Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Turning an old debate on its head

Being an occasional reader of the Jewish Leadership blog, I've come to expect a fair share of narishkeit from its hallowed pages. But this latest one is quite impressive. OU activist Rabbi Nachman Kahana has figured out how to finally win the great debate with Jewish heretics. Sort of.
For years I have taken the intellectual initiative to convince "stragglers behind the camp" of the truth of the Torah; of our being chosen by HaShem as His people and of our historic right and obligation to Eretz Yisrael etc.

And? What has your success rate been?
But, as I view things today, I am convinced that in this upside down world in which we live, even this activity is distorted.
Distorted, eh? That doesn't sound very good.
It is not for us to convince Jews of the truth in our heritage, quite the opposite, the onus of proof is upon the "break away" to justify his rejection of 3500 years of Halachic Judaism and the 175 generations of unbroken conviction that HaShem revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and there He gave us His Torah.
Wait a minute. For several decades you've been beating your head against a wall trying to convince wayward Jews why they're wrong. Now you do a 180 and say that they need to rationalize their lives to random Orthodox folks? On what grounds? And how about the fact that you're already skewing the debate by assuming that "Halachic" Judaism is static, unchanging, and the same now as it was at Sinai, assuming there was a Sinai in the first place?

It is not I who has to prove that God created the world, it is the break away who has to explain the origin of all existence.
Um, actually, since you're the missionary, yeah, you sort of do. Wow, I sure am happy the Mormons haven't thought of this strategy. "You have three seconds to rationalize why you're not a Mormon, otherwise, you're getting baptized right now, mister!" Look, Rabbi, I'm not trying to convince you of anything, much less lead you off the derech (though there are certainly plenty of arguments and sources that could help). The assumption here that non-Orthos are all tacit participants in some great Disputation (apparently by virtue of randomly encountering you on the street) is quite odd.

The break away is the one who has to prove that the ham sandwich and the marriage to a gentile is true, whereas Avraham, Moshe, King David, the Bet Hamikdash are fiction.

No, they don't, because they aren't making an ARGUMENT about a ham sandwich! Are you kidding me? Maybe people that were raised keeping kosher and then decide to stop need a coherent reason, but people that are merely continuing in the same path they always have? Again- what is the argument for them to NOT do so?
That the teachings of his professor of philosophy 101 can stand over the TaNach, Mishna, Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, tens of thousands of talmidei chachamim [talmud students] who have dedicated their lives to the study of Torah, and the many millions of Jews who have stood steadfastly in their beliefs.
Whereas science and philosophy professors, of course, are just in it for the money and prestige. The rabbi actually has a point here in that one should try to learn more about a belief before dismissing it, but there are a few issues here:

A- Why should we assume, by simple accident of birth, that Judaism, specifically Orthodox Judaism, is the One Truth?

B- There are a heck of a lot of beliefs in the world, religious and otherwise. It'll take a while for all us honest seekers to make our way through all that paper, especially if we have to start by learning Talmud.

C- This would be a whole lot more convincing if your average Orthodox curriculum included a smattering of secular subjects, including higher science and non-Jewish philosophy, if only to give them some easy strawmen to compare to the clearly-established Truth. Having failed to do even that, how can we possibly give any credence to the Rabbi's suggestion that the reason secular Jews don't flock back to the faith in droves is because they're too lazy to do the homework?

There's more, you lucky dogs. The rabbi is trying to use his same topsy-turvy argumentation method to convince Jews to immigrate to Israel.
The truth is that we do not have to convince them. It is they who have to justify their remaining in the galut [Exile], when the hand of HaShem is shown daily here in Eretz Yisrael and the dangers in galut loom ever greater with each passing day.
Again, no they don't. It is YOU who want to encourage them to change the status-quo. It is YOU who wants to precipitate a change in THEIR lives, not vice-versa. Switching the goalposts and telling non-Orthos it is now their responsibility to justify their lives and decisions to you is not only nonsensical, it's also confirmation that you can't convince people with your arguments.

For the record, a lot of us DO have reasons for our decisions. We DO have arguments for why we aren't Orthodox or moving to Israel. And if you'd ask, we might even share them with you. But this kind of condescending message from a would-be (or perhaps "former"?) outreach rabbi doesn't deserve any substantive response. You can't prove a negative. The burden of proof is on the person making the claims. You claim Divine Communication, the existence of God, the unbroken chain of Tradition, and, oh yeah, a literal, entirely historical view of the Tanach.

With all those answers, Rabbi, YOU'RE the one that should be making your case to us. If you can't it's your own failing, not ours. Though if this article is any indication, maybe that's a sign that you should look for a new job.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Finally, Christians and Atheists find something to agree on

Namely, those darn Jews.

Apparently was an Orthodox Jew last Wednesday who made the mistake of praying on a United Airlines flight. The NY Times has the complete story:

The passenger, a bearded Orthodox Jewish man wearing a black hat and a long black coat, went to the back of a United Airlines jet with a small prayer book and started praying, according to a witness who was aboard. Two flight attendants tried to get his attention, but he ignored them, according to the witness, Ori Brafman, who was sitting a few rows away.

The flight attendants returned with a third attendant, who also failed to get the passenger to return to his seat on Flight 9, which was scheduled to leave for San Francisco at 9:15 p.m.

Two friends traveling with the man explained to the attendants that once the prayer is started, it must be finished without interruption, Mr. Brafman said. The man returned to his seat after he finished the prayer, which lasted about two and a half minutes, Mr. Brafman said, but the attendants had called a customer service agent.

“He was sitting in his seat, and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ to his friends,” Mr. Brafman said. “He had an oy vey moment.”

The agent ejected the man from the plane. There were no raised voices during the incident, and no other passengers complained, Mr. Brafman added.

So here's the thing. I don't exactly remember what my reaction to a similar situation a few years ago was, but it probably wasn't super-sympathetic. It's sad to see some of the comments on the old Ynet article:

"The Hassidim here in Montreal are gentle and prayerful, but they are lacking in any sort of social grace when it comes to interacting with the general population. Maybe B'nai Brith could spend its time sensitizing the Hasidic community to the level of paranoia on airplanes at present and recommend informing the flight crew in advance that they are going to be behaving in an unorthodox manner."

"I can understand passengers freaking out- jews are so hated and maybe they thought he knew something, plus the hasidic dress is so starnge looking-like the arabs dress."

"no weirdos on planes: You need to just chill on planes these days: no hats or loud prayers or calls to God or Allah. "

"Praying like that does not belong on a plane; do it in private. Why the whole world has to see that you are so devout. Some consideration can be shown to fellow human beings, who do NOT want to be confronted with this. That people, not familiar with this way of praying freak out is understandable. "

"Whether it's Christianity, Judaism, or Islam it should all be practiced in private places, not public."

And one could make the case that the Air Canada case was even less justified than the United one, because the man was just sitting in his seat, as opposed to United, where the man was standing up in the back of the plane. (Interestingly enough, the same story on a non-Jewish news site seemed to have more people arguing for the man's civil liberties.)

However what really irks me about the United thing are all the comments to the news story. The worst ones were on ABC:

"I pray too, but this is reducing it to showmanship, a parody of faith."

"f you don't follow safety instructions, you should not be able to fly, that doesn't change because of someone's personal religious preference - they should have carried him off while praying, why wait? It's pretty simple. He can pray, but not when it inconveniences or puts the safety of others at risk -- he was an inconsiderate, selfish, pious, arrogant person. I wish they had arrested him and put him in jail overnight."

