Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hunting Season For Christianity

I'm not sure, but I think the scorecard works this way:
  • Criticizing Judaism (religion) is not cool, but criticizing Jews (ethnic group) is OK.
  • Criticizing Israel is OK--in fact feel free! (Being called an Anti-Semite is a badge of honor).
  • Criticizing Christianity, which is a religion but not an ethnicity, is OK.
  • Criticizing Arabs is OK, at least when they are overseas--and besides, it's the West's fault.
  • Criticizing Muslims is an open invitation to CAIR and calls for 'sensitivity training'
That would explain James Cameron's latest movie and its subject
Titanic' director James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, a filmmaker-archaeologist, are set to unveil three coffins this week that they say are those of Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalene. In an coming documentary, Cameron and Jacobovici cite "scientific evidence" that the resurrection of Jesus never happened and that Jesus fathered a son named Judah with Mary Magdalene.

Such claims should, and surely will, be met with overwhelming skepticism. For example, the filmmakers use DNA tests to build their case - but whose DNA is being compared with whose? Did they swab the Holy Ghost?

If, as seems likely, the conclusions prove somewhat less than airtight, the most instructive aspect of the film will be the public's reaction to it.

Cameron and Jacobovici will mortally offend many Christians. Some critics will personally vilify them, while others question their motives and integrity.

But prominent Christian clergymen won't issue any death warrants, and the Vatican won't call upon "all believing Christians" to avenge the insult. Neither Cameron nor Jacobovici will have to spend the next decade or so in hiding.

Now imagine if they'd gone after Mohammad instead of Jesus . . .
I wrote a post last year about an article by David Klinghoffer that suggested Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code would legitimize, if not encourage, the idea of secret cabals and conspiracy theories in a way that could ultimately render The Protocols less objectionable.

Put aside any animus towards religion in general or Christianity in particular. The media--including Hollywood--knows that Christianity is a safe target and Islam is not. Cameron's movie rides on the coattails of Dan Brown's success and knows whose religion is fair game and whose is not. Still, having such blatant attacks on religion under the guise of 'entertainment' may eventually render Islam a bit less untouchable--and if that is true in terms of criticizing aspects of text and theology (72 virgins vs. 72 raisins), maybe it will become more acceptable to talk openly about--and discuss--what jihadism is really all about and Islam's history of conquering other countries.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Rosenblum: Israelis Look Around and Within, and Don't Like What They See

Israelis Look Around and Within, and Don't Like What They See

by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jewish Observer
February 1, 2007

I. Losing Hope for the Future

Ever since last summer's war in Lebanon, Israeli society has been engaged in a process of soul-searching unlike anything seen since the Yom Kippur War. That process was triggered by the inability of the vaunted IDF to provide security for Israeli civilians during the second Lebanese War, and has been exacerbated by a continual string of revelations about the various failures of the military and political echelons by various investigatory bodies in the months since the end of the war.

Those months have also witnessed an unprecedented string of corruption scandals. One former Justice Minister has already been convicted of indecent acts, another is under indictment, the president has been forced to suspend himself pending a criminal indictment, the heads of the Income Tax Authority, the Finance Minister, and the prime minister's closest confidante and director of his bureau are all under investigation for fraud; and the prime minister himself faces a half dozen various police investigations, any one of which may be enough to force his resignation.

Meanwhile Israelis fret that they may soon find themselves in the cross-hairs of a nuclear Iran, run by religious fanatics who appear convinced that even the incineration of millions of their own citizens would be a double blessing, both assuring a speedy entry to paradise for those killed and hastening the advent of the missing iman. For the first time in more than two decades the Holocaust is being invoked in Israel's security and political debates. "The Iranian threat has returned the Final Solution to the heart of Israeli discourse," write Michael Oren and Yossi Klein-Halevi in the New Republic.

And finally, there is a near universal recognition that peace with the Palestinians will not be achieved in this generation, and likely not the next one either. A generation of Palestinian children has been raised since Oslo to believe that the greatest goal for which one can hope is to kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas' control over the Palestinian educational system adds to the brew of Palestinian the even more volatile element of religion – the belief that, as a matter of religious duty, every inch of present day Israel must be returned to Muslim sovereignty.

Zionism promised that a Jewish homeland would provide a safe haven for Jews all around the world. But, admits Daniel Gordis, who writes from the traditional Zionist point of view, it is today often "more dangerous to be a Jew in Israel than any other place in the world."
Last summer's war forced Israelis to acknowledge that the IDF cannot protect them from every danger. "For thirty-four long days," writes Gordis, "the IDF unleashed enormous portions of its . . . firepower, but couldn't stop the firing of Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets on the North. . . . . In the end, the only thing that stopped the shelling of Israel's cities was the United Nations."

Reflecting on the concatenation of recent events, Israelis are beginning to lose hope for the future. "Israelis, for the first time in their history, see no conceivable light, not even an imaginary will-o'-wisp, at the end of the tunnel," writes Hillel Halkin in a New York Sun piece appropriately entitled "An Israel without Hope."

Gordis writes nostalgically of the days when Jews, full of hope for the future, danced upon completion of the national water carrier. But he finds precious little of that hope today. He recounts his first meeting with a new doctor. The doctor asks him what he does, and he replies, that he writes.

"What do you write about?" the doctor asks. "About the future of Israel," Gordis replies. "Oh, you write short stories," is the doctor's response. Both laugh, but as Gordis notes, "neither of us thought that it was particularly funny."

