Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not so Nobel Criticism (A longish post, sorry)

I admit it, I thought the Nobel was silly, too. So did plenty of other libs. But even sillier than the Norwegians' sudden urge to worship Obama as the Christ to Bush's anti-Christ (or, if Bill O'Reilly is right about Scandinavia these days, the anti-Christ to Bush's Christ) was the hysterical conservative reaction. Case in point, the psychos at World Net Daily.

Pat Buchanan chided the Nobel folks for "meddling in the internal affairs of the United States."

They have reinforced the impression that Obama is someone who is forever being given prizes—Ivy League scholarships, law review editorships, prime-time speaking slots at national conventions—he did not earn. They have put him under moral pressure to mollify a pacifist left. They have brought him to the point, dangerous in politics, where a man becomes the butt of reflexive jokes, as did Bill Clinton in the Monica affair.

The irony, of course, being that it is people like Buchanan who have been yelling about all the supposed honors Obama has supposedly not earned, and which in any case must only have happened due to his skin color, not any actual effort or merit (Buchanan's column is titled, "The Affirmative Action Nobel." Classy and a red herring! Nice job, Pat.) Incidentally, since the Nobel is awarded to people taking an active role in either their local communities or on a national/global scale, and since (post-1974) it's only given to people who are, you know, alive, under Pat's logic is there any scenario where giving the prize to someone would not constitute a potential "interference" in a country's affairs? I mean, not everyone liked Mandela or Rabin or Arafat, either. Being influential often means being controversial as well. The suggestion that the Nobel people inserted themselves into our "national conversation" by giving the Prize to a sitting President is a total non-sequiteur. The same thing happened when they gave it to Wilson and T.R. The real problem here is that it shows the committee to be ridiculously political and to have myopic vision, not that it's going to have far-reaching effects on how Americans see Obama. He's gotten far more lasting reactions (good and bad) for half a dozen speech sound bites during the last two years. Nice attempt at pretending to feel sorry for how hard this is going to make things for Obama, Pat, but I'm not buying it. This is silly, but far from a political albatross.

In the meantime, pro-life warhorse Jill Stanek, who is nothing if not, um, focused, in her weekly attempts to make every issue somehow come back to abortion, fumed that the prize went to Obama, rather than someone she felt to be far more worthy:

That the Nobel Peace Prize committee would honor this prenatal baby terrorist is insane, but this wasn't its trip around the bend.

Oh please, genteel GOPers, do remind me again about how liberals are destroying respectful social discourse.

In 2007 the Nobel Peace Prize committee snubbed nominee Irena Sendler to bestow its award to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President Al Gore.

You may never have heard of Irena Sendler, whose humanitarian carbon footprint has been largely hidden under a bushel.

Sendler was a Polish Catholic social worker who during World War II daringly and repeatedly risked her life to save 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Unfortunately, since the Nobel Peace Prize may only be awarded to living people, the committee cannot correct itself, since Sendler died seven months after being bypassed, at the age of 98.

Also Obama's fault, clearly. Doesn't he have anything better to do than to go to Poland and start killing its old grandmothers, too?

Here's where Stanek crosses from jerk into jackass territory:

So Irena Sendler, responsible for saving the lives of thousands of children during the Jewish Holocaust, does not win the Nobel Peace Prize, and Barack Obama, responsible for the deaths of thousands – perhaps millions of children during the Abortion Holocaust, does.

Oh yeah, that's a totally fair and accurate comparison to lay at the Nobel Committee's-- and Obama's-- feet. So apparently the take-home message from all of this is that the Nobel people love abortion and hate Holocaust Good Samaritans. I sure am glad we cleared that up. Oh, and the dual use of "Holocaust?" Brilliant, and in excellent taste. I'm sure Sendler would love you exploiting her war experiences and the suffering of, I don't know, everyone around you to make a cheap political point. Bravo.

Last but still stupid, Dennis Prager decided to whip out his trusty fake philosophy professor tone (with a heavy dose of Dennis telepathy) to demonstrate all the ways in which the Nobel Committee people are totally a bunch of poopy-heads.

They may be moral idiots, but they are not stupid: I believe that they had two clear aims.