"I for one am glad that Prayer Boy got booted off the flight. He could and should have finished his prayers BEFORE boarding the aircraft, thus not subjecting his fellow passengers to being delayed while he got his religious freak on. People need to start realizing that the airlines are not Burger King - you don't always get it "your way". "

" Jesus condemned this showy display when praying and he was a Jew (Read Matt. 6:5-7)...Think about it."

"When you pray, you're just talking to yourself. How much longer are people going to delude themselves into thinking that they have magical abilities to communicate telepathically with invisible and non-existent sky-fairies?"

" He must have been "clinging" to his religion. I suppose at least he wasn't also "clinging" to his gun... There is that."

"I wish people would stop paying respect to the completely irrational, and often dangerous, superstitions of religious individuals..."

"Why did he have to be standing in the back, why didn't he start in time to be finished when he needed to be in his seat. I respect anyone's choice of faith, but no one should think their faith and rituals are more important than the other 100-200 people on board."

"Wow, this God guy is tough. He demands that you ignore flight attendant instructions. He requires that you inconvenience all those around you. And he'll smite you down if you pray from your seat."

"ALL RELIGIONS State that we should love and/or respect our fellow Man. This shows blatant disrespect for the other people on the plane. This has nothing to do with anyones respect for a straingers religion as much as It has to do with a Religious Zealot Who (as through-out history) has let their EGO control what they think the word of God is. ( Remember the 1st commandment???: " I am the lord your God. You shall have no other Gods before Me." This means; Don't think your self as a God. Keep your EGO Minimal."

"Religion and stupidity walk hand in hand. This story is just another ridiculous manifestation of both. Religion and stupidity are the reasons we have to take off our shoes while boarding the plane and can’t bring a bottle of water."

"He was praying to the tooth fairy!! When are supposedly intelligent people(?) going to realize the mass delusion in which they place themselves. Our planet is not likely to survive unless we rid ourselves of such insanity. There is not one iota, one shred of evidence to support such preposterous notions. For the sake of my grandchildren and those who come after them, please wake up."

"Pretty much the last person I'm going to want to see on a plane is someone that is acting like a religious zealot. The terrorists on 9/11 were deeply religious too, in their minds. I'm glad they kicked this buffoon off."

"I can't understand some thing. If he was supposed to pray at this time, Why didn't he plan another time to fly? I've never meat someone who can read scriptures but could tell time. ( This does not look too good for the Jewish Faith)."

"Would all of you who are defending this jerk be doing so if he was a practicing member of a Santaria church and sacrificing a live chicken on the plane? Its getting so that anybody can do anything in the name of religion and its supposed to be ok. When did the 21st century become the 10th century? "

"Orthodox jews..think that they can do this when ever they want (I am jewish by the way)...I recall one of them cutting the line at the airport and made up some story that he has a heart problem..just to not wait in line with the rest of us."

"Any type of religious extremism on a plane is very unsettling. Don't forget the 9/11 hijackers brought along their religious books on the plane as well. I'm not saying you can't pray on a plane, but doing so standing up and ignoring instructions indicates a lack of mindfulness of the world around you, and this is something that has caused many people do to crazy things."

"this guy is a classic jerk, imposing his ideas on all the really gives the orthodox jews a bad name..and they deserve it i am jewish...and am tired to see orthodox jews give the communities they live in problems by not following common sense rules."

"When you pray, you should do do in private. This is what the Bible commands (Matt 6:5). I KNOW what you are going to say. He is Jewish. Even though Jews do not recognize (I chose that word very carefully) Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, does this mean that they should ignore anything and everything He taught ?"

"Isnt it typical that terrorists pray prior to committing their acts? Thus, he should have been fully aware that his behavior was suspect & warranted his removal."

"How did they know he was a real Orthodox Jew and and not a terrorist disguised as one? If he had blown up the plane everyone would have said" Why didn't they throw him off?""

"Do your freak'n praying at home or your place of worship, don't inconvenience other for your ignorance. If you need to pray on an airplane, make sure you are in your seat. How stupid can these people get. I agree with the flight attendants 100% to throw this idiot off the plane."

"If this bozo is given two minutes then the fair thing would be everyone on the plane gets two minutes. Let's see 2 minutes x 100 people.... fair is fair right?"

"If we let one religious twit do this we have to let them all do it. You think the Hasidic Jew was distracting wait till the Wiccan wants to light candles."

"Why didn't this nut case pray prior to getting on the airplane. This guy just wanted his 2 minutes of fame and he got it!"

"religion, and it's extremists, is what brought the 4 planes down on September 11, 2001. There can be zero tolerance with religion-all religions are the same-when it comes down to protecting me, airlines, and what's left of our sad state of government. To defend this person's urge to act inappropriate in public, on a plane no less, is ludicrous."
It gets better. There's also USA Today:

"It doesn't matter if the praying was done by a Christian, Jew, Muslim or Hindu, there are too many examples of terrorist praying and then blowing up wherever they are. Rules are rules and should pertain to everyone."

"Why did he feel compelled to do what he did at that very moment? What a dork. There's a time and place for everything. He was on an aircraft for cripes sake!... He became suspect when he did not respond to flight attendents. He could have been doing that as a farewell before a bomb went off. Hey, it's okay to be anal and nervous now at days. ...too many freaks out there."

"If he is orthodox why he flying and not riding a horse?"

"What a moronic comment!! Because they "explained the ritual". that makes everything just oh-so-right????? If my friends explained that I was pleasuring myself in the back seat because it was a stress reliever before a flight, should I also be allowed to remain on the plane??"

"What an a-hole. They shouldn't have put him on another flight. Let him pray all the way to California on a Greyhound bus."

"What a whack-job! This man needs to be "grounded" for the remainder of his time here on earth, and the FAA needs to place him on the "international flight ban" list."

"I am so sick of people hiding behind "religion" to act like jerks and weirdos. This guy knew what he was doing was going to cause problems."

""And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."- Jesus (Matthew 5:5-6)"

"Yes, there is nothing more PHONY than people praying in public. In the real world that "2 minutes" would likely be more than ten minutes and the whole flight schedule would be in a holding pattern - all for one narcissistic fool."

"I honestly think some people pray in public just to be seen praying, why I don't know. i wouldn't doubt if he did this just to see if he would get a reaction, now my gut tells me to watch and wait for the lawsuit...."

"let him stay home if he wants to pray. Prayer is a private matter and should be kept to yourself. Maybe some of these nut cases will learn to shut up and sit down in the future."

"Don't schedule your flight if you have to pray at that time. Easy enough for your cult religion."

"His ritual of Judaism could have waited until the next time he attended Synagogue. Keep it out of the airplane..."

And Gothamist, which started things off on the right tone by including a little editorial of its own- "Kids, this is why you ‘Just Say No’ to prayer.":

"why did he start praying outside his seat? i've sat next to plenty of Orthodox men on flights and they usually just say their prayers right in their seat. this guy was an idiot."

"Orthodox Jews only listen to their God. They don't care what some stickin stewardess says. Serves him right."

"When many suffer for one it's wrong. If the guy wanted to pray let him, as long as others don't have to hear his shit or be delayed or in any other way be involved in his mumbo jumbo crap. He should be banned from all UA flights and take a cab along with that bitch Naomi Campbell next time he wants to go from point A to point B."

"i know many flight attendants (long story) and they all agree that orthodox and hasidic jews are the rudest, most pushy passengers on any given flight. you might construe this as anti-semitism, but you'd be wrong."

