilic child would think that saying something like, "I can't tell Osama and Obama apart" passes for a legitimate or useful contribution to political discourse. Thanks so much.

Somebody Shoot Me

Please. In the head. Or at least put me out of my misery with some sort of Thuggee-prayer-shawl action.

It gets better. Apparently this Bishop John Francis bozo heads something called "Ruach Ministries." My poor, poor brain.

I was channel surfing and happened to come across this guy's sermon on Benny "Show me the Money" Hinn's show. Here's my little attempt at live-blogging the first segment, where Bishop Francis comments on how cool the tallit is.

11:30- John Francis: "Here's the part of that whole scripture that goes with the tallit. People don't realize how powerful this is. In my book, I talk about how this is known as a mantle. We can trace it to a mantle. It's a covering. Most Jewish people, when they get married, they put this over their heads, like a's known as a little tent."
Really? I checked this out on the Internet and most of the sources for this don't seem to be super-kosher. (Though I do think that "prayer-closet" is one of the coolest words I've heard in a while.)

12:04- Benny Hinn: Like the tabernacle?
John Francis: "Like the tabernacle. And the people would wrap themselves in this... I was reading in Psalms, it says, "he that dwelleth in the secret place... under his feather and under his wings," again, that same word. (He tugs on the tzitzit.) This represents the WORD of God!"
Fair enough, and some nice symbolism. Of course, one could point out that a lot of mitzvot represent the same thing.
12:28- John Francis: "When you've got a WORD covering you, the Devil can't get you!"

No, no... damn it. Leave tzitzit out of your Word-of-faith theology, man! Haven't they suffered enough?

12:35- John Francis: "People have been seeing this for years but they don't understand the power... this is like a personal tabernacle... A tabernacle is a dwelling-place... The moment you get one of these (holding up the tallit) and wrap yourself in it, and call out to God, and hold onto the wings, which represent his word, he's GOT to come to you!"
Bishop Francis then gives historical background- originally there was tzitzit on everything, but then as Jews were in exile, they began to "amalgamate with Gentiles", so they no longer wore distinctive clothes, which necessitated the prayer shawl. Amalgamate? Really? They were being blended with mercury? Sounds like another "silent Holocaust" in the making.

14:05- "So even if Jews were being oppressed, they could carry their personal tent with them. And even today, some Jews carry them around under their clothes. And when they go into the Temple, they will wear it and be praying to God."

Nice try, Bishop. But I don't know of any source that says the tallis katan came about as a secret, "don't-persecute-me" version of the tallis gadol. They're two different garments that have two distinct purposes, and I don't think most Jews are in the habit of switching one around for the other. Besides, you're starting to make us sound like weird persecution-complex-suffering amulet wearers. We're not all like Shas, ok?

15:00- And apparently the moral is that Christians- sorry, "Believers," should wear tallitot when they pray because "doing something Biblical means God has to answer your prayers." Well, if that's all it takes, why don't you guys do more? Like, say, Sukkot, or shmitta?

Anyway, if you're a mean skeptic like me (or this guy), don't worry, apparently the good Bishop did something called a prayer study to figure all this out. Well, that's a relief. I'd hate to think someone hadn't thought this one through.

The best part is that this waste of paper is free when you make a donation of ONLY 100 dollars to Benny Hinn! Wow, that's quite some freebie.

Watch the whole painful thing here. And don't say I didn't warn you.

Oh, and incidentally, Bishop, the crappy wordplay in your book's title doesn't seem to add up. But who knows, if you're messing around with the tallit today, I suppose it's only natural that pseudo-gematria is close behind.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Attack of the Rehabilitated Pogromists, Part Two- The Revenge

A reader takes issue with my characterization of Ukranian nationalism as willfully ignorant or outright revisionist when it comes to some of their greatest heroes:
On Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, next to the Theodore Herzl's tomb there is another one, a great Jew is buried here - Zeev Jabotinsky.

"Nobody will persuade me, or another Zionist of South Russia able to think, that Petlyura was a pogrom-maker." Zeev Jabotinsky, 1926.

Read your history ! - a good advise.

Read your history is indeed good advice- so that's exactly what I did. First of all, there were plenty of Jews and Zionists, then and now, who were less than affectionate towards Jabotinsky. The fact that he was a brilliant orator and talented statesman does not mean that every political theory (or alliance) that he supported was a good idea, whether on a nationalist scale or otherwise.

Jabotinsky actually tried to create an alliance with Petlyura in 1921- he would raise Jewish divisions who would accompany Petylura's troops and protect Jewish civilians from any attacks that might occur. This already suggests that Jabo's view of Petly's men wasn't very charitable. At best, this was an alliance of necessity, to protect Jews from Petlyura's men- so either Petlyura was encouraging pogroms, or he was generally indifferent to what his men were doing, or he couldn't control his forces. Which is better?

Of course, the agreement turned out to be moot since it never actually materialized- the agreement fell through and Pety's men were quickly repulsed by the Red Army , leading to several more years of back-and-forth semi-guerrilla fighting.

What was the reaction of other Zionists to Jabo's support of Petly? Most sources make a direct connection between the discovery of Jabo's attempted alliance with Petly to his forced resignation from the World Zionist Organization:

the courtship between Jabotinsky and Petlyura provoked a condemnation of revisionists by the main body of Zionism and exacerbated the bitter rivalry between Jabotinsky and David Ben Gurion. Jabotinsky was soon pushed out of the leadership of the world Zionist movement and his revisionist Zionism existed on the right margin of the movement up until the 1970's.

the ties between Petlyura and Jabotinsky are used by the Ukrainian nationalists today to rehabilitate Petlyura: after all, here is one of the founders of Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky supporting and discussing with Petlyura, concluding military agreements with him, condemning his killing in 1926, etc. The readers might, without much difficulty, find today writings of Ukrainian “historians”, who proclaim Symon Petlyura to be a defender of Jews.

The above source gives the Reds too much credit, in my opinion. Read Babel's Red Cavalry and you'll see that, regardless of what the lawmakers were doing in Moscow, troops on the front line weren't very charitable to Jews (compare to Ansky's Enemy at His Pleasure, during WWI- you'll notice there isn't much difference between White Russians and Reds). But yeah, showing me one quote by the Zionist most identified as Petlyura's shill doesn't impress me much. Jabo liked rightwingers, period. He was also a fan of the Italian Fascists, and the Lehi tried to facilitate a deal with the Nazis to set up a totalitarian Palestine. Having one Court Jew doesn't rubber stamp everything you do.

P.S. About Shukhevych - no evidence of his implication in anti Jewish actions were found - up to now. Only soviet propaganda.

Yeah, Yad Vashem's totally controlled by the Kremlin. Especially now, 15 years after the Soviets have ceased to exist. Look, I don't think that Yad Vashem's beyond any problems itself- but you can't deny that it is an independent organization, who's been doing this research for 50-plus years.

Yad Vashem's job is to dig. The Ukrainian government's job is to cover its own ass. Guess who I trust more.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It Never Fails

Every year around this time (and Christmas, and the 4th of July, and Veterans and Memorial Days), I can expect WorldNetDaily's columnists to start guilt-tripping me, along with the rest of Blue State America, into what colossal ingrates we all are.