One is to undercut American exceptionalism – the notion that America has a superior moral value system to that of the "world" (specifically the United Nations and the European Union) and America's willing to use its unique power, alone when necessary, in accordance with that value system. The other is to promote an essentially pacifist agenda.

Dennis may be right about the pacifism issue (in a very general way, you know, the only way Dennis is ever right about things) but the exceptionalism thing is silly. The approximately 50% of the American population that still believes that America is "the best country in the history of countries" with a specific destiny to be a super-power and which has the best moral compass on earth which can never go wrong are hardly going to have their minds changed by a bunch of goofs in Norway. And the rest of the population stopped believing that simplistic (and just plain incorrect) claptrap a long time ago and has diligently been teaching the next generations that, yeah, actually, America's done (and still does) plenty of things to disprove the notion that we are perfect, sinless, God-created angels and that our geopolitical power is somehow an indication of a special moral vision that leads us along.

Dennis then fisks the Nobel announcement. This post is already too long and it would be too confusing to fisk a fisking, but the gist seems to be that Dennis is mad because the Nobel people seem to like the UN and dislike nuclear weapons. He tosses in a Churchill-Chamberlin-Hitler reference just for fun. The one area Dennis actually tries for some substance instead of Norway-bashing is when he claims Obama's administration has not been as friendly to democratic movements worldwide as it could have been.

Under Barack Obama, the United States has not been the friend of democrats around the world. America has responded weakly to the democratic movement in Iran, ended the funding of the largest pro-Iranian human rights groups in America, pressured democratic Israel, made overtures to Hugo Chavez while denying American ally and pro-democratic Colombia a free-trade agreement, abandoned Honduran anti-Chavez democrats, and has obsequiously deferred to Vladimir Putin.

Some of Dennis' facts are right here, but others are being tilted. Obama's Iran policy has clearly been to try to prod the regime towards the bargaining table, and unfortunately it looks like they're willing to sacrifice dissidents and watchdogs to try to coerce the "moderates" in power to not get riled up against them. On the other hand, as much as Dennis might like to pretend otherwise, Obama's pressure on Israel has faded fast, as Barry Rubin noted a few weeks ago:

To this day, the US government under Obama has not taken a single material step against Israel and no such development seems to be on the horizon either.

So, nice try, Dennis, but no dice.

On Honduras things are trickier; Zelaya doesn't seem to be great (especially with that anti-Israel rant a while back) but neither are military coups or holding last-minute sessions of Congress (without everyone there, no less) to make the whole thing nice and (technically) legal. When not a single country in the world has been willing to recognize the new government of a country after a coup, that may be a sign that not everything is coming up roses. For god's sake, not even a significant number of Congressional Republicans are even pretending to care about the anti-Zelaya government-- a House Resolution supporting the Micheletti government and condemning Zelaya's return only has 32 co-sponsors: a scant one-fifth of the House Republicans. The Senate doesn't even seem to have heard about it. Don't bitch about Obama not supporting Micheletti when the Republicans won't.

Now, I know Dennis is pissy because he thinks Zelaya is too buddy-buddy with Hugo Chavez (which seems to be the biggest anti-Zelaya talking point floating out there), but if you really care about democracy in Honduras the answer should be to hold new and fair elections, not support a government that just randomly installed itself and has already been accused of human rights abuses without even being in power for four months. Not such a good start.

Admittedly, Chavez is a jerk but I haven't noticed Obama getting in line to give ol' Hugo foot massages. And they don't seem to be on the same page when it comes to this international socialism takeover thing. The Columbia thing I admit to not knowing a damn thing about, though since Dennis is including it in his Al Cheit list for Obama I'm going to assume he's somehow blowing it out of proportion.

Last, when it comes to Putin, again, Obama may not be great, but really, how can conservatives even pretend to have a leg to stand on with this when Bush spent years dying to get BFF bracelets with the guy?

Last bit:

9. "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

Meaning: With Barack Obama, we in Europe finally have an opportunity to end American exceptionalism.

The Oslo committee's view is, tragically, true. Thanks to Barack Obama, America is for the first time is aligning its values with those of "the majority of the world's population." If you think the world's population has had better values than America, that it has made societies that are more open, free and tolerant than American society, and that it has fought for others' liberty more than America has, you should be delighted.