As for myself, I think the man made a mistake, both in his timing, in choosing to stand rather than sit, and in not explaining to the attendants either before-hand or during his prayer. And I think the airline also overreacted, particularly given that by the time the agent came to deal with him, the man had already finished and was back in his seat (something a lot of people seem to be overlooking). But a lot these comments are just hateful, ignorant, or both. Conflating an Orthodox guy davening maariv with the 9/11 terrorists is a particularly good one. There's plenty of fault to go around here, but the comments are by far the worst part. He's an idiot, whack-job, zealot, twit, nutcase, a-hole, inconsiderate, arrogant, a faker, or gunning for a lawsuit. He should be jailed or banned from flying. Wow. And how lovely that sandwiched between all that hostility from atheists are a few nuggets of Christian readers who take the opportunity to remind us all just how NOT CRAZY Jesus was, you know, just saying.

One interesting thing is that in every comment cluster, a few people invariably say, "If he was a Muslim no one would have cared," usually followed by someone saying, "If he was a Muslim he'd be dead."

Matzoh Shortage all over the US

My posts on the Great Matzoh Drought are getting tons of traffic at Oy Bay. And people are also passing along their own info. Namely, that a bunch of other places are missing their matzoh, too. They're even begging for it on Craigslist.

This all makes me feel bad, particularly since I don't even like matzoh.

Refreshing news from Israel

Tired of hearing nothing out of Israel but Jews fighting (among other things) with each other? About Palestinians clashing in the streets? About Jews fighting with other people that claim they're Jews?

Then you're in luck:

Israeli police had to break up a fist fight that erupted between Greek and Armenian Orthodox clergymen at one of Christianity's holiest sites.

The scuffles broke out at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Orthodox Palm Sunday.

Brawls are not uncommon at the church, which is uneasily shared by various Christian denominations.

In this case, witnesses say an Armenian priest forcibly ejected a Greek priest from an area near the tomb of Jesus.

They say the attacker felt the Greek priest had spent too long at the tomb.

When police arrived to break up the fight, some were reportedly beaten back by worshippers using palm fronds.

Awesome. I love how they aren't even different denominations of Christians. I guess their Orthodox can't get along with each other, either.

Hat-tip: Keli Ata.

Stupidity comes full-circle

Q: What's the worst thing that can happen to a terrorist organization?

A: Having someone ignore you. Or even worse, stealing your credit. Or in this case, assigning it to someone else.

It's time for another imagined conversation:

Zawahiri: Hey, Mahmoud. Gotta talk to you about something.

Ahmadinejad: What's up, Ayman? How's the big BL?

Zawahiri: He's fine. We've got the cave set up pretty nice.

Ahmadinejad: Well tell him I say hi, and if he wants to drop by Tehran anytime, we'll be sure to stone him for being a Sunni infidel .

Zawahiri: Will do. So look, about this rumor you've been spreading for seven years that the Jews did 9/11...

Ahmadinejad: Isn't it awesome? I really hate Jews.

Zawahiri: Oh, definitely. And us too, don't get us wrong.

Ahmadinejad: I mean, they're just so schem-y.

Zawahiri: And weird looking.

Ahmadinejad: Those giant noses of their really piss me off.

Zawahiri: And their stupid beards. And glasses. And those silly hats. And did you ever notice how they're always pointing their fingers at you? Sooo annoying.

Ahmadinejad: Then we're agreed. The Jew libel shall continue. No amount of blogging will save their image.

Zawahiri: Well, here's the thing, though. We put a lot of effort into that thing, and to just give all the credit to the Jews is kind of, well, asshole-ish of you.

Ahmadinejad: I don't understand what the big deal is. You killed a bunch of Americans, we blamed the Jews for it, a bunch of wackos on the Internet took it and ran with it. Triple-word-score, brother!

Zawahiri: Yeah, well, we still feel you guys should set the record straight.

Ahmadinejad: Look, why are you being so
Jewish about this? Just share the wealth, what's the problem.

Zawahiri: We're not being Jews, YOU'RE being Jews! Taking something that didn't even belong to you in the first place and handing it out to someone else. You're being a real Jew, you know that?

Ahmadinejad: No one calls me a Jew and gets away with it, you Sunni bastard. Why don't you go elect a Caliph or something?

Zawahiri: What are you going to do about it, you Shia dingus? Shoot a nuke you don't have at us? Or are you be too busy looking for your hidden Imam?

Ahmadinejad: No, even better. I'm going to write a letter to George Bush... and blame it all on Jerry Falwell.

Zawahiri: Nooooo!

Ahmadinejad: Have fun watching THAT on Al-Jazeera, "Rabbi."


And... scene.

Fallibility of Politicians

Sultan Knish has a post up in which he accuses liberals of treating their politicians like infallible idols. Not at all like conservatives and say, this guy.

Particularly charming were his comments on Al Gore:

a political hack who went crazy after losing the election and decided that he's the environmental messiah

As opposed, of course, to our present Commander in Chief, a political ignoramus who went crazy after "winning" the election and decided he's the messiah, period (or maybe just Pope, it's hard to tell).

For the record: I know full well Gore and Obama are fallible. I also know I have no interest in electing McCain, particularly as he shifts ever rightward to convince evangelicals and war/immigration hawks to forget his "maverick" past. The new McCain will not fight against the conservative pet issues that I oppose, and will appoint judges that take the country in a direction I feel is misguided.

At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter how slimy or pseudo-Muslim you say Obama is. I'm not interested in shoring up the Republicans for another eight years. So I will vote for the other candidate (Clinton or Obama), fully aware that they are probably not even a fraction of what their spin doctors say they are (ditto for McCain). But simply because our pet issues coincide more. I can't speak for other Dems, but I get irked with the Wright stuff (and the closet Muslim stuff, and all the other bull-crap) because it's poisoning the well, it's dirty politics, and because, more than anything, they're all so obviously acts of false outrage and clutching at straws. Most Obama-bitching has more to do with politics as usual than any real principles of transparency or truth, or concern about "extremism".

The reality is conservatives don't want ANY Dem anywhere near the White House, they were panicked that nothing seemed to stick to Obama, and now that they can smear him as a would-be terrorist who spends his free time burning (instead of wearing) miniature American flags while French-kissing Farakhan, they're going to keep it up until November. The right can bleat away all it wants but it shouldn't expect us to keep paying attention while they scream the same old conspiracy theories for the next five months.

More from the peanut gallery at Political Mavens:

Are you really comfortable with Michelle Obama not being proud of America as an adult? She felt no pride as an American when she heard how Todd Beamer said “Let’s Roll” when trying to overcome the terrorists on the plane that went down in Shankesville, Pennsylvania?

I'm not sure I feel "pride" at that. More than anything I feel sorry for the people who were on the plane and their families. I suppose I'm "happy" that they were able to make the most of a bad situation. But pride? Not specifically.

No pride, when the Berlin Wall came down, freeing hundreds of millions of people, because of Ronald Reagan’s tough policies towards Socialism? Is “no pride in America” what you want in a First Lady?

Socialism and Communism aren't the same thing. Am I supposed to feel pride that you don't know what you're talking about? And no, I could give EIGHT THOUSAND CRAPS about the First Lady. She has no official function whatsoever. As long as she isn't getting driving drunk, making a sex tape on the internet, or helping Bin Laden tunnel under the White House, my standards for her (or him, hi Bill) are pretty low.

Can you overlook the “post-racial” Obama’s revealing “typical white people” slip? Imagine if John McCain had said “typical black person” in an interview: The race would’ve been over.

No it wouldn't, because the spin doctors would have immediately jumped in and accused Obama of hypocrisy for bringing up race, and then wrapped it up in an anti-PC veneer. And speaking of spin, what about the fact that people are still carping on about Obama's Jackass Reverend while ignoring McCain's shameful about face on Jerry Falwell and embrace of John Hagee? How's that for a double-standard? I can't figure out if that's a racial thing or a liberal/conservative thing, or just a giant honking blind spot, but it's been driving me batty for months.