Opinion polls show Prime Minister Olmert's approval ratings in the single digits. Yet, after a brief protest campaign by army reservists, the Israeli public has grown quiescent. Perhaps Israelis feel that the challenges currently confronting Israel are beyond the capacity of any political leaders to solve. And certainly they have concluded that the problems go far deeper than a few incompetent political leaders and clueless generals. Our politicians are merely a reflection of a deeper rot that has overtaken Israeli society.

II. The Search for National Will

As they survey the threats arrayed all around, Israelis are beginning to ask whether they possess sufficient resources of will power to carry on the fight and to prevail. The name of the game, declared Ha'aretz's Ari Shavit, at the end of the war in Lebanon, is rebuilding national will, and all our resources must be directed in that direction.

No one, however, believes that the task of reconstituting national resolve will be an easy one. In a speech at the recent Herzilya Conference, Nobel Laureate in Economics Robert Aumann described Israelis today "like a mountain-climber caught in a snowstorm. The night falls, he is cold and tired, and he wants to sleep. If he falls asleep, he will freeze to death. We are in terminal danger because we are tired." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert exemplified that weariness when he told a group of American Jewish businessman that Israelis are "tired" – tired of war, tired of winning, tired of being brave.

The result of that weariness, argued Aumann, has been to convince our Arab neighbors that "we no longer have spiritual strength, that we have no time, that we are calling for a time-out." And therefore the only recipe for survival is to convince the Arabs, "We have time; we have patience; we have stamina." Doing so, Aumann added, is not a matter of repeating mantras, but of the Jews of Israel truly understanding and internalizing the message. About how that might be done, however, he has little to say.

At the height of the Lebanon War, Shavit accused Israeli elites, in Ha'aretz, the paper of the elites, of having undermined every element of national strength by making mincemeat of the old Zionist historical narrative, while failing to substitute anything else in its place; criticizing Israel's militarism and denigrating military service; and making mockery of the old communitarian values. The result, he charged, has been to drain the nation of all its vitality.

Post-Zionism has infected the elites, particularly in academia. The leaders of the worldwide movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions and academics are tenured professors in Israeli universities. As Ben-Dror Yemini noted in Ma'ariv, "Hosting those that deny the Zionist enterprise's right to exist at Tel Aviv University is not very different from hosting Holocaust deniers in Teheran."

In their search for new sources of national will, Israelis have turned a lacerating eye on themselves and found much wanting. Yair Sheleg, again writing in Ha'aretz, wondered whether a decadent society is capable of confronting the various threats to its existence. . Signs of that decadence are everywhere to be found. Hedonism and the pursuit of material goods occupy the adults. Being a celebrity -- regardless of achievements -- is the primary goal of Israeli youth.

To quell any qualms of consciences about their naked pursuit of the good life, charges Shavit, the Israeli elites have convinced themselves that Israel is so powerful, so insanely strong, that nothing can threaten it. That strength justifies their failure to show up for reserve duty or to send their children to combat units (a trend recently confirmed by the Chief of IDF Manpower Gen. Elazar Stern.) Prime Minister Olmert's campaign pledge to turn Israel into a "fun" place to live pretty much sums up the view that life is primarily about the pursuit of pleasure.

According to Yossi Klein-Halevi, the internal threat to Israel society is no less great than the external. The internal challenge, he writes, is nothing less than to recreate the sense that Israeli society is worth fighting for – a sense that has been undermined by the profusion of corruption scandals. Once Israelis knew that their leaders, whatever their personal foibles and weaknesses, at least had the interests of the nation at heart.

The same cannot be said about today's politicians, says Klein-Halevi, "who absorbed the wiles of the founders but not their self-sacrifice." Prime Minister Olmert – a real-estate speculator cum prime minister -- epitomizes for Shavit a widespread "cultural affliction: the relinquishing of ideas, principles, basic beliefs, worldviews, and an overall grasp of reality -- . . . sophistication without a [moral] compass."

Zionism promised to normalize the condition of the Jew in the world. Having failed to assimilate on an individual basis into European society, Herzl and others believed that Jews would be able to assimilate at the level of nation states. That has not happened. Left-wing novelist Amos Oz notes with bitter irony that as his child his father's gentile neighbors assaulted him with taunts of "Jews go to Palestine." The bottom line message: "Don't be here. Don't be there. In short, don't be."

Nearly sixty years after its creation, the "Jewish state" finds itself anathematized like no other state in the world and held to a set of standards by which no nation is judged, and certainly no nation forced to defend itself from constant attack from the day of its birth. Far from having normalized the condition of the Jew, Israel has provided excuses for Jew-haters around the world to once again vent their spleens at Jews.

Iran speeds ahead with the development of nuclear weapons and boasts of its intent to wipe Israel off the map; North Korea seeks to export nuclear weapons technology, even as millions of its own people starve; the Sudanese government works hand-in-hand with Arab militias that have killed approximately 300,000 black Muslim farmers – and all this evokes fewer outcries and less international concern than one International Solidarity Movement volunteer being rolled over by an Israeli earthmover that could not see here as she sought to protect tunnels through which weapons were being smuggled into Gaza. The degree of attention paid by the world to Israel is certainly not "normal."