Take that, the world!

Hey Dennis, what if you think the construct that "America's values" and "the world's values" are necessarily polar opposites is moronic? America is PART of the world, bozo. It's logical that there should be some issues we can come to a global consensus on (child hunger: bad), and others where national, cultural, or social priorities affect what side people support (ex: some people in Africa don't mind the moral issues of conflict diamonds because they help them make money. Some people in America don't mind the moral issues of supporting Saudi Arabia because they help THEM make money). By continuing to hold onto his dopey exceptionalism argument, Dennis require America to stand alone in opposition to everyone else, which is particularly silly when America's history clearly demonstrates plenty of occasions where we have hardly been pillars of moral excellence when compared to our global peers. Before the American Revolution, Scandinavians had already had democratic institutions for 1,000 years. England ended slavery over thirty years before America. It passed --and enforced-- child labor laws almost 100 years before us. As far as I can find, France never had a signle anti-miscegenation law on its books. Mexico gave its Indians full citizenship and rights in 1821, again, almost 100 years before us. Exactly how many examples do you need?

Get over it, Dennis. We are not a god-blessed snowflake. We are a real country with real needs, problems, and challenges, one of which has been how to balance our own interests (however broadly or narrowly defined) with our values. The fact that you'd like to believe we're a light unto the nations doesn't make it so, just like the fact that you'd like to paint every other country as either evil or complicit with evil doesn't make that reality, either.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jack Wertheimer: Broken Record Extraordinaire

Ol' Jack, longtime faculty member at Conservative JTS, can always be counted on for a good verbal thrashing of his liberal comrades. That's fine, and probably necessary. What becomes tiring, though, is that Jack can only play one tune: namely, that liberal Judaism (broadly defined) is doomed because it promotes assimilation and intermarriage.

Early this month, while a lot of liberal Jews were yelling about that stupid Masa ad that suggested that assimilated American Jews were "just like" kidnapped children or missing people and therefore needed to have their pictures tacked up on telephone poles and milk cartons (cute), Jack stood up as the lonely defender of... well, that part wasn't quite clear.

While the ad may have been clumsy in its execution, its central point is essentially correct: Large numbers of Jews around the world are disconnected from any Jewish communal activities.

...Is there any reason to doubt that the Jewish people is suffering an erosion of its engaged membership? In the case of American Jews, we now lack an up-to-date national survey with precise numbers (or a national leadership sufficiently interested in basing its policies on hard data to produce one), but there is ample evidence of large declines in the numbers of Jews who participate in organized Jewish life in recent decades.

...So why, then, if there is a large kernel of truth to its claims, did the Masa ad elicit such a sharp reaction? In large part, it is because it was inferred that the 50% assimilation figure the ad cited refers to intermarriage rates, which in the United States reached that level in the late 1990s. Critics contend that the ad — though it does not actually mention the word “intermarriage” — gives offense to the children of Jews who intermarry, by implying that they are somehow “lost.” Many children of intermarriage, these critics note, are raised as Jews and go on to identify strongly with the Jewish people. This is, of course, true — but only up to a point. Unfortunately, this optimistic reading describes only a minority of intermarried families. The majority of intermarried families raise their children in a faith other than Judaism or in two faiths or no faith at all; not surprisingly, when they reach adulthood, most of those offspring do not identify as Jews.

Got all that? Jack admits we don't have any recent data to confirm the supposed dramatic ill-effects of assimilation, but darn it, his gut tells him it can't be good for the Jews. I love when imaginary statistics I just made up totally sync up with my personal opinions. Well, at least 85% of the time I do.

Few would dispute that the Jewish community has a far better chance of retaining the allegiance of individuals raised in homes in which both parents are Jewish than in those where one parent identifies with a different religion.

What is the evidence that this is the case for the majority of intermarried families, as opposed to those who have one Jewish parent and one parent who is agnostic/ambivalent about their own tradition, but for whatever reason don't feel comfortable with conversion to Judaism? I've got news for you, Jack, the really committed Christians aren't the ones marrying Jews.

Indeed, wherever Jews are a minority community, intermarriage is a major factor in the contraction of the Jewish population. How, then, does it serve Jewish group interests to silence all discussion about the relationship between intermarriage and assimilation?