Can you overlook the candidate’s personal trashing of his living grandmother, as a way to deflect attention from his association with Reverend Wright? If he would throw overboard the woman who sacrificed all to raise him and give him a good life, why should we think he’d be loyal to America? He can’t even bring himself to wear a small pin with an American flag on it!

"Trashing" your relatives: bad. American flag pins: utterly irrelevant.

Read my lips: I DON'T CARE about American flag pins. They have NOTHING to do with ANYTHING. These are all distractions. The right is so desperate to keep a liberal out of the White House they will bring up anything they can think of. How have we gotten to the point of quibbling over LAPEL PINS?

Can you overlook the clearly elitist sentiments that small town America is a bunch of gun and G-d-loving nuts? Oops, scratch that: most on the left already do think that.

Yes, I do think there's some truth to it, just like I thought there was truth to Kerry's comment last year. I think Obama was stupid for saying it in public, certainly in such an un-nuanced way (I think you could rephrase it in a way that didn't sound condescending). And I also recognize that there's an elitism present in the sentiment. But I still think there's a grain of truth there. And incidentally, small-town, or "heartland" America is just as elitist about cities, and particularly about California and San Francisco, so my heart is hardly bleeding over it.

So yes, I can overlook a whole bunch of things. And NOT because I love Obama so much. Months ago, yes, I thought he was "super-inspiring," and he might still have a chance to reassert that image. But at this point, it simply is a matter of political expediency. If the Republicans can do it, so I can I. Am I irked by Obama's political mistakes? Certainly. Am I mad that he is less squeaky-clean than originally represented. Yes. Is all this enough to make me support John McCain? Hell no. Do I think Obama is actually a closet-anything? Absolutely not. Do I think he will bend over if America is attacked again? No. At this point, any of the candidates (including McCain, because of his past image) will have to work pretty hard to shore up credibility vis-a-vis terrorism. So no, I'm not worried.

And, incidentally, I don't think we're getting out of Iraq anytime soon, and I don't think we'll fix the Palestinian problem anytime soon. But there's a difference between accepting these as livable status-quo scenarios and seeing them as problems to be addressed and worked through. Eight years of Bush only occasionally poking the Israelis and Palestinians doesn't seem to have accomplished much. Continuing in Iraq with little concept of an end-goal or how to achieve- and leave- a stable country behind is just stupid. Accepting from day one that we will be there for 100 years is madness. These are just a few positions that I have which dovetail closer with the Democrats than the Republicans. And I haven't even started talking about wedge issues like healthcare, economy, "social values", and the like. Obama is not Bin Laden, Stalin, Hitler, or any of the other strawmen you keep tossing up. Neither, for that matter, is Hillary. Incidentally, I don't think McCain is such a terrible person, either. But a McCain Presidency will assist people like this wacko in asserting their agenda:

What would our demands be?
  1. We demand an end to abortion – now.

  2. We demand Planned Parenthood be defunded and pay back all tax money received where they have violated state statutory rape reporting laws.

  3. We demand marriage between a man and a woman remain the only recognized, protected and subsidized union. All counterfeit unions will not to be legally recognized.

  4. Freedom of religion will be practiced unhindered in every facet of America including public schools, the workplace, media, Internet and the public square.

  5. Freedom of speech will not be relegated to "zones" but rather practiced in every corner of society including schools, the workplace, media, and the public square.

  6. Judges who usurp their authority will be automatically removed from office.

  7. Executive officers and legislatures shall not obey illegal court decisions but rather remove the judges who made them.

  8. We demand that any school who puts a minor in harm's way in violation of all 50 state laws by promoting dangerous behavior, including homosexuality and abortion, will automatically lose its public funding.

  9. Creationism will be taught in public schools as an alternative theory.

  10. The government school monopoly will be broken with tax vouchers for parents to choose their child's education including homeschooling.

Needless to say, I'm not buying. Specifically regarding points 1-3, 8-9, and, given past history, I'm strongly suspicious of 4-7. 10 I don't know enough about to have an opinion.

On international issues, I like to think that I'm slightly more fair-minded than your stereotypical "lefty." I don't necessarily agree with a lot of conservative positions, but I at least try to understand them. On domestic issues, I'm pretty far-left. With these two political orientations, the Dems would have to be really, really, bad for me to support any Republican. Because the reality is that I wouldn't be electing McCain, I would be electing his party, who, particularly in the past several decades, has come to represent quite a lot of things I strongly oppose. Had McCain stuck to his "moderate" path from 2000, things might be different. But he's a different guy now, and there's no reason to think he would defect back to moderate-ness if elected on the backs of right-wingers. So he's made my choice for me.

Back to Sultan's original point: Obama doesn't have to be infallible. Not by a long shot. He isn't a Republican and he isn't worshiping at THEIR altar of Guns, God, Gays, and 100 years in Iraq. That will be enough for me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

One Last Passover Post

First, a link to a most excellent Ahad Ha'am quote, courtesy of Dov Bear. This is particularly amusing given the fact that Ha'am was an apikoros of the old school, a rebellious son from a religious family. Also, I like the Wikipedia article on him:
Ahad Ha'am traveled frequently to Palestine and published reports about the progress of Jewish settlement there. They were generally glum.
An early malcontent blogger!

Also, here is my version of the Exodus story, snipped from the Haggadah I wrote for my upcoming seder. Enjoy!

The Story of the Exodus

Once there was a famine in the land of Canaan. The Hebrews’ cattle had no grass to eat.

Cow #1: I’m starving. Moo.

Cow #2: I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

Cow #1: I should eat you for that.

The Hebrews weren’t doing too well, either.

Asher: Hey, Dad, I’m hungry!

Naftali: Daaaad! We’re out of dates…and oil…and grain… and everything else!

Jacob: Kids, stop whining! Your brother Joseph is a big shot in Egypt. And, I hear they have food. Let’s go visit him for a while.

Jacob’s Kids: Yay!

Jacob: Now I hope you all used the bathroom, because we aren’t stopping until we get there.

In Egypt:

Joseph: Dad?! What a surprise! Of course I’ll be glad to help out the family…Who wants dinner?

Generations passed and the Hebrews remained in Egypt. A new king came to power who mistrusted the strangers in his country.

Pharaoh: These Hebrews are a threat to our way of life. Let’s enslave them and use them to build things.

Hebrew: Lame!

Egyptian laborer: Hey, they’re taking our jobs!

Despite the harsh conditions of slavery, the Hebrews continued to grow in numbers. Fearing a slave rebellion, the Pharaoh ordered that the royal midwives to kill any male Hebrew infants at birth.

Pharaoh: Look here midwives, you get to be the front line for population control. I’m counting on you to keep the numbers down.

Shifrah and Puah: We hear and obey, oh great Pharaoh.

But they did not.

Pharaoh: Hey, why are there so many baby boys? I told you to take care of that.

Shifrah: By the time we get there…

Puah: They’ve squirted the little guys out.

Shifrah: And then it’s back to work at the pyramids. They’re really a remarkable people, sir.

The Pharaoh was annoyed.

Pharaoh: All Hebrew boys get dumped in the river from now on, got it?

One couple, named Amram and Yocheved, followed the decree to the letter.

Yocheved: I was skeptical, but this basket really is watertight.

Amram: God willing, it will survive the journey down the river.

Yocheved: Don’t rock the boat, son.

Amram: We’ll see.

The baby’s sister Miriam kept an eye on the basket as it drifted downstream.

Pharaoh’s daughter: Hey! What’s in that thing? It could be valuable. A baby! Aww, you’re so cute and pathetic.

Miriam: Hey Princess!

Pharaoh’s daughter: Yes?