Joe Farah kicks things off by moaning that Americans have "forgotten the meaning of Thanksgiving." Quick, Charlie Brown, do tell us! Is it stuffing? No, wait, funny hats? The joys of boating? Cross-cultural exchange? Maize?

The Pilgrims had a rough time when they first landed on Plymouth Rock. Finally, the friendly native Americans taught the European plunderers how to fish and plant corn. The harvest feast held by William Bradford and the gang was a way for the Pilgrims to thank the Indians for saving their lives. Thus, Thanksgiving.

Wait, is this your sarcastic version of Thanksgiving curriculum? Or what you think the curriculum should be? I can't keep up.

In Seattle, recently, the school district suggested Thanksgiving should actually be portrayed as a time of national mourning!

Well, considering there are a lot of Indians near and in Seattle, this might not be that big a surprise. Kind of like how you might think twice before praising the merits of the Opium War or Japanese internment camps in, say, Chinatown.

Apparently Farah really likes Thanksgiving. Which is great. He and I even seem to share some common Thanksgiving interests- family, reflection, feast. Of course, he adds praising God, but hey, that's ok. More power to him.

Oh wait, I forgot. Joe Farah is crazy.

Though it's a uniquely American tradition, the roots of Thanksgiving go back to ancient Israel. In a real sense, the Jews invented Thanksgiving. I count 29 references to the word "thanksgiving" in the King James Bible – all but nine in the Old Testament. For the ancient children of Israel, thanksgiving was a time of feasting and fasting, of praising God, of singing songs. It was a rich celebration – and still is for observant Jews today.

Hey Joe, didn't anyone tell you the King James is an awful translation? That's like saying the Jews invented the color red because Adam and Esau are both referred to as "adam." Besides, what are you doing with the KJV at all? I thought you guys were busy pimping out the "authentic" Pilgrim Bible?

Bradford himself studied the Hebrew Scriptures. The Pilgrims took them very seriously. The idea of giving thanks to God with a feast was inspired by that knowledge of the Bible. In a very real way, the Pilgrims saw themselves, too, as chosen people of God being led to a Promised Land.

Yes, complete with their very own Amalekites. It was too bad for the Wampanoags, but hey, at least Bradford got to be Joshua.

Today the whole notion of Thanksgiving has been dumbed down to little more than multicultural gibberish. It's no longer a day to thank God – it's a day to thank indigenous peoples for their contributions to humanity. Ironically, Thanksgiving is truly a multicultural tradition in the best sense of the term – having been inspired by the ancient Hebrew pilgrims of the Old World and born anew by Christian people seeking a promised land of religious liberty of their own.

Wait, the "Hebrew Pilgrims" of the Old World? Like what, Jews in Amsterdam? What the hell are you talking about? And how about acknowledging the fact that, God or no God, mere faith and tenacity wasn't enough to keep the Pilgrims alive? And that without both aid and mercy (and protection) from Natives, the Pilgrims would have ended up like the Vikings before them?

This week, America is in crisis again. We are besieged by an army of well-funded and motivated terrorists who seek to destroy us. A non-Judeo-Christian worldview is at war with Americans, Christians, Jews and Western civilization. In times past, those who came before us got down on their knees to pray for divine intervention. Moses did it. Joshua did it. David did it. Jesus Himself did it. Washington did it. Lee did it. Patton did it.

Actually, Jews don't pray on their knees, Joe. You'd know that if you bothered to spend even a moderate amount of time investigating the whole "Judeo" part of that Judeo-Christian bullplop you love to spout. But thanks for that nice dollop of tokenism-slash cultural appropriation. Now who's spinning multicultural gibberish?

But it gets better. Check out Tristan Emmanuel, who's previously graced WND with such gems as, "Atheists are fools- the Bible says so," "tolerance originally meant something else, but liberals don't care about definitions because post-modernism doesn't believe in meaning," and downplaying some of the really scary ideas of Christian dominionists by saying the alternative is an atheist, agnostic, humanist, socialist and Marxist state doomed to destruction like the USSR- adding, "
Concepts such as justice, liberty and equality under the law were established in North America precisely because there were predominantly Christian communities." Yeah. Brilliant.

So yeah. Mr. Name-O-God, boy genius, says Thanksgiving makes secularists pop their top. Funny, I'd say I'm probably the most faithful person who was at the dinner table this evening, and other than the regular sullenness we've come to expect from my brother, Deacon Yid, everybody else seemed just peachy. Sure, there was some minor quibbling here and there, but it was mostly over petty issues like someone wanting to take turkey home to their dog and an older guest being hard of hearing and asking the same question three times in a row.

After all, when you don't believe in God, whom do you "thank" at Thanksgiving?

No one. Quite simple, really. We say, "We are thankful"- thankful for family, friends, prosperity. God doesn't enter into it. He doesn't have to.

Emmanuel then gives a laundry list of how American and Canadian pioneers and governments associated Thanksgiving with religion. Which, of course, is just skippy- but has no impact on how individual people, or larger groups of people, should or must view the holiday today.

What all of these proclamations – in both countries – had in common was the notion that people should be thanking God. Imagine it. Civil rulers telling citizens to acknowledge God and thank Him for His "mercies."

No wonder secularists go mad at the thought of "Thanksgiving"!

Again, not really. Maybe it's all the tryptophan in my system, but I'm just not feeling this supposed outrage, Tristan. George Washington thought a lot of stuff, not all of it, in my view, necessarily good, and not all of it necessarily right. I don't doubt the Pilgrims' faith or religiosity- but the reality is, I really don't much care what THEY thought about Thanksgiving, particularly since most of the holiday is retconned from the Victorians (and, for the majority of its history, was confined to New England) anyway. Thanksgiving is a mish-mash, and I don't have to give a fig about its original intent in order to eat a damn turkey with my family.

Emmanuel also heard about the Seattle school thing, where a psychologist made the mortal sin of pointing out that, um, Indian kids might have an issue with Thanksgiving, and suggested teachers check out some websites that question the links between the holiday and the American psyche. Actively interrogate reasons why Americans do things? Nooo!

It is amazing to me how selective revisionists are. No doubt, there were white Europeans who took advantage of the Indians. But what so many revisionists fail to mention is that corruption, oppression and injustice are not a one-way street. They try to perpetuate the myth that Native American Indians were pure, innocent, noble savages, all living in complete harmony with one another and "mother earth" until the evil white man came along and introduced Christian civilization.

Emmanuel makes an excellent point that historical revisionism is a dangerous path to tread, but ignores the fact that there is a legitimate argument in saying that Thanksgiving often gets whitewashed. Neither the Pilgrims nor the Indians were innocent, yet the very nature of the holiday tends to privilege the Pilgrims over the Natives they went on to conquer and kill, just like Columbus Day invariably tended to take ol' Chris' side (and as with Thanksgiving, people who dare to point out the dirty details about Columbus are also charged with being anti-American revisionists).
I partly understand the motivation. Liberals have a vested interest in their "story" because many of them hate Christianity. They greatly prefer paganism.