First of all, I don't see anyone arguing that these discussions should be silenced, least of all the people from intermarried families. If anything, I think people in intermarriages or who have intermarried parents would like to be acknowledged within our communities and stop being treated as though having only one Jewish parent either makes them invisible or less worthy of belonging to our illustrious Klal.

Furthermore, the biggest problem with Masa's ad was not that it raised controversial questions, but that it did this is a sensationalist, simplistic and denigrating way, which created far more anger and outrage than it did intelligent dialogue. Masa couldn't have better sabotaged a reasonable discussion about this topic if it tried.

Conveniently, Masa's problem is also Wertheimer's problem. Convinced that intermarriage and assimilation are the biggest dangers to Judaism and the Jewish population-- rather than signs that the real enemies, alienation and apathy, are not being confronted effectively by Jewish leaders-- his position has long been to consign tens of thousands of Jews, halachic or otherwise, to the dustbin and writes them off as statistical losses, rather than, you know, people. After all, people are unpredictable. People can have all sorts of reasons for making their decisions. People can also change their minds or their personal practice. In short, people are messy, which screws up Jack's awesome Powerpoint graph about how intermarriage will lead to the non-Orthodox community being populated solely by Conservative rabbis and their halachically-converted pets by the year 2045.

Intermarriage is not in of itself a problem. It is, potentially, an opportunity. What folks like Wertheimer fail to note is that an intermarriage is still a statement of affiliation, even if only in a minor way. By choosing to intermarry, rather than convert, a Jew may be showing that Judaism is still important to them (or that they aren't interested in converting to something else), regardless of which tribe their spouse was born into. That's a heck of a lot more of an opening than someone who converts to another religion and explicitly agrees to not identify as Jewish or to raise Jewish children.

With the right combination of a welcoming community, access to quality Jewish services and education and encouragement and support from their parents, there are strong motivators for children with one Jewish parent to identify as Jewish, be interested and involved in Jewish organizations and causes, and be Jewishly knowledgeable and literate. What more could a bubbe want?

More Jack here. Apparently he's still anti-intermarriage, one whole month later. I know, I'm shocked too. At least here he gives a stastic: apparently 35% of intermarried Jews raise their kids in another religion. Of course, he doesn't explain the degree or context in which this "raising" occurs-- are we talking Christmas trees or catechisms? In a large way it's irrelevant, though, because that means that a giant number-- almost two-thirds-- aren't raising their kids in another faith, which means that they should be strongly welcomed in the Jewish community, not turned away for daring to date outside the eruv (forgive my horribly mixed metaphors).

It's not so much Jack's bad logic that bugs me, it's the fact he's been beating this dead horse for years. And years. Evanston Jew's two-and-a-half-year-old post hits the nail on the head with its first two sentences:

Jack Wertheimer, the Provost of JTS has been writing for the last twenty years on the theme of the sky is falling. In the June 2006 issue of Commentary, he slugs away once again at his favorite thesis, the oncoming demise of American Jewry.

Seriously, Jack, if assimilation is your pet issue, fine, but can't you find a more interesting way to yelp about it?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Joseph Farah takes a stand for Biblical accuracy... almost

It seems Joe's still got a bee in his bible, but at least now he's annoyed about conservatives messing with it. Seems Andy Schlafly, former resident of Phyllis Schlafly's womb and the driving force behind Conservapedia (I've spent, literally, tens of minutes perusing their many offerings, most of which focus on Wikipedia being biased, Liberals and Marxists being synonymous, and Christianity being, like, totally awesome) has crossed a line by creating a new wiki endeavor: The Conservative Bible Project.

As Religion Dispatches put it:

Is Schlafly a profoundly cynical politician, attempting to manipulate religion in a way that would put Machiavelli and Karl Rove to shame? Or does he truly believe that the Bible has been tainted by “liberalism” for over a thousand years?

Farah, to his credit, points out the silliness of Schlafly selectively editing the text to fit with his own preconceptions of what Jesus "must have meant," or just trying to avoid things that make him feel not-quite-fuzzy inside (apparently wine is out, grape juice in. I guess the Last Supper consisted of Welch's and graham crackers. Incidentally, on a list of things to be squicked out by, I'd say crucifixion is way, way, further up there than Bible people drinking wine. Just saying.)