Miriam: You won’t be able to nurse that kid; it’ll ruin your figure. Besides, he’s a Hebrew. They need special food, like goldfish. I’ll go find you a Hebrew nurse.

Pharaoh's daughter: Ok!

Miriam: These Egyptians aren’t too bright.

Yocheved: Yeah, we should remember this.

The Pharaoh's daughter raised the baby as her own son, naming him Moshe, or Moses, because she “drew him from water.”

Pharaoh’s daughter: My second choice was Smelly Butt.

Moses grew up as a member of the royal family. One day Moses saw an overseer abusing a slave.

Overseer: Lazy swine. Taste my whip.

Slave: Ow.

Moses: Not cool.

Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

Moses: Enjoy your sand-wich! Ha-Ha-Ha!

Slave: Ow.

The next day, Moses saw two Hebrews fighting. One of them hit the other.

Moses: Hey, quit it.

Slave: Who are you to judge us? Will you kill me like you did the Egyptian?

Moses: Crap.

With the slaves talking about Moses’ homicidal freak-out, word eventually got back to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh: Die, killer.

Moses: I think a strategic retreat is in order.

Moses ran away to the
land of Midian.

Moses: I’m tired and thirsty and hungry and bored. Hey, a well. Hooray! One of my many problems is solved!

While Moses was enjoying the well’s cool water, some girls approached.

Girls: Get away from our well, weirdo.

Moses: Sorry.

Suddenly some shepherds tried to chase them away.

Shepherd: No girls allowed. This water is reserved for important creatures, like goats.

Moses: Back off!

Girls: Our hero!

Moses: You’re well-come.

Girls: Ow.

The girls told their father Jethro all about the mysterious stranger.

Jethro: And he didn’t even ask for anything in return?

Girls: No, he was a perfect gentleman.

Jethro: Sounds suspicious.

Jethro offered Moses his daughter Tzipporah.

Moses (happy): Thanks, Dad!

Tzipporah (less happy): …Thanks… Dad.

While tending his flock, Moses saw a cool pyrotechnic show in the form of a bush.

Moses: Cool, it doesn’t burn up.

Bush: But that’s not all! If you act right now you’ll get the chance to REDEEM YOUR PEOPLE!

Moses: Doesn’t burn up and talks, eh? This is one heck of a bush.

Bush: Actually, I’m God manifested in a bush.

Moses: Whatever you say, O mighty Bush.

Bush: Look, Moe, you really need to help your people.

Moses: But I have things really good here. I have a kid now, and Tzipporah’s got the tent set up just the way I like it.

Bush: I have heard my people’s cries, and have come to deliver them from the Egyptians. And you’re going to help. You need to go talk to the Pharaoh.

Moses: Why me? The Hebrews won’t follow me.

Bush: Tell them God sent you. The God of their fathers, and that He said He’s going to get them out of this. And if the Pharaoh does not release you, I will deal with him, and then he will let you go.

Moses: Why don’t you just do that and leave me out of it?

Bush: What’s that in your hand?

Moses: My walking-stick.

Bush: Really? Put it on the ground.

The stick turned into a serpent.

Moses: Holy crap! A talking wizard-demon bush!

Bush: Pick it up, stupid.

Moses picked it up, and the stick changed back.

Bush: Tell them of this sign, and they will believe.

Moses: First, don’t do that again. Second, I’m a really bad public speaker. I’m really not the one you want to lead a popular liberation movement.

Bush: You’re starting to annoy me. Your brother Aaron was head of the local Hebrew Slave Debating Society. Use him.

Moses: Brother? Since when?

Aaron: Since five seconds ago. Hi there.

Bush: Put your words in his mouth and he’ll do the rest.

Moses: That doesn’t seem very honest.

Bush: Hey, this is politics, everybody does it.

Moses: What about the people that wanted to kill me?

Bush: Don’t worry, they’re all dead. There’s a new Pharaoh in charge now.

Moses: Right, because we all remember how good things got the last time that happened.

Moses returned to Egypt, where he and Aaron spoke to the elders of the people.

Aaron: Um… Moses says… sorry, God says… that we’re getting out of here. Spread the word, guys.

Moses: And you’re the good speaker?

Aaron: It’s a charisma thing.

The brothers went to the new Pharaoh to explain why he should let the Hebrews go.

Aaron: And if you look at chart F, you can see that if you’d divert your workforce from building huge triangles back to farming, your economy actually wouldn’t suffer that much.

Moses: So what do you think?

Pharaoh: Um… how about… no?

Moses: But, look, we’ve got a creepy staff-snake thing! Show him, Aaron!

Pharaoh: Not impressed. My court magicians can do that.

Aaron: But my staff-snake just ate theirs.

Pharaoh: That just makes your snake a bully.

Moses: You’ll be sorry.

There followed Ten Plagues:

The river turned into blood.

Pharaoh: Red is my favorite color.

The land was overrun by frogs.

Pharaoh: I find the ribbit sound soothing.

Everyone got lice.

Pharaoh: I’m already bald.

A swarm of flies and wild beasts attacked the Egyptians.

Pharaoh: No two ways about it, this one sucks. But still, no.

A disease exterminated the Egyptians’ livestock.

Pharaoh: Yum… grain.

Boils appeared on everyone’s skin.

Pharaoh: Hold my appointments for a while.

Fiery hail flew down from the sky.

Pharaoh: Eep. I hope that’s a comet.

Locusts ate the Egyptians’ crops.

Pharaoh: I sense my options are becoming limited.

Darkness covered the land.

Pharaoh: At least no one can see how miserable we are.

Several times the Pharaoh agreed to let the Hebrews go so Moses would stop the plagues, but then he always broke his word.

Moses: What kind of maniac thinks it’s a good idea to jerk around people that can whip up fiery hail?

The last plague was the death of the firstborn, which would affect both men and beast. The Hebrews spread lamb’s blood over their homes so the Angel of Death would pass by their homes and leave their kids alone.

Moses: He’s got to give in now.

God: Oh, he’d like to, but I’m hardening his heart.

Moses: What? Why? I thought the point was for us to get out of here.

God: I like to show off. This way everyone will get to see all the cool ideas I planned.

Moses: You’re kind of nuts.

The Pharaoh, yet again, said no.

Pharaoh: Joke’s on you, stupid! All of our livestock are already dead.

Moses: I hope your son thinks it’s funny.

The Pharaoh finally gave in, and let the Hebrews go.

Pharaoh: Your God sucks, and so do you. I never want to see any of you people again. Get out of my sight.

Moses: Consider us gone.

The Hebrews packed in a hurry. They were so worried the Pharaoh would change his mind again that they didn’t leave time for their bread to rise. That is why we eat matzah on Passover.

All future Jews: Thanks a lot.

The Hebrews were not the only ones to leave Egypt. A “mixed multitude” went with them.

Moses: Plenty of room on the freedom train!

Mixed multitude: This cracker is awful. What is this, a brick?

Miriam: No, you’re thinking of haroset, but more on that later.

Even the Pharaoh’s daughter came with them, changing her title (bat-Pharaoh), for the name Batya (daughter of God).

Yocheved: This could get awkward.

Sure enough, the Pharaoh changed his mind and chased after the Hebrews with his army of six hundred chariots, catching up with them at the Sea of Reeds.

Hebrew #1: Thanks a lot, Moses.

Hebrew #2: Why take us out of Egypt just to get us killed?

Hebrew #3: First Matzah, now this!

Moses: Don’t worry. God will fight for us. This is the last you will see of any of these Egyptians. Hey, God! Little help?

God: No problem, I’ve got this.

Moses: You’ll part the sea?