Moron. I don't hate Christianity. I don't particularly hate anyone. I do have a strong distaste for dogma, and for people that feel the need to manipulate truth, facts and history in order to fit their agenda. Or who need to justify their own religious or cultural perspectives by connecting themselves to some grand tapestry of American religiosity.

You don't need the Pilgrims to be a Christian. And you don't need to beat the rest of us over the head to have a religious Thanksgiving- in YOUR house.

For all his talk about revisionism, Emmanuel falls into his own dogmatic trap- for him, it all comes back to the premise that man is an animal, only tempered by faith.

If it is possible for people with deep religious convictions to act like savages, what would the culture be like if the secularists succeeded in taking God out of the picture entirely, and allowed us all to return to our natural pagan selves?

That's why this holiday is important. That's why we need to celebrate it, to teach it and to remember that our peace and welfare ultimately rests on God's common grace.

Frankly, I think I'll stick with the company at my house. At least the agnostics I hang out with aren't nearly as blowhard-y.

Last, Jane Chastain, too, is mad that people aren't faithful. How could people make fun of Sonny Perdue? she asks. Rather than spend some time pondering this culture gulf, she instead moves on to a favorite Conservative strawman, the nonexistence of a church-state separation.

The phrase "separation of church and state" is not in our Constitution.

True enough. Of course, there's also no mention of God, Christianity, or much of anything religious.

The First Amendment does not limit the practice of religion but rather protects its free exercise by everyone, including those elected to public office. Sonny Purdue did not require anyone to attend his prayer vigil but simply offered Georgians of all faiths the opportunity to come together to seek Divine intervention for their plight.

If you were offended by that, too bad!

The Constitution does not protect us from being offended. That would be impossible to achieve and just plain silly.

Also true, and also fair. Perdue has the right to be as religious as he wants, and as wacky as he wants. Of course, Georgians who disagree with him, and with the image he portrays of them and their state, have the right to voice that opposition, too. And, of course, let's not forget that conservatives play the "offended" card as well. You may not think Piss-Christ is good art, or terribly intelligent, either, but as the lady said, not being offended ain't a right.
Ninety-five percent of the people in this country believe in God.

Sort of, kind of. Baylor U had a really interesting study back in 2006 showing that most Americans did indeed believe in God, but that there was a lot of disagreement over what that meant, or what kind of being God was. Not that this is a bad thing, but it certainly seems to belie Chastain's erroneous implication that there's some kind of large-scale unity among that 95%. Oh, and while Baylor said that about half the population attended church regularly, a 2003 Harris poll said it was more like a third. Which doesn't exactly sound uber-religious to me.

We worship Him in different ways, but most believe that it is fitting and right that we come together to thank Him, praise Him and ask for His blessings. The few atheists or agnostics who make a big deal over others praying also need a lesson in tolerance.

Maybe so, but Chastain is also presuming to speak for all the "believers" who may still feel differently than she does. Belief in God doesn't mean you want to be represented by fringe evangelicals, anymore than identification as a Jew or atheist means you want Meir Kahane or Christopher Hitchens to be seen as your spokesman. Something tells me Joe Farah and Pat Robertson would take issue with Muslim chaplains offering public prayers on behalf of Americans- yet according to their argument, since they're God-believers, there should be no issue at all. And hell, Hindus believe in "God(s)"- why not them?

Like Farah and Emmanuel, Chastain feels the need to connect herself to leaders past- they too were Christian (maybe), and they too made public statements saying to thank God- even if their conceptions of God may have been entirely different from the WND crowd's.

Today a Thanksgiving in the United States is all about feasting, and God is usually invited to come along. Is it any wonder we've lost our way?

This is what I find most ironic of all. The same people that seem to constantly be championing America as the best nation on earth are quite quick to condemn it, as well. The great lovers of freedom of choice and the market chastise people that dare have a celebration without inviting God into it.

WND can think what they want, but I think that today demonstrated that America functions quite well, thank you. To me, Thanksgiving is wonderful because it has a limited degree of commercialism, and because at its core, it's really more about community than religion, per se. And community, unlike religion, truly is universal. Unlike so many holidays today, I feel that Thanksgiving, precisely because it so often is a private holiday, really does seem to have a split consciousness- we may argue about what it means or why we do what we do, but ultimately, your Thanksgiving is a personal one, which is one reason why so many people work so hard to get there the day of- there's no Thanksgiving season; it's a single moment in time. And if people want to whine about the culture war, they can, but I get comfort from the fact that Thanksgiving is not likely to change from being a private observance. Thanksgiving truly is a family holiday, in the most eclectic ways- like so many families, it is simultaneously happy and sad, frustrating and rewarding. And ultimately, I believe, it is the home observance of Thanksgiving that makes it immune to most pundit bullcrap. Talking heads can talk until they turn blue, but the day will still, for so many people, be about togetherness and poultry, and there's something beautifully honest in that simplicity.

At the end of the day, most people in this country, if they were lucky enough, spent the day eating a meal, with people they love and care about, and whether they started and ended with a prayer or not, had a perfectly decent time. In my America, at least, there is enough room for me and WND. They may think we're on the highway to hell, but that's ok. Because I still know who I am, and what I believe in (or don't). At the end of the day, they aren't going to keep me from the things important to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Farah. To you and yours. Be thankful in your way today and all days, and enjoy your bounty. And I'll do the same.

The World Still Manages to be Entertaining

Sort of.

- How do people express political discontent in this super media-saturated, ultra-commercialized age? Through their cellphones. Over 500,000 people, including folks in Spain and Venezuela, Some genius turned the Spanish King's verbal bitchslap of Hugo the Jerk into a widely popular ringtone, and over 500,000 people, including folks in Spain and Venezuela, have downloaded it.

"It's a form of protest," a 21-year-old student in Caracas told the Miami Herald. "It's something that a lot of people would like to tell the president."

Companies selling the ringtones have avoided legal problems concerning breach of the king's image rights by using an actor to voice the line.

Awesome. Simply awesome. This isn't a political thing, it's an up-yours, would-be despots of the world sort of thing. I hope people start doing this with Achmedinajad, Putin, and whoever the hell is in charge over in Burma. Laughter can't always stop bullets. But I still think there's something splendidly democratic about people using their freedom of expression to tell their leader to shove it.

- How long is it going to take Americans to realize repressive, anti-democratic, anti-human rights countries aren't really our friends? Apparently a little while longer. From the Sultan Knish school of pragmatic-and-then-some politics, let's welcome Ann Coulter.

The entire history of Pakistan is this: There are lots of crazy people living there, they have nuclear weapons, and any Pakistani leader who prevents the crazies from getting the nukes is George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all rolled into one.

Except, of course, that Musharraf is more interested in protecting his own ass than ours, meaning that if he thinks it's in his own interests to, say, buy off Islamists by selling us up shit creek, he wouldn't be opposed to doing it.