III. The Consequences of Despair

Israeli society is not just having a bad hair day. The dark national mood threatens Israel far more than it would a more normal nation. For nearly two decades Israeli leaders have been obsessed by the fear that at some point those with the skills and money to move elsewhere will do so. Yitzchak Rabin came reluctantly came to support the Oslo process, in part because he feared that if he did not hold out the hope of peace to a tired public they would jump ship. Prior to going to Camp David in 1999, at which he made an offer to Yasir Arafat far beyond the Israeli consensus of the time, Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke of the loss of national resolve from that of the generation of the Yom Kippur War. And before embarking on the Gaza withdrawal, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke to an American Jewish audience of the necessity of holding out hope to the population.

To some extent the fears of Israeli leaders from Rabin to Olmert have already been fulfilled. A recent study by the Shalem Institute showed that the rate of emigrations of researchers and professors almost doubled between 2002 and 2004 – from .9% to 1.7%. Of those educated Israelis who have left the country from an extended period of time from 1996 on, 96% did not return.

A nuclear Iran would exacerbate the threat of large-scale flight ten-fold. A nuclear Iran, warns Deputy Minister of Defense Ephraim Sneh, would lead to mass threat and perhaps destroy Zionism even without resort to arms: "The danger is not so much Ahmadinejad's deciding to launch an attack, but Israel's living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. I'm afraid that under such a threat, most Israelis would prefer not to live her; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. . . . I'm afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream and without pushing a button."

Patriotism and national will are more important to Israel than in other, more normal countries. Other countries may have more corrupt public figures, and other Western nations may have academic elites who identify with the country's enemies without the country's existence being threatened, at least in the short-run.

In Israel, however, a lack of national resolve poses a much more immediate threat because, as Yossi Klein-Halevi notes, in no other Western nation is so much demanded of the population in terms of military service, high taxes, and constant threats to physical security. And therefore in no other country, do citizens require such a strong sense of national purpose to prevent them from pulling up stakes and leaving.

IV. In Search of the Silver Lining

The foregoing picture, while not a happy one, does contain a number of reasons for qualified optimism about Israel's future as a Jewish society. The very fact that the Israeli society is undergoing self-examination, and has concluded that something has gone dramatically awry is itself positive. "Where did we lose the way?" is a question that inevitably directs the questioner back in time towards his or her historical roots.

Similarly, the emphasis on discovering new sources of national unity and strength can only reinforce interest in Judaism. National will is not something that can be picked off of a pharmacist's shelf. Nor can it be just another line in the national budget. It must have its source in something and grow organically from within the nation.

Ultimately what binds the Jews of Israel to one another is that they are all descendants of those who received the Torah at Sinai and of generations of ancestors who maintained a vital, living relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, even on pain of death. Jews of Israel are asking themselves -- Why is it important that I live in this place? What about living among other Jews or in this Land makes worth the dangers and sacrifices involved? Only an understanding of the unique mission given us at Sinai can provide the answer to those questions.

Zionism promised Jews a normal existence, an escape from their fate as Jews. That promise has now been exposed as a fraud. We can never be like all the other nations because we were singled out by Hashem for the unique mission of bringing knowledge of Him to the world. In his various jeremiads this summer, Ari Shavit berated those who dreamed that the Jewish people could somehow live a normal existence amidst a sea of Arabs, and who imagined that Tel Aviv to be another Manhattan in the Middle East. At times, he sounded not unlike Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his famous warning to the Jews of Berlin that if they continued to view Berlin as a new Jerusalem a great fire would go forth from their and consume the Jewish world.

Even the clear-sighted recognition that there will be no peace with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future has much to recommend it. We have paid a heavy price over the last fifteen years for chasing various illusions of peace, all of which ignored one central point: There is not yet a Palestinian people that has reconciled itself in peace with Israel, and that prefers building up its own society and state to destroying the one living adjacent to it.

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky in Emes LeYaakov (Devarim 32:36) explains a difficult Gemara in Sanhedrin (97a). The Gemara there states that Mashiach will not come until the Jewish people have despaired of the redemption. How, all the commentators ask, can loss of belief in the Redemption, one of the cardinal principles of faith, bring about the Redemption? Reb Yaakov answers that Redemption only comes when the Jewish people have lost any hope of redemption through the natural historical processes; when they have ceased to hope, for instance, that the nations of the world will suddenly take mercy upon us, and grant us our own land to live in peace and security. That time is drawing ever closer with every illusory bubble popped.

There are signs all around of a renewed interest in Torah, and of recognition of the need to reconnect to our historical roots as a people. Education Minister Yuli Tamir, formerly a member of the far-Left Meretz party, has decreed that the Israeli school day should open with the reading of a chapter of TaNaCh. At a recent speech to a large group of university students in Israel on a Birthright program, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert focused his remarks almost entirely on Eretz Yisrael as the birthplace of the people and their ancestral homeland. It was that awareness he urged the students to take with them from the trip. There was no hint of the thinking that resulted in a recent Tourism Ministry campaign promoting tourism to Israel in terms of the pleasures of Eilat.

Every week, over 2,000 chareidi women learn over the phone with secular women who have expressed an interest in Torah study. And Mrs. Tzili Schneider, who runs the program under the auspices of Ayelet HaShachar, has a list of another 15,000 secular women who have been recommended as potential candidates for such learning. Arachim runs dozens of seminars of varying lengths each year for Israeli Jews from every possible kind of background. Lev L'Achim registers thousands of children from secular families for religious schools. And the network of over sixty SHUVU schools, originally founded to provide an enriched Jewish studies program to children of immigrants from the FSU, has been forced by popular demand to open its schools to children of veteran secular families, and to even open entire new schools for such children.

