Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tisha B'Av, why bother fasting?

I've always had a problem with Tisha B'Av. Given the Bible's account of the behavior of the Jews during the last years of the Kingdom of Judah, the destruction of the Temple and the political sovereignty of the Davidic dynasty was a just and proper action for God to take, and may have actually prevented the Jews from becoming just another vanished petty kingdom of antiquity. And given the Sinat hinam and Jewish terrorism during the last days of the Second Temple, God's judgement was also appropriate. So why the tearing out fo the heair, and especially, why the fasting.?

Well, one might argue that we're not so much mourning the destruction of petty kingdoms and Holy Barbecues, we're mourning our fellow rank-and-file Jews who had to suffer death and disposesssion because of the actions of their leaders. But as anybody who has spent any time at a shiva house knows, fasting is not a characteristic of Jewish mourning. So what's the deal with Tisha B'Av? Why mess up a perfectly good summer with such practices? Why not just sing a few kinot at daily davening (and on the Shabbos before, for the benefit fot he one-day-a week Jews; after all, they have the "eleh ezkara" on Yom Kippur for the on-day-a-year Jews), and have a nice little fire-and brimstone d'rash dfrom the rabbi warning us about political and spiritual arrognace, and then have a nice kiddush in memory of the victims? If I had the misfortune of being a victim, I'd rather have my memory commemrated by people having a good time, not fasting all day in the middle of the summer, getting dehydrated and becomming all cranky.

So I say, let's eat up on Tisha B'Av, and let the good time roll in memory of our blessed ancestors who had to die for the sins of the leaders of teh Jewish people.

A true tale from the land of "Live frei or die"

Well, there I was up in New Hampshire, enjoying a nice summer vacation with some rock-ribbed Yankees and one nudnik from the Outer Boroughs. So one evening, we were having dinner in Lebanon. No, not the Lebanon where Hezbollah has rocket laucnhers, I mean Lebanon, New Hampshire. , where John Kerry beat George Bush very handily in the 2004 election. We're having dinner at a very nice restaurant overlooking the village green, and I'm about to order a nice steak, when my nudnick friend from New York exclaims, "how can you do such a thing, it's the Nine Days, you're only supposed to eat vegetarian or seafood!" That forces me to explain this custom, as well as the concept of Tisha B'av, to our Yankee co-diners, who have been to many shiva houses, and are somewhat bewildered by the inconsistency between personal and national mourning customs among the Jewish people. (more on that in my next post.)

Well, no problem. When the waitress comes by, I make my order -- "frutta di mare," pasta with seafood. OK, so the seafood includes calimari, mussels, and shrimp, but it's not meat, so I get my s'char for observing the custom of the Nine Days, even if I'm going to get aveirah points for eating the forbidden sea delicacies. It's a good thing I don't believe that God really cares about this stuff. If anything, He'd punish me for going to New Hampshire and ordering shrimp instead of "lobstah."

By the way, anyone who thinks global warming isn't real should come up to New Hampshire and spend a vacation (Maine will do in a pinch.) The lake was so warm the summer, that I was able to jump right in, and swim out to the raft without my lips turning blue! Not to mention the fact that my Dad just bought air-conditioning for his house. I thought I was in the Bahamas or something, or at least a version of the Bahamas with balsam-fir forests, maple syrup for sale, and white natives with down-east accents.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another good reason to retire Senator Lieberman

OK, so I don't live in Connecticut, but Senator Lieberman's actions affect me, too. So if there are any Nutmeggers amongst my readers, here's another reason why the Senator should be sent to an honorable retirement:

(God help me for pointing to a Newsmax URL, and watch out for the pop-up hell that might result)

An alternative summary can be found on Hullabaloo:

Sunday, March 27, 2005 9:36 p.m. EST

Lieberman Backs Life for Schiavo

Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman says if it were up to him, he'd reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube in order to keep her alive.

"I don't," Lieberman said. And though he said Shays' statement was "a very credible and respectable opinion, the fact is that, though I know a lot of people's attitude toward the Schiavo case and other matters is affected by their faith and their sense of what religion tells them about morality, ultimately as members of Congress, as judges, as members of the Florida state Legislature, this is a matter of law. And the law exists to express our values.

"I have been saying this in speeches to students about why getting involved in government is so important. I always say the law is where we define the beginning of life and the end of life, and that's exactly what was going on here," Lieberman continued.