Weeks later, the New York Times editorial page called on "masses of Pakistanis" to participate in "peaceful demonstrations" against Musharraf, which would be like calling on masses of Pakistanis to engage in daily bathing (the New York Times editorial page being the most effective way to communicate with the Pakistani masses).

Is this Ann trying to cover her ass by pretending this "joke" is about the arrogance of the Times, as opposed to the fact that she sounds dangerously close to suggesting that Pakistanis are filthy cave trolls?

Media darling Bhutto returned to Pakistan after fleeing the country following her conviction for corruption as prime minister. Her conviction was later overturned by the corrupt Pakistani Supreme Court, leaving me to ponder, which is worse: being convicted of corruption in a Pakistani court or being exonerated of corruption in a Pakistani court? She was again convicted in a Swiss court of money laundering.

The media adore Bhutto because she went to Harvard and Oxford, which I consider two more strikes against her. A degree from Harvard is prima facie evidence that she's on the side of the terrorists.

As opposed to Musharraf's failed track record of refusing to go after Al Qaida unless Bush sits on him.

I note that Bhutto demonstrates her own deep commitment to democracy by giving herself the title "chairperson for life" of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Because, of course, being FOR free elections must mean anyone supporting democracy in Pakistan is FOR Ms. Bhutto. Brilliant.

Liberals hysterically opposed our imposing a democracy on Iraq and despise Nouri al-Maliki, the democratically elected leader of Iraq. Say, has Maliki ever been convicted in a Swiss court of money laundering?

No, he's just got ties to dozens of wackjob Shiite militas that spend their free time handing out free trephenation samples to their Sunni neighbors. That's MUCH better! Call me crazy, but I don't think I want my money going to EITHER of those assholes.

Compared to Pakistan, imposing democracy in Iraq is like imposing democracy in Darien, Conn. But in Iraq, liberals prefer an anti-American dictator, like Saddam Hussein. Only in Pakistan do liberals yearn for pure democracy.

Actually, I yearn for "pure" democracy everywhere. And, as much as it pains me to do so, I also acknowledge that not every place in the world may be ready for democracy. However, short of democracy, I'd settle for prioritizing human rights. If the US is going to throw its weight around, then I feel it has a responsibility to use its influence to try to help people, not, say, prop up governments that are moderately pro-US but totally likely to butcher their own people or the ones next door. The same dilemma is going on in both Pakistan and Iraq, and Afghanistan, for that matter, where the pro-US government is actually quite good on the lip service, and even seems to believe in the democratic principles it espouses, but unfortunately has no teeth and is not willing to bring the same rights and privileges enjoyed in Kabul to, say, anywhere else in the country.

You wouldn't know it to read the headlines, but Musharraf has not staged a military coup. In fact, he was re-elected – in a landslide – just weeks ago under Pakistan's own parliamentary system.

How high are you, exactly? Musharraf has repeatedly tried to hamstring the Supreme Court, and the Parliament, by forcing them to swear loyalty oaths to him. He won both his elections because most of the parties boycotted. The most recent election saw another boycott, plus 80 resignations by MPs, and the two most popular opposition leaders still in enforced exile- the lesser-known one, Nawaz Sharif, had actually come back and was immediately deported by Musharraf's troops. Yeah, that's some real respect for the democratic process. Incidentally, Musharraf has hardly cleaned up political corruption in the eight years he's been in office, either.

But the Pakistani Supreme Court, like our own Supreme Court, believes it is above the president and refused to acknowledge Musharraf's election on the grounds that he is disqualified because he is still wearing a military uniform. That's when Musharraf sent them home.

Damn Supreme Court, wanting things like an Independent Judiciary and separation of powers. How dare they! Haven't they learned anything from the Bush presidency?

Musharraf's election was certainly more legitimate than that of Syrian President Bashar Assad (with whom every leading Democrat has had a photo-op) or Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (adjunct professor at Columbia University) or Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (loon).

At least we aren't giving money or privileges to Syria, Iran or Venezuela. No one in Washington could claim with a straight face, for instance, that Iran is our ally.

Pakistan is a country where local Islamic courts order women to be raped as punishment for the crimes of their male relatives. Among the Islamists' bill of particulars against Musharraf is the fact that he has promoted the Women's Protection Bill, which would punish rape, rather than using it as a device for social control.

...Pakistan doesn't need Adlai Stevenson right now. It needs Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to impose military rule and drag a country of Islamic savages into the 19th century, as Ataturk did in Turkey. Pakistan's Ataturk is Gen. Musharraf.

...To try to force democracy on the differing "I hate America" factions in Pakistan at this stage would be worse than Jimmy Carter's abandonment of the shah in 1979.

Ann has her lines, and I have mine. My position is that we should not have supported the Shah, and we should not support Musharraf. We should not support regimes that are anti-democracy and anti-human rights. Supporting Musharraf because he pisses off the Islamists makes as much sense as supporting Saddam against Khomeini did- and look where that got us. Look where supporting Bin Laden against the Soviets got us. Lesser of two evils doesn't mean good.

Pat Buchanan also reminds us all of his positions as well- just in case you needed the refresher. Turns out Pat's pro-dictatorial sheiks. Who'd have thought.

- Last, I really don't have words for this one. You just sort of have to see it for yourself. Good? Ridiculous? Sad? I really don't know.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nothing New

Another day, another Jew-killing mass-murderer gets honored in Eastern Europe.
Speaking before the Israel Council on Foreign Relations of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem, Yushchenko said Ukrainian nationalist leader Roman Shukhevych was posthumously named a Hero of Ukraine last month for his role in fighting for his country's independence.

olocaust researchers and Jewish groups have charged that a force under the command of Shukhevych took part in pogroms in 1941 in which 4,000 Jews were killed.

Yushchenko had this reply: "I have materials, documents, saying that in the course of grander context of Ukrainian rebellion, Shukhevych signed a petition that prohibited massive persecutions (of civilians)," he said, adding that no Ukrainian nationalist movement targeted Jews.

...At Yad Vashem a top museum official confronted Yushchenko, saying he has documents implicating Shukhevych as the leader of squads who massacred thousands of Jews.

"Sometimes you can be both a hero of Ukrainians and a murderer of Jews," said Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, a former Israeli justice minister and a Holocaust survivor from Yugoslavia.

We really shouldn't be so surprised; after all, plenty of people in the Ukraine still think of Petlyura as a hero and martyr. And put Chmielnicki on their money. And don't forget that Russia canonized Nicholas "My favorite book is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion" II a few years back.

Obviously, history is relative. Is Columbus a great guy, or a bastard? Is Caesar? Napoleon? State leaders, especially back in the day (when leaders seemed to get more things done, whether good or ill), cannot help but be controversial in the light of history, when different sides all have access to media and (in theory) scholarship. At the end of the day, Jews can't tell the Ukrainians who they can and can't have as their heroes.

But I think we do owe it to the victims to tell their stories. There is a trend in Eastern Europe to shrug off atrocities by nationalists, especially against Jews, by pointing out that the Communists, some of whom were Jews, were also brutal. And that is true, and that's something the Jewish community needs to own up to itself.