God: Even better. I’ll part the sea, then harden Pharaoh’s heart again so they chase after you and all die.

Moses: What? No, I mean, we don’t need you to do that. Just help us escape.

God: I told you, I’ll take care of this. The Egyptians will know that I am God.

God told Moses to lift his staff. He did, and the sea parted.

Moses: If you turn into a snake right now, I’m quitting.

The Hebrews raced across the sea-bed and made it to the other side. Then the Egyptians came after them.

Pharaoh: Let’s go after them for some reason! Charrge!

Then God told Moses to lift his staff again. He did, and the waters returned. The Egyptians were gone.

Moses: …

The Hebrews celebrated their freedom and danced and sang.

Miriam: God is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation…God is a man of war, God is His name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host has He cast into the sea, and his chosen captains are sunk in the Red SeaYou did blow with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like You, O God, among the mighty? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? ...You in Your love have led the people that You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy place… God shall reign for ever and ever. (Exodus 15:11-18)

While the Hebrews danced, the angels in Heaven wished to join them. But God denied their request.

God: These, too, are my creatures drowning in the sea! And you would celebrate this? What’s wrong with you?

* * *

The Rabbis taught that it is wrong to celebrate the death of anyone, even your enemy. “Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17) That is why we are commanded to remove one drop of wine for each plague. We cannot celebrate “with a full cup” when our freedom came through the suffering of others. We might also consider that there is a fast the day before Passover known as the Fast of the Firstborn. There is a tradition that says the firstborn Hebrews fasted before the Exodus because they were still not convinced they were holy enough to merit saving. Perhaps the fast also serves to remind us of the various things we still, and may always, need to atone for.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Pesach.

A question about Gebrokts

First, some background for those who don't know, courtesy of our friends at Chabad:

Many communities, chassidic ones in particular, have the custom to refrain from eating gebrokts -- matzah that came in contact with water after it was fully baked -- on the first seven days of Passover. Although such matzah is kosher-for-Passover, this stringency is kept by many as a higher level of safeguarding for the matzah.

In order to refrain from wetting the matzah, the matzah must not come in contact with any water. This affects cooking: those who are careful with gebrokts don't eat matzah balls, matzah brie, or matzah anything -- in short, they do not cook at all with matzah. Also, they are very careful to keep the matzah on the table covered, and away from any food that may have water in it. Drinks, soups, vegetables that have been washed and not thoroughly dried, etc., are all kept far away from any matzah.

..."Gebroktz" is the Yiddish word which refers to matzah that has come in contact with water. "Gebroktz" literally means "broken," and it has come to mean wet matzah because matzah is usually ground or broken up into crumbs before it is mixed with water.

Those who refrain from eating gebroktz on Passover do so for fear that during the baking process there may have been a minute amount of flour which did not get kneaded and mixed into the dough and remained dry. If that is the case, upon contact with water the flour will become chametz.

...A situation in which this stringency comes into play is during the Korech step of the Seder. This step requires that we take maror -- lettuce and horseradish -- and put it between two pieces of matzah to make a sandwich. Because the lettuce will be actually touching the matzah, it must be absolutely dry. Many families spend much time preparing the maror for the Seder; these preparations include careful washing of the lettuce, and then very meticulous drying.

Of course, anything to give our wives ourselves more work. Sure it's a sacrifice, but that's what being a pious Jew's wife Jew is all about.

So here's the question: how can one be so concerned with not eating matzah that has come into contact with liquid when...

A- At the same meal, you drink FOUR CUPS OF WINE, and soup, and hopefully a little water,

B- The process of digestion involves everything you've chewed being deposited into LIQUID stomach acid.

If A doesn't make everything you're eating gebrokts, B certainly should.

In conclusion: WHAT?

(I think I just broke Judaism. Sorry.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hametz as a Civil Liberty

There was a recent court decision in Israel to allow the open sale of hametz, or leavened bread products, during the 8-week holiday of Passover. Some people are understandably angry about this:

According to MK Zevulun Orlev (NU/NRP), who was next to address the plenum, "the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public wishes to adhere to the Jewish tradition not only personally but publicly and nationally."

"If only we had no need for a law - that should have been the ideal situation, just like we do not need a Yom Kippur law, a Brit Mila law, and just like there is no law mandating the consumption of matza on Pessah," Orlev said. "The Hametz Law was enacted because people - maybe they were a minority, especially in the Tel Aviv area - were scornful, did not show sensitivity, and served hametz in public."

To which the obvious answer should be- SO WHAT? This is the price of living in a democracy. Yes, even those secular bastards in Tel Aviv are entitled to do as they please.

The Haredi Shas party has responded to this by not only threatening to quit the government (something that is irritating some right-wingers, interestingly enough, as it shows just where Shas' priorities are), but also by promising its constituents that it will work extra-hard to make sure to "sweep out" any pesky civil liberty loopholes out by next year.
Shas leader Eli Yishai on Tuesday announced that by 2009 it will be impossible to sell chametz, speaking only hours after the Attorney General ruled the state will not appeal a Jerusalem court's controversial decision to allow the sale of the foods by certain businesses during the Jewish holiday.

"The People of Israel can relax, by next year it be impossible to sell chametz," said Eli Yishai, who is Employment, Trade and Industry Minister as well as heading the ultra-Orthodox party.
Well I'm sure this is helping someone sleep easier. Presumably, someone with way too much time on his hands.

Proponents of the Hametz law are basically taking three approaches. The first, in what is unfortunately becoming all too common, is threatening violence. Because, of course, at this time of great joy, remembrance, and Jewish unity, the best way to show all us sinners the errors of our ways is to burn garbage cans and throw rocks. (One Reform rabbi is trying to spin this positively; I'll wait and see what happens to the businesses that refuse the polite letter.)

The second is to bemoan the good old days when the quasi-Marxist elites of Israel still enforced a status-quo which didn't challenge the religious mores as overtly as they do now. Rabbi Berel Wein leads the way:
There were certain norms of respect that once governed Israeli society, even though that society was perhaps even more secular in lack of observance and in its anti-religious ideology than it is today.

Marxism was a powerful influence in the Jewish world then as was its attendant atheism. Nevertheless the general consensus was a modicum of respect towards traditional Jewish norms that prevailed.

Maybe it was nostalgia or just good hardheaded common sense that the climate in the country reflected a Yom Kippur without traffic, Pesach without public displays of chametz, and Tisha B’Av without restaurants being open for business.

Such was the climate of the times – not one of religious observance but rather one of respect for Jewish history and tradition and for the great section of Israeli society who held these concepts and observances dear.

But the estrangement of Israeli society to this type of public climate has been taking place gradually over the past few decades. Respect for tradition and knowledge of the Jewish past are certainly not emphasized and in many cases not even taught in the Israeli public educational system.

Religious Jews are demonized, albeit subtly but nevertheless constantly, in the main media channels. Sensitivities to neighbors and fellow citizens have become non-existent. Public Shabbat desecration abounds and no one takes into account the damage - spiritual, social, and generational that springs from this.

The climate has changed – no respect for tradition or our past or for the sensitivities of a large and ever growing section of Israeli society is present.

So it is not the individual issue of a public display chametz on Pesach that is so hurtful. It is rather the indication of how severely the climate regarding Jewish tradition has changed. There are many Jews who are not observant but who nevertheless respect the prohibition of chametz on Pesach.

What R. Wein forgets is that much of this status-quo had less to do with ACTUAL respect for Orthodox traditions and customs and more to do with patronizing and courting political support. Much of Israel's old guard were die-hard secularists who were downright antagonistic to religion precisely because of experiences back in the old country, and were either first or second generation departees from Orthodoxy.