It's a good thing we have intellectually-honest Joe in our corner. Just watch as he takes Schlafly down:

Basically, those "conservatives" participating in this idea weren't really upset when liberals messed with the Holy Scriptures. They were upset only with how they messed with them.

I'm almost too embarrassed to write about this kind of trivialization and politicization of the Scriptures, but something needs to be said.

Either the Bible is the Word of God, or it's not.

If it is, how dare anyone rewrite it?

If it's not, why bother?

This is soooo close to having an honest discussionI practically can't stand it. Good thing Joe comes in for the save with the next line.

Personally, I am very comfortable with the King James Bible.

Yeah, nothing says "Don't mess with the Word of God" like smushing two separate canons (in two different languages) together, half-assedly translating the whole thing into English several thousand years after the fact and poking and prodding the wording and grammar to make it fit in with a belief system that didn't even exist when the books were written. It's called integrity, people, look it up!

I know how scrupulous the translators were. I know they spent hours in prayer over their work. I know they used the best resources available to them.

Really? The best resources, you say? And yet they couldn't be bothered to, say, ask a Jew for some clarification on the difference between almah and bethulah? Wait, were Jews still banned from England at this point? Someone help me out.

I know they didn't assume that the "oldest" manuscripts available were always the most accurate. I know they took into consideration that heretics were busy editing Scripture – probably as early as the first century.

Yeah, and since those heretics had corrupted everything by messing with those "earlier" manuscripts, they were practically forced to arbitrarily pick the ones they liked best and act as if they were the only authorized texts! In fact, if you think about it, the whole thing was probably planned by God, that's just the sort of wacky thing he'd do. Just like when he hides fake fossils to test our faith with evolution.

Enough of this foolishness!

Hear, hear.

Rewriting the Bible to fit man's ideas is always a bad idea – no matter who the man is or what his beliefs.

Now, would that apply to say, King James?

It's also a profoundly dangerous practice spiritually.

Got that, everybody but 5,000 year old Jews? Cut it out!

There's certainly nothing "conservative" about rewriting the Bible. The "conservative" thing to do would be to preserve, or conserve, the Scriptures as they were originally written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

To the Genizah!

A plague on the houses of anyone and everyone who would tamper so frivolously with God's Word.

Very good, Mr. Farah. Now, would that be frogs or boils for you tonight?

Edit: And it gets worse. Isn't it cute how Joe is railing against any that would deviate from the holy of holy KJV? Well then, why exactly was he pimping the Geneva Bible a scant two and a half years ago?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Silly Post up

Over at Pro Israel Bay Bloggers.

While you're there, check out my first one back in August. What's that, you say? Pseudo-pro-Israel advocacy and the opportunity to be a dick? Birthright needs to get on this.

We are the Lunkheads, Mighty Mighty Lunkheads...

Joseph Farah is a Bible-believing Christian. He's such a good Christian that he considers it his Christ-ley duty to turn his nose up at any new-fangled Biblical criticism. Take this new theory from a Old Testament scholar in the Netherlands.

Professor Ellen van

Wolde, described as "a respected Old Testament scholar and author" in the London Telegraph, claims the first sentence of Genesis – "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" – is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

"She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world – and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals," the report says.

How this little morsel has eluded scholars for the past 3,000 years was not explained.

First of all, Jo-Jo, the fact that something has eluded earlier biblical scholarship doesn't necessarily disprove it. Plenty of interesting tidbits have become lost, forgotten or censored over the years-- see the Cairo genizah, for instance. Of course, what Farah is really sniffing at is the suggestion that his view of Genesis might be wrong-- or even worse, that it might be open to interpretation. For the record, the concept of the Old Testament God liking to sort and separate stuff (kosher and treif, Jews and Gentiles, whatever the hell shatnez is about) is hardly new. Mary Douglas pointed this out decades ago. None of this proves van Wolde's theory, of course, and I don't know enough Hebrew to evaluate her claim either way. Then again, I'm pretty sure Farah doesn't, either. Luckily that won't stop him from bashing the prof.