But saying no Ukranian movements targeted Jews? Read your history, Mr. President. Read about the nationalists in the 1920s. Read about Babi Yar in the 40s. You can call Shukhevych a hero. I don't agree but I can understand. It's relative.

But facts aren't.

Joseph Farah's Selective Memory

Was Thomas Jefferson opposed to public prayer? Debatable, but probably not.

AP staff writer Greg Bluestein notes: "In the U.S., public expressions of faith are often discouraged as a breach of the separation of church and state."

What does this mean? I suppose it is true that in America today public expressions of faith are discouraged more than in the past. But don't Americans deserve a little more clarity from the world's largest news-gathering agency in the world with regard to the definition of "separation of church and state"?

Without ever pointing out it was Thomas Jefferson who coined this term in a letter to the Danbury Baptists, the AP story then suggests the third U.S. president was opposed to public prayer. That was hardly the case.

Jefferson could have no idea that his reassuring words to the Danbury Baptists, who feared persecution through the establishment of a state church, would someday be twisted to mean prayer and matters of faith would be excluded from the public square.

Let's examine the record of the atheists' favorite Founding Father:

  • In 1774, Jefferson, as a member of the Virginia Assembly, personally introduced a resolution calling for a day of fasting and prayer.
  • In 1779, as Virginia governor, he signed a decree for a day of "public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God."
  • As president, Jefferson signed bills that appropriated federal funds for chaplains in Congress and the military.
  • As president on March 4, 1805, he offered "A National Prayer for Peace," which would cause today's atheist activists to go into cardiac arrest:

    "Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.

    "Save us from violence, discord and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

    "Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth.

    "In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."

It's incredible that Jefferson could today be cited as the inspiration for this atheist jihad against prayer and expressions of faith in the public square.

If he were still around today, he would be perceived as some kind of fundamentalist zealot.

Ah, but was Jefferson a religious Christian? Doesn't seem like it. From what I've read, it sounds like Jefferson was his day's equivalent of a U.U. Something tells me Farah wouldn't consider them to be much in the way of "prayer allies."

Hooray for Rabbis with Common Sense

Three cheers for Rabbi Chaim Brovender over at the Jerusalem Post. Jeers to the weirdo who asked this bizarre question:

Q. I was recently on a business trip, and while I found the city to be very nice etc., I am a bit concerned. I visited an Asian restaurant, not owned by Jews, (Under the local Rabbis) There seemed to be active idolatry taking place. There was a statue of Buddha, where they had placed a large bowl of oranges and burning incense right in the entrance to the place. At the end of the meal I was served oranges (Possibly ones that were previously in front of Buddha) Is this place considered a "Bais Avodah Zorah" ? And can a Jew eat there?

A. Avoda Zara should certainly be avoided. For that reason going into a Catholic church (perhaps real idolatry) is problematic. However,Buddism is different. There the reference is to a great religious teacher called "the enlightened one". It is hard to imagine why this might be called Avoda Zara.

If you ate an orange, I do not imagine that Avoda Zara was the problem.

Head-smack. Thank you, R. Brovender, for restoring my faith in the fact that rabbis do, in fact, have brains (I'm still recovering from this episode).

Speaking of dear R. Moss, he's got more neat info for us. First, apparently parents are turned into mini-prophets for a day when naming children. I guess that means that I get to smack mine for not forseeing that a couple of decades down the line, my lack of a Hebrew name would still be giving me a complex. Whoops. Incidentally, R. Moss penned his own "Ask the Rabbi" column on Buddhism a while back. Of course, it's still kind of nutty:

This is where the paths of Buddhism and Judaism diverge. In Buddhism, a physical object can't have innate holiness, for holiness is other-worldly; in Judaism, a physical object can be the holiest of holies, because there are no limitations to the Divine. This difference in world-views translates into two very disparate ways of life.

Hang on, Torah scrolls being holy; I get. But saying "there are no limitations to the Divine" means that some sweet old rebbe could pop up out of nowhere and start proclaiming the Bobover's glasses the new holy of holies, or this weird thing (not work safe!). After all, nothing's impossible for God, right Rabbi Moss? And how could we measure the relative holiness of different objects?

Wait, I know...

Or maybe...

Of course! It all makes sense now. Glad we cleared that up.

Also kudos to another rabbi with brains (and integrity- wow, a twofer!), R. Benny Lau.
The incident that, according to Lau, was "the straw that broke the camel's back" came a few months ago, at the onset of the shmita year, when Jewish-owned land in Israel must be left to lie fallow unless a loophole in Jewish law is employed, by which the land is "sold" to a non-Jew. This year, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has given local rabbinical councils the option of not issuing kashrut certificates to places that buy heter mechira (permit of sale) produce, a move that is widely seen as pandering to ultra-Orthodox interests.

"This was something that all the chief rabbis endorsed in the past and it just proved that Rabbi Elyashiv [Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the spiritual leader of "Lithuanian" ultra-Orthodoxy] put Metzger there simply so he could shoot down heter mechira. He is a puppet, a cartoon dressed in robes of majesty."

In Lau's eyes, each one of these incidents demonstrates an abdication of national responsibility by the rabbinical establishment, in the face of its preference for narrow sectarian interests. "We allowed the rabbinate to become the preserve of political interests and rabbis who are taking orders from the Lithuanian leadership, which has no stake in the national interest.

"There is no logic in allowing ultra-Orthodox-run rabbinical courts," continues Lau. "This is one of those places where Israeli society comes into contact with the world of halakha. When a couple comes in for a divorce, I expect the rabbi to understand their social background. But, if he hasn't gone to the army, and he's lived a life closed off from the Israeli street, you're going to have a cultural collision." That's why Lau is now part of a group of rabbis who are setting up an alternative kashrut-certification system that will support suppliers of heter mechira produce. He has also announced his willingness to form an alternative beit din that will be much more user-friendly toward those seeking conversion.

...Benny Lau has qualified criticism for his uncle, whom he describes as "one of the people closest to me in the world." His uncle's orientation is "toward the ultra-Orthodox establishment," says Lau, "but he has never said anything to me about the work I am doing. I admit though that he excelled in inaction in the conversion field. As chief rabbi he spread genuine warmth to all corners of the Jewish world but he did nothing to improve the system."

Lau prefers to explain his decision to act now by the fact that "when one gets older, one finds oneself pushed to the front of the stage and there is no leader standing in front of you."...

Now Lau may find that he has to concentrate, along with others, on creating an alternate rabbinate. Not that this is his preferred outcome. "We haven't come to replace them, but to do the job they should have been doing themselves. If they suddenly show that they have responsibility, we'll be off." But Lau fears it is too late for this to happen. "I realize that we are in a period of dismantling, but this has to be done carefully so we can become religious leaders of a Zionist public and serve the majority of Israeli society."

Not to be unkind, but I really do hope that Lau succeeds in dismantling the obsolete Chief Rabbinate of Israel- and that when he does, the non-Ortho movements mobilize and try to get some competition in there. Even if that doesn't happen, I get the impression R. Lau is a little more forward-thinking than some of his haredi peers, so I've got hope.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Diplomatic Incidents are Funny

As long as they don't involve you, of course.