Furthermore, there is no reason why my respect of someone else's method of observing a holiday demands driving hametz underground. I can respect what YOU do without doing it myself, or requiring that a third party be forced to go along with what we're both doing (will we mandate seder attendance next?). Same for Shabbat observance- you're in shul all day, what do you care what I'm doing? And why should respect always flow one way- you have religious MKs calling this decision "liberal terrorism." What about respecting the right to civil disagreement, or personal freedom? It's the religious parties who want to legislate behavior here, not the other way around. You can't legislate respect.

The third is just to be pissy:

This week every radio talk show in Israel and every newpaper discussed the “hametz” law. I was surprised no one made a point that I often make when there is a charge of religious coercion: In Switzerland it is against the law to wash your car or hang laundry on Sunday. You get fined! But how come no one calls that ‘religious coercion” ?

Maybe if anyone gave a crap about Switzerland...

And pissier:

Anything to show America and Europe that they are like “everyone else” and disregard religion, because it is “archaic and out of date”, they are more “enlightened and know better”. This is probably the furthest the “High Court” has gotten as far as Torah is concerned. Now we know where we are headed….

And even-pissier:
Israel is a Jewish nation. If someone wants to eat Chametz on Pesach or purchase Pork they should chose a different place to live. If they are living in Israel, they need to respect the laws, culture and tradition of the nation.

I am sure there will be large demonstrations in front of any business selling Chometz, and I am sure that those businesses will be boycotted completely. But, all we need, really is one person standing outside these establishments on Hol Homoed with a cell-phone camera to photograph every person going in and out. Then, those photos should be posted on the internet, the patrons should be identified, and if any of the patrons of these establishments are in the process of conversion, or if they have come to Israel under the Law of Return, the should have their citizenship and/or conversion immediately revoked.

They must be cut off from the Jewish people.
Hey genius, maybe some people want to live in a different kind of Israel, one that doesn't mandate that everybody follow theocratic laws. Israel was built on the backs of its pioneers, religious AND secular. Come on, you're talking about photographing people eating BREAD like they were walking into freaking whorehouses and trying to get them deported. It's not crack, it's freaking BREAD!!

I'm sorry guys, you live in a democracy. People have the right to eat whatever they want. If you want them to not be jackasses about it, try asking them nicely instead of insulting or threatening them. And before you chalk this all up to me being a heretic and all, here are a bunch of more religious folks (relative to me, anyway) who agree with me.

R. David Hartman:

One is caught in this dilemma. I can appreciate the aversion people have for legislating religious principles. I appreciate the feeling of some that the government should not enter into your own private spiritual domain and dictate to you what you can and cannot eat on Pesach. Freedom of religion or non-religion is an option that should be decided by the individual and not by the legislative power of the Knesset.

On the other hand, if we are interested in some shared, collective space that mediates some flavor of Jewishness and gives a Jewish quality to our public life, then it is the role of the Knesset to establish the minimum conditions that would give expression to our Jewish historical heritage.

Should Jewishness be legislated or should it be the result of a personal freedom of choice?

Friend of the blog Antigonos, who, questionable culinary taste aside, makes some excellent points about personal freedom:

...the head of one of the most religious political parties has now declared that he intends to seek a law forbidding the sale of chametz absolutely, making it impossible for even a Moslem or a Christian to have a felafel in a pita too.

...Dear Mr. Yishai: No damn government is going to tell me whether I may eat chametz or not. Get a law passed prohibiting the sale or display of all chametz, and there will be bread on my Seder table (if only for show)! With "friends" like you, attempting to force observance by coercion, we ordinary Jews don't need don't need any other enemies. Please go count your tzitzit, or something, and stay out of my kitchen. I don't force you to eat treif, don't force me to eat matzah (which, by the way, I love).

Another FOTB, Xyre:
The Israeli Haredi establishment won’t be satisfied until every square inch of Israel is a theocracy, and the men in black hats have all the power. Like Iran, but Jewish. People should have the right to buy, sell, and eat what they want during Passover. Just because some three-thousand-year-old law says you shouldn’t eat hametz, that means everybody in the country must be prohibited from it? Passover is about freedom. This includes the freedom not to give a damn about old laws and customs.

...I’m glad for the judicial ruling that recognizes that if people—Jews—want to sell and buy hametz during Passover, they have every right to do so. This is victory for rationality, consideration, and tolerance, and against caving to the Haredim and surrendering personal choice to the theocracy that some Jews are intent on creating in Israel. People have rights, including the right not to observe old (and frankly, quite silly) traditions.

I don't hate Passover. I don't hate religious Jews. I understand that some of them are very upset by a Jewish state that doesn't seem to care about enforcing Jewish law. But the laws of the State of Israel are not the same as Jewish law, and not banning hametz does not infringe on religious Jews' rights to practice their religion. One blogger says the loss of the hametz law paves the way towards the final split of the Jewish people in Israel:

You want stores to have the right to sell chametz on Passover. For seven simple days, you cannot stand the idea of going without bread. You’ll follow your carbohydrates-free diet all year long, but on Passover, woe unto those who dare to deny you the right to buy pita.

For the right to buy some rolls and noodles, you will turn your back on my beliefs. No, I don’t expect you to believe, but would it be so costly for you to honor my right to my beliefs?

...Ultimately, the sale of chametz products in Israel means another desecration of what sets us apart from the rest of the world; what makes us a unique Jewish State. It will not impact on the ability to keep kosher for any religious Jew. All it will do is show us, once again, how far apart Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are – and even more importantly, it will convince those of us with orange hearts that it is useless to believe that we can ever really be one nation.

There was a civil war after the evacuation of Gush Katif. It did not play out in violence as the media and the left so gleefully predicted. It took place in the hearts and souls of those on the right. We surrender. Eat your chametz on Passover and shop on our Sabbath. Desecrate the laws of the Torah if you will and cry about your right to eat pita for those precious 7 days of the year. But what you have lost, the cost of buying that chametz will be in the millions of dollars those stores will lose from religious customers. It is our right to buy OUR pita where we will.

Go ahead, refuse to buy wine from the Golan Heights and honey from the Shomron. Don’t buy products produced in Ariel or those made in Maale Adumim. And we, in turn, will refuse to buy from stores open on Shabbat and those who sell chametz on Passover –and we will all be poorer for the experience.

But even more important than the monetary issues is the fact that you will lose our hearts, our determination to be one with the nation you want to maintain. We will not join a country that would desecrate what we value most – all for a loaf of bread, one time per year. We cannot be part of the Israel you are trying to build because it runs against everything that we believe in – a land that we hold not by the might of the army, but by the right of all that we are, all that we have survived as a people.

What is the cost of selling chametz on Passover? Far greater than Israel can afford to pay.

I acknowledge this woman's pain, but her personal anguish and anxiety seems to be clouding her identification over exactly which party is being wronged here. There is no legitimate reason to FORCE other people to observe Passover the way SHE thinks it should be properly observed. Furthermore, she does not need a LAW to either: A- celebrate her holiday the way she wants to, or even, B- to encourage others to NOT do things she'd rather they didn't. No, you SHOULDN'T get to deny people their bread products, anymore than they should get to deny you your right to eat kosher food or wear traditional clothing. It's your RIGHT to do those things, and its their right to eat whatever on earth they want.

Which leaves us with Conservative Rabbi Reuven Hammer's thoughts:

The tragic reality is that these religious-political leaders do not realize that the more laws they enact the more they alienate so-called secular Jews from Judaism. The more they rant and rave against secular Jews, the less chance they have of creating an atmosphere in which Judaism, Jewish values and Jewish observances will be honored and even followed by the population at large. The more coercion is brought to bear in religious matters, the more the population will rebel against it and revile Judaism.