Van Wolde boasts of having once worked with Italian novelist Umberto Eco, best known for his books "The Name of the Rose" and "Foucalt's Pendulum," which has been described as a "thinking person's 'Da Vinci Code.'" If those aren't qualifications to revise the Bible, I don't know what is.

She worked with Emberto Eco! A-ha! That proves that she... hates God? Or something? Also, I'm just guessing here, but I'd be willing to bet that her qualifications for her thesis probably have to do with, I don't know, having an advanced degree in biblical studies, doing years of research, actually speaking the language she's discussing, little things like that. Incidentally, Joe, how many PhDs in Biblical studies do you have? What's that? I can't hear you too well through this wooden baseball bat I'm smacking you with.

Farah tries to suggest that Van Wolde is just another godless academic trying to destroy religion, when actually the Telegraph article he plagiarizes from points out that her real point is to clarify the vision of exactly who God is and what his role should be understood as being:

[Van Wolde's] analysis showed that the beginning of the Bible was not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a narration.

...She said she hoped that her conclusions would spark "a robust debate", since her finds are not only new, but would also touch the hearts of many religious people.

She said: "Maybe I am even hurting myself. I consider myself to be religious and the Creator used to be very special, as a notion of trust. I want to keep that trust."

What's that? Nuance? Doubt? An open discussion? Not on Joseph Farah's watch! Break out the snide guns!

She admits that technically "bara" does mean "create" but added: "Something was wrong with the verb."

Got it.

"God did create some things, but not the Heaven and Earth," she says conclusively. "The usual idea of creating-out-of-nothing, creatio ex nihilo, is a big misunderstanding."

Van Wolde added: "The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now."

No word yet on whether Van Wolde and her colleagues are working on revisions of these other Bible passages:

Yes, Joe's not going to bother with actually reading what Van Wolde wrote; instead he's going to play Bible defender by... that's right! Quoting from an English translation of the Bible. And, since this discussion hinges on the integrity of correct Hebrew word meaning and grammar, Farah is making it easy for people to peer-review his work by not citing the translation he's using. (I can't figure it out, it seems to be something close to New American Standard but slightly more old-fashioned... in any event, it sure ain't JPS). This should be good.

  • Psalm 89:12: The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.
  • Genesis 2:4: These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens;
  • Psalm 148:1-5: Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.

  • Isaiah 42:5: Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:

  • Isaiah 45:8: Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

  • Isaiah 45:12: I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.
Now, Farah doesn't really explain how his Bible quotes prove anything, but then again he doesn't seem to actually be arguing anything, so maybe he's smarter than I thought.

But where things get really, really convincing is when Farah switches over to the New Testament.

  • Ephesians 3:9: And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

  • Colossians 1:16: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

  • Revelation 4:11: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

  • Revelation 10:6: And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:

  • Romans 1:25: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

  • 1 Peter 4:19: Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

These quotes, as all bible savants know, are particularly devastating evidence in a debate about the meaning of a Hebrew word, given that the New Testament was written in that special Hebrew dialect known as Greek. Good one Joe.

Ah, Joseph Farah: Culture Warrior, Super-Christian, Anti-Elitist, and Master Lunkhead. Is there anything he can't make an ass of himself over?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Because Inquiring Minds Inquired

Adam asks,

A Friar can be:

"Frei-er", from the Yiddish/German "free", meaning a Jew who has freed himself of his Torah obligations (a heretic, apostate, or more politely, a "secularist")

A Friar can also be a Catholic cleric who dresses in brown robes, takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and religious work for a given community.

Here in Israel, a Friar is slang for a sucker, a chump, a gullible person. (I don't know the origin of this).

or, maybe you just cook strings of potatoes at a fast food restaurant.

So, that is my question - what find of "friar" are you?

Though I do enjoy fried potatoes and have always had a soft spot for Fr. Tuck (see my profile image), I have long considered myself quite "Frei" in the classical Yiddish sense. As one friend explained to me, "If you had gotten a better religious education, you'd be considered an apikoros." Since I had none, I can better be thought of as a "child raised by [Gentile] nations [from infancy]," albeit one who has done a fair amount of remedial extra credit work in the decade-plus since discovering Judaism and Jewish history/culture. Anyone that doubts me can check my bookshelves sagging with Judaica. In fact many of the more pseudo-philosophical ramblings on this blog were originally part of a not-very-well-conceived book project I started in college called "Letters from a Frier Yid." Luckily, English happens to love a pun.