Ayelet HaShachar placed one religious family in Kfar Tabor, a secular yishuv on the outskirts of Afula. Initially they were ignored by their neighbors, in the best cases, and vociferously urged to move elsewhere in the worse. But two years later, sixty women are using the mikveh on that yishuv. Even veteran Shomer HaTzair kibbutzim have sought permits to build mikvaot.

The thirst for an authentic connection to their Judaism among Israeli Jews, including some of the most thoughtful among them, imposes obligations upon us. It is crucial that they see the chareidi community as a vibrant, thriving, and viable community.

We must prevent the communal agenda from being seized by those who do not care how ugly they might make Judaism appear in the eyes of our secular brothers because they feel no connection to them or sense of responsibility for the broader Jewish community.

Our course as a community must be guided by those who have taken seriously Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv's statement that the focus of our chinuch should be on the principle she'yehei Shem Shomayim misaheiv al yadecha. That is not just a lesson to teach our children, but one that we all must absorb and manifest in everything we do. Only then can we hope to be models and guides for all those Jews so desperately in need of what the Torah has to offer.
Read more articles by Jonathan Rosenblum at Jewish Media Resources

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How Do They Teach American History To Second Graders?

On Friday I was going through my daughters knapsack and came across an assignment she had in class for President's Day. Here is the top of the sheet. Can you tell what is missing?

I realize that my daughter is only 7 years old, but I don't see why there is no mention of just what kind of war George Washington was fighting (besides, since this was before independence, Washington was not leading the U.S. army). Does anyone believe that second graders do not understand the concept of independence? What kid doesn't fight for the right to go to sleep later than their parent's tell them or to not eat green beans?

Without teaching the children about the Revolutionary War and the part George Washington played in it, what is the point of the following:

I was curious--if children are not given any background about the war and what it was about, just what should they think is the reason that Washington is called the Father of Our Country?. So I asked my daughter this evening:

Me: Who is the "Father of Our Country"?
Daughter: You...?
Me: Who is the "Father of Our Country"?
Daughter: [Blank stare]
Me: George.....
Daughter: Washington!
Me: And why is he called the "Father of Our Country"?
Daughter: Because he was the first president.

If you do a search on Google [Washington "father of our country because"] the consensus seems to be that the reason is that Washington led the army to victory, without which the colonies would not have gained independence. A page for kids, though, did say that the reason is because he was the first president.

It bothers me that at a time that terrorists are called freedom fighters and the West is rolling over for Islamists, my daughter's class assignment takes such a lackadaisical approach to teaching about a central historical event. When it comes to math, the school curriculum makes a point of teaching advanced mathematical concepts early with an eye towards preparing students for the more developed ideas in the coming years. So why not give our children a fuller understanding of American history? At least teach the reason for the war.

Just what is it about this part of American history that they think our children won't understand?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

JPix 2 the Jewish Photo Carnival

If you are interested in posting one of your photos to Jpix 2, Bagel Blogger is preparing the second Jewish photo carnival. The last day you can submit a photo is in 2 days: Midnight Saturday night, February 24th.

The Carnival itself will be posted on February 26th.

You can post your submission at http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_987.html or check for more details at http://bagelblogger.blogspot.com/2007/02/last-2-day-s-for-submissions-to-jpix.html

You can also contact or submit via: jpixcarnivalATgmailDOTcom

The first edition was a great success and depends on you to continue.

You can check out the first edition here

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

There's Something Special About Israeli Cabdrivers

Hat Tip: Instapundit

As anyone who had the good fortune to learn Tanakh with Nechama Leibowitz knows, there is something special about the cabdrivers and bus drivers in Israel. Contrast a Nechama story about an Israeli cabdriver with some others.

First, here is a story about an Israeli cabdriver...
about the cabbie who, upon noticing his passenger was grading papers, and discovering that she was a professor of Tanach, took advantage of the Tel AvivJerusalem ride to unburden himself of a question that had bothered him for some time: "What does Jeremiah (9:22) mean when he says: 'Let not a wise man glory in his wisdom; and let not the strong man glory in his strength; let not a rich man glory in his wealth. But let him that glory, glory in this: that he understands and knows Me?"'

"Well," explained Nechama to her driver, "that means that human wisdom and human strength and riches are not really important values; the prophet is telling us that what really counts is knowing Hashem."

"Yes, yes, I know," said the cabbie, with a trace of irritation, "but what does he mean when he says 'Let not a wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the strong man glory in his strength, let not a rich man glory in his wealth ..."

Nechama tried again, in her patient pedagogical manner. "The prophet is teaching us a very important lesson in life. Those things that most men strive for riches, wealth and strength are...

"Of course, of course. Understood!" interrupted the cabbie with undisguised impatience. "But what does Jeremiah mean when he says "A rich man, a wise man; but when he speaks of strength, he says the strong man?"

At this point in her story, Nechama looks up with wide-eyed wonderment and a smile of admiration. "You know," she confides, I never noticed that! That's a very interesting point!"