Rather than spending their energy in trying to enforce unenforceable laws of dubious value, true religious leaders - as opposed to political leaders wrapped in the cloak of religion - would spend their time teaching and demonstrating the beauties of Judaism. Instead they are busy demonstrating the exact opposite. They use their political leverage to wrest vast sums of money from the government, i.e. from the pockets of the taxpayers, to support thousands who will not serve their country in the army or any other way, thereby creating hatred among the secular. They bring disrespect upon Judaism - and desecrate God's name - by sending to the Knesset those who end up in jail for flaunting the very laws of the Torah they pretend to represent.

Every time a religious leader stands up in the Knesset or elsewhere and spouts nonsense such as the speech we recently heard about homosexuals being responsible for earthquakes or faulty mezuzot bringing on terrorist attacks, every time we hear religious people denouncing the government, the courts, the police and whatever as illegitimate, more and more people are turned away from Judaism.

Former Meretz MK and Israel Prize winner for law scholarship Amnon Rubinstein agrees:

The great majority of Israeli Jews want to remain Jewish and would like their offspring not only to stay within the Jewish people but also know more about their heritage. This is why the great majority would opt for Jewish marriages, even if one day civil marriage is introduced. In the same way, they continue to circumcise their male babies - although this should have logically been the most difficult of rites to observe - and to be buried under rabbinical auspices. But when there is an attempt to force on them religious law through secular parliamentary exercises, many rebel.

I am not religious, but out of a mixture of sentiments - including irrational ones - I observe certain traditions. This is why I do not eat hametz on Passover and enjoy matzot throughout the holiday. But I do recognize the right of others to eat and buy whatever they like. This is the substantive meaning of democracy, and this is why, to people like me, Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, notwithstanding the post-Zionist mumbo-jumbo to the contrary.

Indeed. If people on the right are really so concerned about what their fellow Jews are eating, they should be spending energy making them WANT to follow the holiday, to want to at least make an effort. Don't legislate it, and don't demean people that don't want to do it the way you do. It will have the opposite effect, turn them off even more from Judaism and holiday observance, and create ever-more resentment between the two groups.

Any religious practice that can only be enforced through coercion isn't worth enforcing. Such a move is a failure of both religion and democracy, both of which should be voluntary by nature. Passover is the most widely observed holiday in the entire Jewish world. Allowing some supermarkets to sell bread will not stop this. But legislating people's personal rights and freedoms will leave a bad taste in their mouths for years to come. And I'm not just talking about the matzah.

Battle of the Haggadahs: The Revenge

Slate decided to reprint Mark Oppenheimer's rant about how having too many different Haggadot at Passover ruins the unity and uniformity of the holiday. It was stupid then, and still is. Oppenheimer's argument basically boiled down to, "My version of cultural Judaism is about bubbe, zayde, and Bernard Malamud," not, heaven forbid, mixing goyishe politics with the part about how we should all appreciate our freedom- wouldn't want things to get too relevant, after all.

Oppenheimer's article also included a loving tribute to the most staid of Haggadot, the Maxwell House Haggadah.

I think the best response to this attitude was from Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, via Velveteen Rabbi:
I am here to free you from the Maxwell House Haggadah, to free you in your Pesach celebration!
...But you are not just free to use better Haggadahs, (the ones with good translations and more openness), you are also free to use the material as a jumping-off point for playing, for elaboration. Like the Siddur, the Haggadah is a kind of a cookbook filled with recipes. You can’t eat a cookbook, even ones with the tastiest, the most nourishing recipes. You must do the cooking to turn recipes to dishes. And it’s similar with the Haggadah: You make the words three-dimensional, four-dimensional. Every Seder you have is a different way to bring the words off the page with different “spices,” different life-conditions.

Amen. Oppenheimer's entitled to want to use as many Maxwell Houses as he wants (take ours, we got them free from the supermarket), complete with weird, old-style Ashkenazi transliteration, (who writes hadlik as "had-leek", or "Adir Hu" as "A-deer hu"?) and those iconic (boring?) pictures sprinkled around ever-so-slightly. Enjoy. But there's no reason to discount what everybody else is doing as invalid just because you want stay cloistered in the land of coffee-scented Haggadot.

BZ from Jewschool also found Oppenheimer's pooh-poohing infuriating:

I think his diagnosis is completely backwards. Oppenheimer suggests that the diversity of creative haggadot can be attributed to the Jews who are primarily “secular Americans” and feel “unease” around Judaism, and that those who are more secure in their Jewish identies will opt instead for the unadorned Maxwell House. On the contrary: “Secular Americans” who have a minimal connection to Judaism but nonetheless attend a seder out of nostalgia or ethnic identification are more likely to, like Oppenheimer, read the Maxwell House from rote, while those who make Judaism more a part of their year-round lives are more likely to add layers of meaning on top of the traditional haggadah text, whether by using a creative haggadah or simply by making discussion an important part of their seder.

Pretty much.

For the curious, here are some segments from my own Haggadah. Needless to say, it's a bit more, shall we say, Leitzniyut than Mr. Oppenheimer or the Maxwell crowd might approve of.

The Seder Plate
You may have noticed that our main platter looks weird. We assure you, we did not steal it from a cafeteria. The Seder Plate is used to hold the six depressing symbols of the meal. As we explain what these are, please remember that yes, Passover is supposed to be a happy holiday. Just… give us a few minutes.
The symbols on the seder plate are:
  1. Z’ro’a, a roasted lamb bone, usually a shank bone, a symbol of the lamb sacrifice that used to be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem at this time, then roasted and eaten with the meal. Traditionally, the function of the bone was to remind the Jews that their seders were not complete while they were still in exile. Some might choose to see the bone as a symbol for anything missing or incomplete in their own lives. (Vegetarians sometimes use beets, which isn’t nearly as cool.)
  1. Karpas, a green vegetable. This is dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears of the Hebrews in Egypt. As if slavery wasn’t depressing enough, now you get to eat tears.
  1. Haroset, a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, wine and spices. It is a symbol of the mortar and bricks made by the Hebrews as slaves. Tastes slightly better than it looks (and sounds).
  1. Beitzah, a roasted egg, another piece of food we can’t eat because there’s no Temple. (To compensate, we have prepared a whole bushel of hard-boiled eggs. Take that, you stuck-up egg!)
  1. Maror, bitter herbs, usually Romaine lettuce or horseradish, to symbolize the bitterness of slavery. Slavery is sad, but watching people eat maror is pretty darn funny.
  1. Hazeret, extra maror for the korech sandwich, one of the weirdest sandwiches you will ever see (but more on that later).

The “Four” Questions and their Misleading Answers: A Smart-Ass’ commentary
Asking questions is a very old Jewish tradition. Unfortunately, not all good questions always get accurate answers. Even the title “Four Questions” starts things off on the wrong foot by confusing everyone. There is actually only one question, there are four answers, and they are mostly wrong.
How is this night different from all other nights?

  1. On all other nights we eat hametz and matzah. On this night, we only eat matzah.
This, of course, is a lie, because no one ever eats matzah unless forced to.
  1. On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables; on this night, maror.
Not only does horseradish barely count as a vegetable, the Haggadah also seems to be presuming a lot about the Jews’ table habits. Just how many summer salads were there in the ancient world?
  1. On all other nights we do not dip our food even once; on this night, twice.
Apparently no one told the Haggadah about chips and salsa. Or pita and humus.
  1. On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining; on this night we all recline.
Only those of us privileged enough to have personal Roman orgy couches. The rest will have to make do with the floor or by slouching on chairs. Sorry.

Maybe tomorrow I'll post my version of the Exodus story.