Next, Dan over at "OMGwhere'dmyeyesgo!"questions just how much relevance Poland has after all, in response to my Marek Edelman post.

Maybe Poland has indeed became irrelevant after the Ghetto? Simply, there are almost no Jews left there.

I'm not sure that the issue of Jewish relevance is uniquely, or even primarily, determined by one's Jewish population alone. If we're going to be picky, there are three times more Jews in France than in Boston. Does that mean France's Jewish population is three times as important as Boston? Does it devalue the many accomplishments and innovations that Boston's Jewish community has created over the years? Of course not. Nor, for that matter, does the fact that French Jewry is not as notable on the global Jewish scene as Brooklyn's mean that there is something the matter with Judaism in France.

Simply put, Poland is relevant because of its strong historical connection for millions of American Jews. Poland is, for many of us, "the Old Country," and it was the homeland for generations of our people for over 1,000 years. Poland was the site of great yeshivas, of important Jewish social movements, of financial, technological and scientific innovations in the Jewish community, and so on. Poland was not without its warts, but by and large, when people looked for Jewish success stories in Eastern Europe, they looked to Poland.

The past of the last 1,000 years cannot, and should not, be forgotten, ignored or sidelined because of the most recent 70, especially when Poland is undergoing a slow but enthusiastic Jewish revival movement. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of Poles of Jewish descent, (I found a small branch of distant cousins living in southern Poland a few years ago and hope to visit them in the next year or so) many of whom are becoming interested in learning more about their heritage, and more resources are being put into encouraging Jewish culture, community and learning in Poland now than ever before. There are now foreign rabbis coming to Poland to serve congregants there, running the gamut from Chabad to Reform. There are a small number of synagogues (including one in Oswiecim) slowly growing their communities again, as well as more secular-oriented Jewish social clubs and landsmanschaften. All of these are positive developments and a reason to celebrate that, whatever the old men at your Hebrew school or the shul kiddush klatch may have told you, Poland is more than a Jewish graveyard.

Perhaps even more important in a country where Jews are such a small minority of the population, Christian Poles are becoming more and more interested in Jewish culture-- see for instance Krakow's annual Jewish Culture Festival, which attracts thousands of non-Jewish visitors. These developments are significant, and should be encouraged.

The fact that Poland does not have as large a Jewish population as other places or as sexy or exotic an image as the Jews of India or Uganda does not mean that we should pretend that it doesn't still have something to offer to the global Jewish conversation.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Just How Sick Am I?

An illustrated (fine, hyperlinked) guide:

Saturday: Finished reading Vengeance.

Sunday: Watched Munich for the third time (in three years).

Monday: Started reading Every Spy a Prince.

Monday night: had fun fever dream in which I inducted my class of 4th graders into the Mossad.


"I feel like we've all really started to jell together as a team. This will make future assignments go a lot smoother."

Even sadder-- when I've re-told this story to colleagues I've had to change the Mossad to the CIA so no one thinks I'm too Jew-ey.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Another chapter closes

The world lost a piece of history today. Marek Edelman, the last living leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, died at age 90. Edelman was 23 when he, along with ZOB comrades Mordechai Anielewicz, Yitzhak Zuckerman, Zivia Lubetkin, Simcha Rotem and others (as well as the Revisionist-oriented ZZW) led a revolt against the Nazi forces that held out for five weeks-- longer than the entire Polish army had against the initial German invasion.

Edelman always fascinated me for his iconoclasm. While most of the ZOB leadership were left-wing Zionists ideologically allied with Hashomer Hatzair (survivors Zuckerman and Lubetkin were involved in the Brichah and later went to Israel), Edelman was a member of the Bund (he broke ranks with them to work with the ZOB), later following his socialist convictions by staying in Poland for the rest of his life, where he practiced medicine. Edelman was active in Polish politics for decades, first participating in the Polish Warsaw Uprising of '44, then working with Solidarity and serving in Polish Parliament.