Her message: When it comes to learning Torah, all Jews are equal, professor and baal agalah.
Here is one of two stories that Ann Althouse writes about in her encounters with cabdrivers here in the US:
New York City. Sunday, noon. The ride starts at 55 Church Street. The cabdriver asked me where I was from, so I asked him where he was from. He said Pakistan, then rushed to say that he's all American now, here for 20 years. Where in Pakistan? Lahore. I ask what I always ask about cities I don't know: Is the architecture beautiful? He talks about how the city has changed so much in the last ten years, something about all the new and not very good buildings that have detracted from the beauty of the old. It used to be so clean. He used to know every tree, which ones were good for climbing, and where the bird's nests were.
I'm sure there was something special about that conversation, something that does not translate well when converted into a short written description. My point, and the point that Nechama made in the stories about her encounters with "the man in the street" is that you can find a simplicity and depth in the relationship of a Jew with the Torah.

But be careful if you try to find something similar here on the streets of America: apparently not every cabdriver you come across in the US is capable of intelligent conversation about matters of religion.

For example in Ohio
Two students visiting from Ohio were coming from a bar downtown when they got into an argument with their driver over religion, said police. After they paid the driver he allegedly ran them down in a parking lot.
Somehow, I don't think you can blame this one on the Abarbanel.

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Purim In Dachau

I.I. Cohen

We sat listlessly on our bunks, waiting impatiently for the high point of our day – our meager ration of bread. It was my seventh month in Dachau’s Death Camp #4.

“Do you know that tomorrow is Purim?” I asked, trying to distract my brothers in suffering, and myself, from our painful hunger.

“How do you know?”

“It’s freezing! Purim can’t be for another month.”

“No, no!” some protested. “Srulik doesn’t make mistakes like that! He has a good memory.”

“Crazy Chassidim!” others grumbled. “You’ve nothing else to worry about besides when Purim falls this year? What’s the difference any more between Purim and Pesach, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Isn’t it always Tisha B’Av?”

The debate gathered force among the block’s “mussulmen” – the eighty living skeletons crammed tightly into a virtual wooden tomb overgrown with grass.

It was the hour before nightfall. We lay in the camp infirmary on wooden boards covered with a thin layer of straw, our eyes riveted on the curtain separating us from the block elder’s spacious quarters.
Suddenly the curtain parted, and the block elder stood there with his henchmen, bearing our bread rations; it had been nearly twenty-four hours. Each inmate measured his ration wordlessly with his eyes, and compared it to his neighbor’s, each convinced that the other had received more. At such times, best friends became bitter rivals and within minutes the stingy portions were devoured. But our stomachs felt as empty as before, the gnawing hunger made all the more intolerable by the realization that it would be a full day before the next piece of bread.

Having just suffered through a bad bout of typhus, I fell back on my board, and fast asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt dizzy; my head was like a leaden weight. I began to conjure images of my past, of my parents and my sisters, Gittel and Mirel... how I used to study in the study-hall of the Chassidim of Ger. Mostly, I remembered my grandfather, Reb Herschel, who loved me and would take me, his only grandson, along whenever he went to the Gerer Rebbe. I pictured the Chassidic leader’s face, his eyes overflowing with wisdom and love, penetrating my very soul.

Will I ever have the merit, I wondered, to press myself once again into the crowd of Chassidim gathering around the Rebbe, to learn from him how to be a good Chassid and a G-d-fearing person?

“Time to pray, Srulik.”

My friend’s voice shook me from my reverie. The memories vanished. I was back in the pit of hell.

“Yes, of course,” I said. “Let’s wash our hands and daven.”

Then it struck me.

“But it’s Purim!” I exclaimed. “We have to organize a minyan!”

My pain and pangs receded. Summoning strength, I went to wash my hands and face and then to find some others to complete our minyan. Perhaps, I thought, I might even find someone else who could recall a few more verses from the Megillah so that we might fulfill something of our sacred Jewish obligation to publicly read the Book of Esther.

G-d responds to good deeds undertaken with dedication. A copy of the second book of the Bible, with the Book of Esther appended, was discovered by my friend, Itche Perelman, a member of the camp burial squad.

We were elated. Such a find could only be a sign that our prayers had been received in Heaven and that the redemption was near. Our excitement grew. Who remembered the hunger, the cold, the filth, the degradation? No one gave a thought to the dangers involved in organizing our prayer group, to the possibility of a German or kapo deciding dropping in unexpectedly. Even those who the day before had scoffed at the “crazy Chassidim” seemed excited.

“Who will read the Megillah?” someone asked.

The lot, so to speak, fell on me. Within moments, volunteers managed to locate some clothing for me since, like all the inmates of the infirmary, I had been assigned nothing more than a blanket with which to cover myself. And so, dressed in a camp uniform, a towel wrapped around my head in place of a yarmulka, I read the words: “and Haman sought to destroy all the Jews.”

When I read of Haman’s downfall, and that “the Jews had light and happiness, joy and honor,” the spark of hope that glimmers in every Jew’s heart ignited into a flaming torch. “Dear L-rd of the Universe!” I know each of us was thinking, “Grant us a wondrous miracle too, as you did for our forefathers in those days. Let us, too, see the end of our enemies!”

When I finished, everyone cheered. For a brief instant, the dreadful reality of the death camp had been forgotten. Having exerted the rest of my strength on the reading, I sat breathless, but my spirit soared.

When people’s actions are pleasing to G-d, even their enemies are reconciled to them. The block elder, who usually strutted in with a scowl, smiled as he entered that day, ladling the soup without cursing at anyone. And the ever-present jealousy among us inmates seemed to turn into generosity. Instead of complaints that someone else had received more potatoes, I heard things like “Let Srulik get a bigger portion of soup today!”