- Wanted: Competent Hebrew Translator.

Last week the Dutch Foreign Ministry received a puzzling email from a delegation of Israeli journalists who were scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam next week for an educational seminar on the Dutch political system.

The e-mail began, “Helloh bud, Enclosed five of the questions in honor of the foreign minister: The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favor or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian, and on relational Israel Holland.” It continued with five nearly incomprehensible questions, and several other mentions of “mother.”

“How could this e-mail possibly have been sent? These journalists have sparked a major, major incident,” an official from Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. “Sure he can’t understand many of the questions, because the English is so bad. But he is being asked about the sleeping arrangements of his mother!”

The Foreign Ministry contacted the journalists who sent the email, and discovered that, an automated online translation tool, was at the root of the problem.

The journalist who had arranged the trip and conducted the previous communication was away on reserve duty when the Dutch Consulate requested a preview of the questions that the journalists intended to ask. Another journalist involved in the trip took it upon himself to send the questions, and — in lieu of working knowledge of English — relied on Babelfish. Typing in his Hebrew questions, he copied the automatic translations into an email and sent it to the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

A question meant to read, “What, in your opinion, needs to be done regarding the Iranian threat to Israel?” became, “What in your opinion needs to do opposite the awful the Iranian of Israel?”

The Dutch Foreign Ministry is considering canceling the entire trip and filling a formal complaint over the incident. The journalists, meanwhile, said that they were currently too embarrassed to continue with the planned visit.

Whoops. I know someone who'll be getting some coal in their Hanukkah stockings this year. Sucks to be you, BabelFish. Well, not as much as it sucks to be those reporters.

- Hugo the Jerk.

Mr Chavez's interview on state television on Wednesday could be seen as fuelling the row.

..."[The king] disrespected me, and he was laid bare before the world in his arrogance and also his impotence," Mr Chavez told a news conference on Tuesday, before adding: "We don't want this to become a political crisis."

He went on to say that Spanish commercial interests in Venezuela were not indispensable and hinted that they could be affected if the dispute worsened.

"Spain has many investments, private companies here and we don't want to damage that, but if they are damaged, they are damaged... We don't need it," he said.

The spat began at the Ibero-American Summit in Chile's capital, Santiago, when Mr Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of US President George W Bush, a fascist, adding "fascists are not human. A snake is more human."

Current Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero then said: "[Former Prime Minister] Aznar was democratically elected by the Spanish people and was a legitimate representative of the Spanish people."

When Mr Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt, the king leaned forward and said: "Why don't you shut up?" before storming out.

The row later escalated when Mr Chavez said the king was "imprudent" and asked if he knew in advance of the 2002 coup against him.

I suppose it's to be expected. If I was a dictator that was used to having people "disappear" if they looked at me sideways while handing me lunch, I would probably have a pretty low tolerance for being told to cram it, too. And of course there's probably a lot of Socialist-Monarchy issues going on there.

Still, there seems to be a real "spoiled jerk" aspect here, too- and besides, it's just mean to comment on a King being dethroned via coup. Just because we're all THINKING it doesn't mean you have to say it, Hugo. It's a little something called class. Pinochet would have understood.


Fox News and Pat Robertson's 700 Club are giddy over the fact that the governor of Georgia prayed and Georgia got rain (all of an inch). Fox News just had a giant graphic pondering the not-too-leading question, "Did Prayer Work?" John Gibson pondered/sneered, "Is this going to make some people change their minds or do you think it will just confirm the beliefs of the faithful and leave the doubters scoffing?"

In a word: Yes. I'm quite happy for Georgia, I hope they get all the rain they want and need (it might prevent another near-mini-civil war between them and their neighbors over water). But I'm not going to say it's thanks to Perdue's prayers anymore than nutjob Yehuda Levin's.

And frankly, if God's handing out favors, a better start would be to give Georgia all the water it needs, spare Louisiana and California from any future natural disasters, and oh yeah, help us solve this whole oil crisis thing. If these guys are all about the prayer, I say pray more. Because an inch isn't going to cut it.

Edit: Come to think of it, I kind of like's drash on the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vox Day Strikes again

I thought Vox Day had reached his peak when he told Jews to stop being so uppity about Ann Coulter, lest we earn ourselves a long overdue pogrom. For this he was well-fisked by both DovBear and BBJ.

But wait, there's more. You see, like Pat Buchanan, Vox heard about that scientist who said Africa's problems were caused by lower IQs, then retracted it when he realized how foolheaded that sounded. And, just like Pat Buchanan, Vox compares Dr. Watson's "recantation" to the persecution of Galileo. As opposed to, say, the Beastie Boys.

The funny thing is, this isn't the first time that Dr. Watson has come under fire for being a nut. But of course, the right doesn't care- and doesn't need to care- about Watson's Loose Double-Helix Screws. Watson is a useful example of supposed leftist censorship of scientists that don't play into their ideology. Never mind that at this point, there doesn't seem to be that much that people could threaten Watson with. A 79-year-old whose career accomplishments are mostly behind him and who apparently has a penchant for making undergrads feel creeped out? Exactly what was the scientific establishment supposedly going to do to him? Take his tenure? [Note: to be fair, Wikipedia seems to show that Watson, is, in fact, being cock-blocked from the scientific community. Readers can decide for themselves whether that makes him a scapegoat/martyr or not.]

Anyway, after his recent column on Watson, Vox was inspired to write again about race- this time, commenting on a NY Times piece that research into different racial characteristics have some scientists concerned about issues of racial equality. Vox used this as a springboard to say that science is anti-human equality, and that real equality is predicated on the existence of God. (Presumably, because all people are made in his image. Which is apparently a technicolor, all-gendered-inclusive, image.)

Well, a reader had an issue with this and correctly identified that saying that equality can only come from religion is fallacious, particularly since Judeo-Christianity (ugh, that cursed, cursed term) encouraged and perpetuated the institution of slavery.

Vox's reply?
Half-Sigma's actual error is the idea that equality before God somehow precludes slavery. That is a category error. God is no respecter of either persons or property; since He does not even acknowledge human ownership of material property, He cannot possibly respect human ownership of other humans for good or for ill. He can and does, on the other hand, condemn poor stewardship of every kind; which is why the slave owner who thinks he owns his slaves is charged with treating them well.

Funny thing, my Bible (also known as Google) points out a bunch of passages (including some in the New Testament) that demonstrate that God indeed does seem to endorse the whole slavery thing, to say nothing of property as a whole. There's Abraham buying land in Hebron, the conquests of Canaan and surrounding areas by Joshua, then David and Solomon, etc. Even the principle of leaving the corners of the land for beggars to pick up leavings of crops and of the land reverting to its original owners on the Jubilee years seems to point to a clarification, not negation, of the idea of personal property. Stewardship is all well and good, but saying "God doesn't acknowledge human ownership of property?" That seems to overlook a lot of that there Old Testament. What about all the references to the Promised Land being given to the Jews? That seems to suggest some ownership to me.