While every other member of the ZOB has been enshrined in mainstream Jewish memory as good, conventional, dedicated Zionists-- continuing the theme that the only smart, tough, fighting Jews are either in, or associated with, Israel, Edelman was the fly in the ointment, showing that tough Jews did not all think alike, and were not all convinced, even after the Warsaw Ghetto, that Poland and the Diaspora were irrelevant to the Jewish experience.

My respects to Edelman's memory and to his family. He was a true hero, showing us all both how to have the courage to fight for our right to exist, and to live according to our own values, regardless of others' thoughts or opinions.

Weird Coincidences, p2

Just what is it with Orthodox Judaism's weird iconography parallels with the Latin Kings? Last week it was the 3-point-crown. Then what should I notice during Yom Kippur while staring at my Artscroll Machzor but this:

Hang on now, a 5-point-crown, too?

This is starting to get a little creepy.

Ok, so what have we learned? Clearly, as the Zohar teaches us, this is a case of "as above, so below." Therefore: Chabad is just like the Puerto Rican faction of the gang, because they're both from New York and maybe slightly past their prime. Artscroll, on the other hand, is a little more mainstream, perhaps a little better known, just like the now ascendant 5-pointer Mexican bangers.

The only question now is: who is going to start going after more turf? My money's on Artscroll, those guys must be raking in paper with all the books they sell. (Sorry guys, but how many copies of Tanya or The Principles of Kingism does one person really need? The key, as Artscroll has discovered, is to diversify.)

Polanski and the Culture War

I feel very conflicted about Roman Polanski's being arrested. Not because his crime wasn't reprehensible, it clearly was. Not because it is a mark of cowardice to admit your wrongdoing and then flee the country, which it clearly is. Rather, I am troubled because of how the case is being treated as some sort of culture war lightning rod.

Let's talk facts. As part of a plea bargain, Polanski admitted to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, a charge with all parties originally expected him to either get probation for, or to be released for time served. Allegedly, the presiding judge later changed his mind after a conversion with the Assistant District Attorney (acting on his own emotions surrounding Polanski and the case), and communicated to Polanski's attorneys that he had decided to change the sentence to prison (up to 50 years) and eventually deportation, something which Slate reporter Brian Palmer "claims clearly violated the ethics code" of the justice system. This was what allegedly precipitated Polanski's flight.

Let me clarify some things: I don't think Polanski should receive special treatment. I particularly object to the idea that he is not, or should not, be subject to the same laws as other individuals because as an artist or director he should have a special status. However, if there was misconduct in his case, this also needs to be addressed. Just as his notoriety should not protect him from the law, neither should it single him out for special punishment.

I am also disturbed that people claiming to be thinking of Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, also seem to be ignoring her comments of the last, oh, ten years. Geimer has repeatedly said she has forgiven Polanski, thinks he has paid his debt, that she has "long gotten over" any harm he inflicted on her, and perhaps most notably, formally requested that Los Angeles county drop the charges against him.

People may disagree with Geimer that Polanski has paid his debt. Personally, I think living as a fugitive for thirty years is probably not very fun. By the same token, I feel that people who committed war crimes and went underground for decades should still be hunted down and prosecuted. I think the big trouble for me here is that Geimer thinks Polanski should, essentially, be let go with no further action taken. Coming from the victim, that's something you kind of have to at least think about.

Concluding thoughts: It should not be a "fad" to defend Polanski against any attacks, as he admitted his guilt and crimes. It similarly should not be a "fad" to bash Polanski or his defenders as being "pro- child molestation," given the problems with the sentencing and the fact that Ms. Geimer thinks he should be let go and sent on his way. In fact, she seems angrier about the DA's office putting her back in the national spotlight again than about anything Polanski has done.

Clearly, Polanski has not had an easy life. His parents died in the Holocaust, his wife was brutally murdered by the Mansons, etc. But there is still the question of his crime. Has he actually paid his debt to society? I would have to say no. Because he ran away, because he fled the country, Polanski did not pay this debt, and he still has to. A fair solution would be to have a new sentencing, perhaps including both Geimer's testimony as well as the additional crime of failing to appear in court. Polanski could serve a brief jail term and/or pay Geimer a sizable settlement,
something which has come up before.

But both sides seem to be enjoying their rhetoric a little too much at the moment. Tone it down, folks.