Instead of bemoaning the present, we dreamed of the future, of when the German demon would inherit his due, when this Jewish suffering would end. And like a river overflowing its banks, thoughts of redemption burst forth from broken hearts. One mitzvah led to another, to further acts of spiritual heroism. Someone decided to forgo the small piece of bread he had saved from the previous day, and offered it to his comrade. Another made a gift of a piece of potato, and these two “portions”, which only yesterday would have caused ill will, now became the means by which the inmates could fulfill the mitzvah of “sending gifts of food, one to another.”

Those precious “Mishloach Manos” were passed around from one to the other, until they finally landed on my lap. Everyone decided that I should be the one to keep them in the end as compensation for my services.

I thought to myself, “Dear G-d, behold Your people, who in an instant can transform themselves from wild creatures to courageous, caring men and faithful Jews...”

And a verse welled up inside me: “Who is like you, Israel, a singular nation on Earth?”

“Precious Jews!” I said to the others. “Brothers in suffering! Let us make but one request from our Heavenly Father: Next year in Jerusalem!”


[I.I. Cohen, a Polish-born survivor of three concentration camps, lives in Toronto. The above is adapted from his recently republished book “Destined to Survive” (artscroll.com). Mr. Cohen is Am Echad Director Rabbi Avi Shafran’s father-in-law.]

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Does Dennis Ross Know As Much About The Middle East As Jimmy Carter?

Pity Jimmy Carter.

In the interest of open debate, he has written a book about Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. However, his attempt to create an atmosphere of free and open discussion has been met by absurd demands that he debate people who clearly have no grasp of the situation in the Middle East--

First, there was Alan Dershowitz!
Now: Dennis Ross!!

Oh, the ignominy!!!
When it became known that Carter was anxious to speak at Emory, the administration consulted a group of faculty and was advised that the most fair and academically valuable format would be to have Carter appear with someone who could engage in a productive interchange and discussion on the topic. This clearly would be the only way for the event to meet the educational standard of a leading university.

Everyone agreed that the best person for this interchange was Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was the main negotiator on the Arab-Israeli situation in both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration. He was responsible for organizing Camp David II, Clinton's last-ditch effort to find a resolution to the situation. Ross agreed to appear, but Carter pointedly refused to appear with him or with any other expert. No explanation was given.

Is this the behavior of a man who wants to promote dialogue? What precisely is Carter afraid of? Could it be that Dennis Ross - who, like President Clinton, places the blame for the failure of the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis at Camp David II squarely on the shoulders of Yasir Arafat - would tell the former president, who blames Israel for everything, that he is simply wrong? Remember Ross and Clinton were there; Carter was not.
Yeah, like that makes a difference.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Do You Blog a Yarchei Kallah?

During the past 4 days--Friday to Monday--I participated in a Yarchei Kallah sponsored by the Agudath Israel.

So, what is a Yarchei Kallah?

Rabbi Shraga Simmons of Aish HaTorah gives a brief description:
"Yarchei Kallah" is a study program for people who generally do not have too much time during the year to study. It is set up during the months of vacation, throughout the year - throughout the world.

The idea was founded by the illustrious preeminent rabbi - Rabbi Shlomo Kahaneman OBM, the late Rosh HaYeshiva of the famous Poneviz Yeshiva in Bnei Braq, some 50 years ago.

The word "Yarchei" literally means "months." "Kallah" is the Torah speech given Shabbat (Shabbat being compared to "Kallah" - source: Talmud Shabbat 119a) before holidays to teach the working people the laws of the upcoming holiday - (source: Talmud Brachot 6b; "Rashi" s.v. "Igra D'Kalla" there).
This was the first Yarchei Kallah that the Agudath Israel has held here in the US; for the past 7 years they have been holding them only in Israel. This year, the Yarchei Kallah was held at the Newark Hilton in Elizabeth, which I found out afterwards has accommodated itself to Orthodox Jewish guests: the lower floors have rooms that use regular locks as well as electronic ones so that there is no problem using the rooms on Shabbos. I blogged about it a little bit, posting the schedule for men and women. Among the Rebbeim who spoke were Rabbis Ushera Weiss, Uren Reich, Avrohom Schorr, Yaakov Perlow, and Matisyahu Salomon shlita--all speaking on topics relating to Purim and the Megillah.

It was a tremendous opportunity to sit and learn in a way that I have not done in a long, long time--and it was not until I started that I realized how much I missed it. Starting Friday afternoon and finishing Monday afternoon, the schedule of learning had you either hearing a shiur or preparing for it--when you weren't eating.

There is an indescribable feeling about being able once again to so thoroughly immerse yourself in learning, without having thoughts of the "outside world" or any external concerns intrude. The organizers put together a choveret of over 230 pages that not only had the Marei Mekomos--the sources assigned for preparation--but also xeroxed copies of various Rishonim and Achronim that you might want to also access while preparing for the shiurim.

This was no dry learning. There was a vitality and camaraderie behind the learning and a passion behind the davening that animated the room--and that I think is one of the components necessary to revitalize Judaism and what it means to be a Jew. It is not enough here in Galus to talk about Jewish--and claims that living in Israel is enough to be a Jew just don't cut it--especially when there is an overriding sense of passivity that often seems to be behind such talk. More than passivity, there is a lack of both identification and pride these days that ultimately have led us to where we are today.