Don't get me wrong, Vox. I'm not pro-slavery. But if you have commandments in the Torah saying, "don't kill your slave," while not saying a single thing about, "oh, and don't have slaves," it's pretty hard to argue that the Torah's anti-slavery. At best, you have to admit that there's some conflict going on.

I left a comment asking for some scriptural references. The best the commenters could come up with was, "God owns everything, so we can't really own anything." And of course the particularly interesting, "how could it be right to enslave someone Christ died for?"

Also known as, "We got nothing."

I just finished A.J. Jacob's "Year of Living Biblically." Maybe it's appropriate that the first guys I encountered after reading it were the Voxians. I'd wager quite a few of them consider themselves Biblical literalists to at least some degree. And yet they seem pretty ignorant about exactly what the book says. Go figure.

Separated at Birth

WND's columnists really have a bug up their butts about obscenity lately. It starts with the ever (self-)righteous Ted Baehr, founder of a Christian media-monitor service (unfortunately, I must report it is not nearly as hilarious as this site). When not promoting his company ("did I mention your children are at risk? Quick, get a subscription!"), Dr. Ted is justifying his, um, sort-of ministry.

And, the evidence of many empirical studies and much scientific research is that children are susceptible to what they see and hear in movies, music, video games and on television and the Internet. In fact, some children are so susceptible that they end up like the young humanist, nihilistic mass murderers at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Jokela High School in Finland.

If you received advance notice that a child was headed to your local high school with a machine gun, would you take a stand to warn potential victims?

Touche, kind of. I think.

I cannot tell you which child will become the next mass murderer. I cannot tell you which school will be victimized. I can tell you that some child influenced by the media will be the next school killer. I can tell you with certainty that evil movies and video games have a destructive impact on children. Your child may not be the next mass murderer, but he or she may grow up showing no respect for his or her elders. Your child may grow up believing that violence is a just response to a verbal insult. Your child may reject your values and come to believe sin is freedom and righteousness is bondage.
See, but the problem is that people have been doing downright awful things since, well, forever. It is ridiculous to argue that popular media has NO effect on culture, and that neither impacts children. I've taught schoolchildren. Apparently 6th graders really, really, like Family Guy.

Incidentally, the idea that you can predict that the next school killer will be a violent videogame nutjob really sets off my BS-meter. What about the Amish Schoolhouse killer? Your absolutes just don't wash, man.
We cannot and will not wait to take a stand until we know which child is about to commit mass murder. We will warn you NOW that as long as horribly violent movies and video games are made available to children, there will be more murders. There will be more abusive boyfriends and husbands. There will be more little girls kidnapped, raped and murdered. And YOU will have all the more reason to live in fear, buy alarm systems and stay home behind locked doors.

Because there was no crime before Xbox?

Ted goes on to toot his own horn several times, pointing out that what he and all his conservative Christian friends would really like to do is just preach the gospel- but alas, they actually care about children, unlike you, you foul, Godless, Halo 3-playing sinner. Ted clinches this via a classic bit of exegesis. "I arbitrarily decided I'm like a watchman. Hey, the Bible says things about watchmen!" Cue random quote from Ezekiel about watchmen. Of course, there are also parts of the Bible that praise people scaling or destroying walls (Joshua at Ai, and God squishing Jericho come to mind). But never mind.

Not to be outdone, Dennis Prager arrives on the scene, and attempts to be even more hair-brained. The column title is, IMO, a little awkward. A better and punchied (and more accurate) one would have been, "Liberals Stink Again." Prager's reason this week? Liberals swear too much. This week's column was apparently inspired by Dennis getting mail, as it consists of nothing more than a running commentary on the latest Rolling Stone. Writes Dennis,

It brings me no pleasure to say that, with few exceptions, the interviews reveal a superficiality and contempt for cultural norms (as evidenced by the ubiquity of curse words) that should scare anyone who believes that these people have influence on American life.

Uh huh. Dennis goes on to quote himself from several months ago saying that "higher civilization" has always seen cursing as a "form of assault on civilization." Of course, this is just as ridiculous as it was back when I first fisked it. Oh, and your quote is redundant, Dennis. Which is funny, given that another argument against cursing is that it impedes your vocabulary.

Since June, Dennis has apparently spent more time ruminating on the subject of how liberals cursing means they hate society:

That is why the amount of public cursing on the left and the way curse words are accepted as part of public and formal discourse may be as significant to understanding the left as anything the left says. It is the left's way of showing rejection of the values of the middle class and of America's Judeo-Christian civilization.
Even if this was true- and this is as much a stretch as just about any other Prager argument- perhaps it is indicative that not every one of those values is or should be held as sacrosanct (or at least not all the time), which is the assumption Prager is going on. The idea of the shofar on the High Holidays, for instance, is that it should help shock people out of complacency. Cannot middle-class and JC civ values be a similar form of complacency? Sometimes cursing is acceptable, or at least valid, and arguing that it is never valid because that somehow indicates a hated of supposedly commonly-agreed-upon values is a lazy strawman argument. Cursing does not mean you hate America, or the fictitious JC civ folks like Dennis love to trumpet.

Cue Dennis' cherry-picking of cursing quotes from Rolling Stone.

Chris Rock: " ... Bush f---ed up." "That's a major f---up." "I say some harsh s--t."

Novelist William Gibson: "The s--t you've been doing for the past 400 years …"

George Clooney: " ... my sister and I were quizzed on s--t." "Now you're going to hear about all this s--t." "What the f---'s wrong with you?" China "doesn't give a s—t. ..." "I don't give a s--t." "This war is bulls--t."

Billie Joe Armstrong: "What the f--- are you doing?" " ... when you say 'F--- George Bush' in a packed arena in Texas, that's an accomplishment." "I don't have a f---ing clue what they're talking about." " ... all the f---ed up problems we have." " ... this girl was f---ed up." "Why did I worry so much about this s--t?"

Jon Stewart: "We have a s--tload of guns." " ... that f---ed up everything." "We f---ing declared war on 'em." "... the whole f---ing thing's ours." "Two vandals ... can f--- up your way of life." "I'll take those odds every f---ing day."

Eddie Vedder: "Why the f--- is he doing that?"

Sam Harris: " ... any religious bulls--t."

Meryl Streep: "Oh, f---, why me?"

Tom Hanks: "People have stopped giving a s--t. ..." "Where the f--- have you people been?"

I love this. Every insight or argument that any of these people might be giving or go on to give is tossed in the garbage heap because they said a swear. How enlightened of you, Dennis. Exactly how long are these interviews? A page each? Half a page? And yet you work so dilligently in dismissing them. Class act, my friend.