"And I think as a matter of law, if you go - particularly to the 14th Amendment, [you] can't be denied due process, have your life or liberty taken without due process of law, that though the Congress' involvement here was awkward, unconventional, it was justified to give this woman, more than her parents or husband, the opportunity for one more chance before her life was terminated by an act which was sanctioned by a court, by the state."

Digby counters with this comment:

Lieberman grossly misrepresented the legal issues and endorsed the novel conservative theory that a married adult's parents should have equal say in these situations as his or her spouse --- but that doesn't make him a bad guy, right? And while the vast majority of Americans may have disagreed with this outrageous government intrusion (that he mildly calls "unconventional") you can't really hold it against him. He's a man of integrity with deep religious beliefs.

With all that talk about the law choosing when life begins and ends, how long before Joe switches on abortion? He's hedging on birth control already. It's only a matter of time...

And of course, religious beliefs are all well and good, but which religious beliefs? And what about that line that "a married adult's aprents should have equal say in those situations as the spouse." Of course, what the wingers believe is that the parents should have greater say, but then only in cases where the parents believe in fundamentalist Christian doctrine.

It's interesting, I just read a passage by R' Elliot Dorff, a prominent Conservative rabbi and scholar, who pointed out that halacha requires adult children to disregard the wishes of their parents if those wishes contradict halacha. The case he cited was a parent who wishes to be cremated, which is, of course, against halacha. But I suppose it could equally apply to a parent's living will that doesn't meet the halachic specifications of the children. God help me, I hope none of my kids ever becomes Orthodox and tries to force me to spend 10 or more years as a living vegetable.

Israel -- A strategic burden for the USA?

I think the day may come soon when we American Jews will have to choose between loyalty to the State of Israel or loyalty to the USA. Israel's recent actions, which are totally disproportionate to the provocations, may be nothing more than an attempt to constrain American foreign policy:

Some Questions Regarding Israel's Objectives: Is Israel Trying to Curb America's Deal-Making in Middle East?

Why is Israel pounding most of Lebanon rather than just the South and rather than pinpointing its attack against Hezbollah assets? Why the dramatic bombing of explosive fuel centers? The attacks both in Gaza and in Beirut seem made for Fox News, CNN and the next Schwarzenegger movie.

I think that there is little doubt that a significant part of the explanation can be attributed to the fact that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his more liberal partner in this effort, Amir Peretz -- now Defense Minister -- are not former field command generals and want to demonstrate that they can be responsible stewards of Israel's national security -- and that they won't be timid in using Israel's military capabilities.

But that doesn't explain it all. The Israeli response to the Hezbollah incursion is exactly what Hezbollah wanted. (my emphasis) Adversaries rarely give each other the behaviors the other actually desires unless there are other objectives involved.

My view is that three broad threats were evolving for Israel from the American side of the equation. One one front, the U.S. will be attempting to settle some kind of new equilibrium in Iraq with fewer U.S. forces and some face-saving partial withdrawal. To accomplish this and maintain any legitimacy in the eyes of important nations in the region -- particularly among close U.S. partners among the Gulf Cooperation Council states -- America "might have" tried to do some things that constituted a broad new bargain with the Arab Middle East. The U.S. had even previously flirted, along with the Brits, in trying to get Syria on a Libya like track and out of the international dog house.

There was also pressure building to push Hamas -- or at least the "governing wing" of it -- towards a posture that would move dramatically closer to a recognition of Israel. Abbas was becoming increasingly entrepreneurial in creating opportunities for the constructive players in Hamas to squirm towards eventual negotiations with Israel that could possibly be packaged in terms of "final status negotiations" on the borders and terms of a new Palestinian state. George W. Bush is the first President to actually call the Palestine territories "Palestine" and may have eventually come around on trying to pump up Abbas's legitimacy as the father of a new and different state. I am doubtful of this scenario -- but some in Israel had serious concerns about this unfolding.

Lastly, despite lots of tit-for-tat tensions and enormous mistrust, Iran and the U.S. were tilting towards a deal to negotiate about Iran's nuclear pretensions and other goals.

Some in Israel viewed all three of these potential policy courses for the U.S. -- a broad deal with the Arab Middle East, a new push on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and a deal to actually negotiate directly with Iran -- as negative for Israel.