We must recognize that there are many components that make up who we are which need revitalizing and different kinds of Jews.

How do you blog a Yarchei Kallah?
I don't know--
I can't share all the beautiful Divrei Torah and insights.
But I wanted to share a little about the experience and where it can lead us.

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The Islamist Threat to Orthodox Jews

Some blogs I read that are critical of Islamists make me think that what Jonathan Rosenblum writes is no small possibility.
Will We Be Caught in the Backlash?

by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jewish Observer
January 30, 2007

I. Imposing Limitations on Religious Activism

Every citizen of the West is threatened by political Islam, which seeks to impose Islamic law over the entire world.1 Orthodox Jews feel the threat even more intensely by virtue of the number of Jewish institutions and individuals that have been subject to attempted acts of terrorism in Europe and South America.

Political Islam, or Islamism, poses unique threats to Torah Jews qua Torah Jews.
Recognition that private Islamic schools and places of worship are breeding grounds for terrorists may well lead to greater government regulation of private religious schools.

Moreover, Muslims’ separatism and refusal to integrate into their host cultures causes them to be perceived as threats to national cohesion and to democracy. That critique can be easily expanded to encompass every insular religious community, especially where those communities often dress in ways at variance with the dominant culture and maintain their own language(s).

Devaluation of insular religious communities could have an impact on the way that religious liberty claims are treated by the courts in the United States and elsewhere. Such claims typically pit the state interest in the enforcement of a statute that is neutral on its face against the burden imposed on the religious believer, either by forbidding performance of a positive religious commandment or by coercing the violation of a negative commandment.

When respect for religion runs high, sensitivity to the cruelty of forcing, or indirectly pressuring, a person to act in contravention of his religious conscience will be great. But when religion itself becomes suspect, and religious communities are viewed as undermining national unity and strength, less weight will be given to the religious liberty claims and greater weight to the state's interest in uniform enforcement of the statute in question.2

Finally, Islamic fundamentalism has helped bring religious belief in general into disrepute, and provided fuel to those who charge that most of mankind's problems can be traced to religious fanaticism. Within one week of 9/11, for instance, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman already described the great threat confronting the West not as Islamic fundamentalism but as religious fundamentalism in general, including Christian and Jewish. Thus did Orthodox Jews find themselves uncomfortably linked with Islamic terrorists under the convenient rubric "fundamentalists."

The past year has witnessed a plethora of screeds – several of them best-sellers -- against religious belief: Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, and Sam Harris's The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. These works are characterized not by their arguments, none of which are new, but their level invective and in their general attitude towards religious belief as something beneath contempt and incapable of defense by any intelligent person.

Though 9/11 and ongoing Islamic fanaticism helped create an audience for such works, they by no means focus their attack on Islamic fanaticism. Sam Schulman points out in the January 5 Wall Street Journal, "The atheists focus their peevishness not on Muslim extremists (who advertise their hatred and violent intentions) but on the old-time Christian religion. . . . They conclude: God is not necessary, God is impossible and God is not permissible if our society – or even our species – is to survive."

II. Acknowledging the Threat

The concerns raised by the threat of Islamism can in no way be dismissed. Indeed, as citizens of the West, we should all be grateful that the nature of the threat posed is finally registering societal elites. The internal Islamist threat is greatest in Europe. A combination of well below replacement birthrates among Europeans, high Moslem birthrates and Moslem immigration have paved the road for a Moslem majority in Europe within two or three generations.

Most of the approximately 20 million Muslims living in Europe today have not integrated into their host societies. In a recent poll in Britain, 40-60% of Moslems said that they would prefer to live under Sharia, Islamic law. British security forces consider at least 14,000 British Muslims to be security threats, and keep 1,000 under active surveillance. Tens of thousands of British citizens of Pakistani descent visit their ancestral homeland each year, and many of those are indoctrinated by Islamist groups while there.

Nor has the threat remained theoretical, as demonstrated by the July 7 2005 suicide bombings on the London Underground, which claimed 52 lives, and the uncovering last August of a plot by British Muslims to blow up ten transatlantic airliners. At least 13 students at British universities have been convicted of terrorism and four became suicide bombers.

Increasingly, mosques and Islamist religious institutions are fostering Moslem separatism. A recent British TV documentary featured preachers at numerous mosques, including those allegedly dedicated to moderation and interfaith dialogue, condemning integration into British society, democracy, preaching hatred for Jews and Christians, and celebrating the killing of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The October-November 2004 rioting in the "cities of darkness" ringing Paris and other major French cities revealed the extent of alienation of young, mostly second generation Muslims in France. Social critic Theodore Dalrymple describes how the "sweet dream of universal cultural compatibility has been replaced by the nightmare of permanent conflict," in France and numerous other European cities, in which police and firefighters do not dare venture into Muslim areas, and where copycat riots followed those in France: "A kind of anti-society has grown up in [these cities of darkness] – a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other 'official' society . . . . This alienation . . . is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their dwellings. When you approach to speak to them, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity. . . . " 3

Europe was not quick to acknowledge the extent of the threat within from radical Islam and disaffected Muslims. Not one prosecution has yet been brought in Britain under statutes enacted after 7/7 outlawing the celebration of terrorism, despite numerous instances of Muslim preachers inciting to violence and even murder. Highly secularized European elites have lost the ability to comprehend religious fanaticism, preferring to believe that Moslem violence directed at their host societies is simply a matter of grievances and that when those grievances are removed – e.g., the British presence in Iraq – the violence will abate.