In response to this, I will receive e-mails cursing me and noting that Vice President Dick Cheney once whispered a curse at Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy – on the floor of the Senate, no less. These e-mailers – and, to be honest, some religious conservatives as well – do not see any difference between cursing in public and using an expletive in a whisper. Many people have lost the ability to judge actions in context or to acknowledge gradations of sin. Is whispering the f-word when one assumes that no one else hears you say it really no different from using that word in a published interview or on a television show?
Gradations of sin? Ok, how's this- compared to actual evil being done in the world, none of the above people you've quoted hold a candle. No matter how scatterbrained or wrongheaded you might think Jon Stewart is, he has not raped, killed, or disenfranchised anybody today. He did not beat anyone, he did not steal from anyone, he did not torture anyone. Neither did he assist anyone in doing those evils, or cover them up, or attempt to cover them up.

Those are all real, concrete evils. Those are real sins. There's no need to point out that Republicans curse, both whispered and in public (Ann Coulter faggot remark ring a bell much?). That gives too much legitimacy to your half-brained argument. Even if cursing is a sin, it's way, way, down there. You could more easily make the claim that Stewart is sinning because he ridicules others than in saying "fuck." Your argument is an insult to your readers' intelligence because it imagines that out of all the sins one could attribute to any group- liberals, conservatives, or turducken afficionados, that one can surmise everything about them by the undocumented, subjective OPINION that they CURSE more than other groups. It's absurd.

And that's why you're a schmuck.

Pat Boone completes the triumverate. Boldly going where Prager and Baehr only hint, Pat is proud to say he thinks censorship is "just nifty, chums!"

The reflexively liberal media have gleefully reported every "progressive" transgression, often making bigger celebrities of those who openly break taboos, who defy long-established tradition and guidelines of decent behavior. You can make your own list of questionably talented young people who have become headliners via repeated drug arrests, drunken displays, sex videos or making a joke of marriage, motherhood and morality.

Someone refresh my memory: exactly which members of ye olde liberal media have held up Spears or Lohan as positive role models lately? The media has been gleefully reporting their MELTDOWNS. You can find that questionable on its own terms (I think it's kind of sick, frankly), but it's not like they're being heralded as progressive visionaries or something for not wearing underwear or puking in an alley.

No wonder most everybody in the media and entertainment world screams bloody murder at the very mention of the word "censorship." They've reacted so violently, for so long, that they've convinced the general public there's something inherently wrong, even undemocratic, with the concept of censorship.

But the fact is: No society can endure without censorship!

Do tell, Pat.

What is the traffic light at the corner but censorship? What is any law, any prohibition about anything – drugs, murder, speeding, theft, perjury, destruction of property – but a society protecting itself against irresponsible, dangerous, even criminal behavior? What is it but a democratic people censoring what some self-centered person might want to do, but that would be offensive or downright destructive to someone else? Law is censorship, and we can't survive without it – especially in a democracy, because, as John Adams pointed out, passions unbridled by religion and morality will inevitably wreak havoc.

Feel free to censor via road laws all you want, Pat, but I don't really think that's what creates a bee in anyone bonnet these days. And indeed, the crucial test is, how does it impact others? As The War On Christmas crowd (including you,) never tires of telling us, just because someone may find something offensive doesn't always mean that the answer is censorship. If removing crosses, Christmas trees and Ann Coulter are wrong, I don't see how you can defend excising Harry Potter or other books that other people find offensive.

Look at the child pornography case that has just come before our Supreme Court, a vital First Amendment test of Congress' ability to tackle that vile practice in the digital age. Is there anything worse, more indefensible in a free society than the degradation and ruination of innocent children for sexual gratification? How low, base and corrupt can human beings get?

But challengers to any limitations on child porn or its promotion, including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, say among other things that the legislation in question "might threaten the marketing of 'Lolita'" and other fictional depictions of adolescent sex! Can you grasp the self-serving twisted logic of that argument? In effect, it's the same as saying, "If you deny me the right to sell heroin, it may threaten my chance to sell cocaine!"

Are you sure you meant to put it that way, Pat? Because that pretty much seems to confirm that if you had your way, you'd toss Lolita and other works of literature right into the junkpile. Which, frankly, doesn't make you look too good. You cute folksy Puritan, you.

New York lawyer Michael Bamberger, on behalf of the ABF and other publishing groups, actually said, "Consider the promotional speech on the DVD cover of the film 'Cruel Intentions' that talks of the 'ultimate challenge to ... deflower the headmaster's beautiful, virgin daughter,' played by Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon"! This actually is his warped plea: "Please, your Honors, don't criminalize pedophilia. Next thing you know, we won't be able to market teen perversion!"
See, Pat, if you actually want to seem less crazy, you want to respond to the arguments by saying, "no, we're actually more interested in stopping child porn than trying to limit the ad copy on seven-year-old Sarah Michelle Gellar movies." And, frankly, what law does "teen perversion" violate? What justification do you have to ban it?
Does any sane, reasonable American really believe our Founding Fathers ever meant our Constitution to protect filth, perversion, sickness and sexual vileness – especially victimizing children? No, wise old Ben Franklin stated, "Only a moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom. The more corrupt and vicious a society becomes, the more it has need of masters."
First of all, I personally find the "but what would the Founders think?" argument extremely lazy. Not only do we probably not have a very good way of finding that out (it seems to be notoriously tricky to nail the Founders down on most issues, not only because they didn't leave very well-indexed responsa, but also because, not uncommonly, some of them actually changed their minds about some issues over the course of a lifetime), but given that they're ALL DEAD, it seems more than a little irrelevant. The "WWTFT" question always makes me think of the Oven of Akhnai midrash. The Torah is not in Heaven. And neither is the Constitution. Like it or not, the Founders aren't around anymore to tell us what they thought. And that's probably a good thing. We have a framework, and it's up to us to figure it out for our own times.

Secondly, I find it a little ridiculous that Pat is putting the Founders up on a moral pedestal. Yeah, they were bright. But don't forget the whole slave-owning (and boinking), "Land of the Free as long as you're a White Christian Male" thing.

Our society is indeed becoming corrupt and vicious; the masters it needs are … us! We need to, we must, direct our elected representatives to draft and enact legislation that puts limits on our freedoms of expression, speech and "entertainment." Yes, you can call it "censorship," because that's what it is. BUT with these three provisos: It must be voluntary, self-imposed and majority approved.

Hang on, so Pat Boone is saying we need the government to make laws to tell us what we can and can't see and say and read and hear? Quick, someone tell the Libertarians. Does Joe Farah read your column, Pat? I'd say I hope he fires you for this, but that would be petty. And make me no better than you.
In other words, our nation and its citizens must say, emphatically and legally: "Enough! We will set up a system to regulate what our children, and even decent families, hear and see. As a majority in a democratic society, we will decide the limits on these freedoms, lest they be abused to ruin, corrupt and destroy us. If we can ban smoking in public, we can ban filth, depictions of vile behavior and rank obscenity in public – and on our tax-supported airwaves. We're the majority, and as long as this is a republic, as our Founders meant it to be, you purveyors of filth will have to eat your own excrement. We won't allow you to shovel it on our children!"

Did anyone else see that? Pat ends by telling his opponents to eat their own shit. Where's Dennis Prager when you need him?

Incidentally, the tie-in to my post title is that all these bozos (but especially Pat) reminds me of this "all-time-most popular" editorial over at the Yated Ne'eman.

Yeah. Go you, Pat.