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel's military check points and the abduction of soldiers -- which I agree Israel must respond to -- seems to be part establishing "bona fides" by Olmert, but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Keeping America from cutting new deals in the region -- which many in the national security establishment thinks are vital -- may actually be what is going on, and the smarter-than-average analysts are beginning to see that.

So what happens when the US gets mired even worse than it is now, and the public finally gets the idea that Israel is part of the reason? What happens when there's public pressure to drop support of Israel? What benefits do the United States get from its unconditional support?

Come to think of it, what benefits do most American Jews get from the State of Israel? Why should we care about a ghetto-state where the Orthodox (and the extreme right-wing Orthodox at that) have a hammerlock on the Jewish religion? A state whose president arrogantly humiliates the leader of the largest Jewish religious denomination in the United States. This is merely reflective of the arrogant way that Israel see us us as a bunch of "friers," useful idiots good only for fundraising and keeping American politicians cowed into supporting anything decided in Jerusalem.

There's a lesson from the Tnakh about this:

In his days, Nebudchandnezzar, king of Babylonia invaded. [King] Jehoiakim [descendant of David, king of Judah] became a vassal to him for three years, but then he reneged and rebelled against him. HaShem incited against him troops of Chaldeans...and sent them against Judah to annihilate it, in accordance with the word of HaShem, that he had spoken through his servants the prophets.

2 Kings 24:1-2

In this season of Tisha B'Av, we should remember that God had a good reason for destroying Jerusalem and the Temple, and that one of those reasons was that the Jews betrayed their ally and leige lord. Just as Jehoiakim was crazy to think that he could stand alone against the power of Babylon without divine help, Modern Israel should not be so arrogant as to think that a few nuclear weapons will really protect them from the wrath of the world if Hashem isn't protecting them.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What we don't want to see Jews doing to each other

The documentary I watched last night, Shanghai Gehtto, included an interview with a womon who told the following story about her father:

Her father was a veteran of the German Army in World War I, and was wounded, which, of course, didn't stop him from getti ng picked up and sent to Dachau for a few weeks before his wife could get the steamship tickets to China. However, his war wound, which may mave caused his death by illness later in China was obtained in the following manner:

This German-Jewish soldier is fighting at Verdun and goes "over the top," and sees a French soldier. Well, like anyone in such a situation, he shoots. So does the French soldier. The both hit each other, and as the German Jew goes down, he hears the French soldier say the "shema Yisrael." What a wonderful world where two Jews get to kill each other!

We Jews of different opinions may argue a lot, and even say hateful things, but, by God (if He, She or It exists), let's never put ourselves in a position where we shoot each other.

Assimilation --NOT a victory for Hitler

Last night, I watched a documentary that contained some footage of Holocaust survivors ("escapees" would be more accurate, as they managed to get to Shanghai in 1939). One of them gave the old line that if Jews assimilate, it's like giving Hitler a posthumus victory.

While I'm not a fan of total assimilation, I believe this line of thought is incorrect. Hitlers anumus against the Jews was not communal, it was racial. Everyone certainly likes to point out how assimilated the German Jews were, etc., and how they got zapped anyway.

Hitler and the racial anti-semites hated Jewish DNA, not Jewish behavior. That's why they committed mass murder. So as far as I'm concerned, if the Jews were to totally assimilate, then they would intermarry with Aryan gentiles, and before too long, the entire Nordic Arylan race would be "polluted" with the Jewish genetic heritage, even if every single one of those individuals were erlicher frum goyim. Which means that, in the end, Hitler would have lost.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Rabbinical Assembly shoots down Toby Katz

Over a year ago, our temporary guest blogger, Ms. Toby Katz, claimed that my attempt to be a true "Conservative Apikoris" was doomed to failure:

There is only one way you can become an apikores in the Conservative Movement. Accept Jesus into your heart.

Well, Ms. Katz' attempt to diss the Conservative movement by insisting it has no standards has just been slapped down, by no less than the Committee On Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly. A hat tip to Rabbi Barry Leff, who provided me to the RA's Teshuva Links, and this very relevant teshuva by Rabbi David David H. Lincoln:

May an Avowed Atheist serve as a Shaliach Tzibur?

The answer, not so suprisingly, is "no." Not that they insist on a mind-meld to verify belief in the Deity, which is probably just as well, as there are a lot of atheists at Conservative shuls who just keep quiet about it. Not me, though. The apikorsis I'm exploring is of a different kind.

So there, Toby! It's possible to be an apikoris in the Conservative movement without having to believe in Jesus.