And in part, societal elites find it politically incorrect to identify the problem with Islam in any form. Thus, after the discovery of the plot to blow up 10 transatlantic airliners, London Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson refused to acknowledge that the plot had to do with particular "communities", even though all the plotters were Muslims, most of them Pakistani. He insisted it was no different than any other criminal conspiracy. In a similar manner, a Canadian police spokesman described those plotting to blow up parliament as drawn from a broad cross-section of the community, while neglecting to mention that they were overwhelmingly named Mohammed and Ahmad.

There are signs, however, that elite European opinion is beginning to catch up with that of the man in the street. Mosques and Muslim groups in France are under heavy surveillance from French police and security services. And last September, British Home Secretary John Reid urged Muslim parents in East London to supervise their children and to make sure that they are not being initiated into a death cult in their local mosque or Muslim school.

When a heckler shouted at him that he had no business coming to a Moslem area, Reid sharply rejected the suggestion that there is any area in Britain that is off-limits to Her Majesty's government. And he denounced the attempt to Balkanize Britain into semi-autonomous communities, each with its own values.

In Reid's reply, we hear the growing apprehension that extreme multiculturalism threatens the unity and strength of the nation-state. That fear is well-taken. Citizens of democratic societies feel a greater stake in the country and a greater identification with one another. Yet where citizens do not identify with the state or a common set of national values, but rather view themselves only as members of insular sub-communities, that national strength is lost. Opponents of bi-lingual education make the same point: loss of a common national language weakens a country.

III. Of Exemptions and Loopholes

The recognition that Moslem schools attempt to create a Moslem identity that prevents integration into the larger society and that certain mosques, like London's Finsbury Park Mosque, are turning out terrorists on an assembly line, has engendered a response. And that response has important implications for Jewish institutions as well.

In England, Lord Kenneth Baker submitted a bill to parliament, believed to have the support of the Minister of Education, which would have required all newly opened religious schools to set aside at least 30% of its places for children of different religions. Lord Baker noted that his concern was with Islamic schools that "seek to create a total Muslim personality." Under Baker’s bill requirements such as familiarity with the Koran would have been forbidden since the effect of the requirement would have been to eliminate all non-Moslems together.

Though Baker’s bill was ultimately withdrawn, the mere fact that such legislation could be introduced and supported by the Minister of Education gives cause for concern. The implications of such a piece of legislation for the Jewish community would have been immense. Orthodox education also seeks to create a total "Torah personality." The presence of 30% of non-Jews in a school would make that goal unobtainable. So would forcing Jewish school to drop requirements for admission that would exclude all or most non-Jewish students – e.g., familiarity with davening, chagim, and Chumash.

The statute may have been written with Moslem extremism in mind, but it would be naive to think that it would therefore apply to only to Moslem schools and not Jewish ones. Legislators prefer to couch statutes in neutral terms that do not single out any particular religious group for special regulation.

Most Orthodox Jews would undoubtedly be shocked at finding themselves linked to Islamic extremists. And they would be right to object. The most salient distinction, of course, is that there are no Torah Jews blowing themselves up on the London Tube or plotting to explode 10 transatlantic airlines. But it remains unlikely that courts would carve out an exemption for Jewish schools based on the generally upstanding citizenship of their graduates.

In at least one case, the United States Supreme Court did carve out a religious exemption to a neutrally drawn statute on the basis of the good citizenship of those asserting the religious claim. Thus in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Court exempted Amish children who had completed elementary school from the requirement of attending high school until age 16. The Court cited the low rates of criminality among the Amish and the fact that they rarely, if ever, receive state welfare payments. Those were deemed sufficient reason to allow Amish parents to educate their children themselves from 9th grade on.

In a similar way, if a particular statute was drafted to prevent private religious schools from being breeding grounds for terrorists, the lack of Orthodox terrorists might be cited in support of an exemption for Torah schools from the statute’s application. In all likelihood, however, courts would be reticent to extend the Wisconsin precedent in such a way that Moslem schools alone would be singled out for a particular statutory regulation.

IV. A Curriculum to Limit Torah’s Authority

In addition, many regulations drafted with Moslem schools in mind are designed not just to protect against the training of terrorists of the future, but also with the goal of preventing those schools from fostering an identity completely at odds with the dominant national culture. The French ban on the wearing of any religious head-covering in school would be an example of the second kind of legislation, and it applied with equal force to yarmulkes and the hijab worn by some Moslem women.4

Again religious Jews might argue for a religious exemption from legislation or regulations designed to ensure that students in private religious schools develop an attachment to the dominant national ethos and prove capable of integrating into the larger society. They could point to their patriotism – e.g., the American flags waving on car antennas and from front porches after 9/11 – and the success of the graduates of Torah schools in all areas of national life – business, the professions, and in government.

Yet it remains true that Torah Jews, like many Muslims, do wear distinctive garb, profess an allegiance to G-d that transcends any allegiance to the secular state, and reject many of the values of contemporary society. Unlike many Muslims, however, Torah Jews recognize the legitimacy of a secular legal system and acknowledge the duty to obey the laws of the land – dina d’malchusa dina – and nowhere seek to impose Torah law on the secular state.5

The latter distinction, however, would not likely proof sufficient to secure an exemption for Torah schools from a curriculum like that scheduled to go into effect in 2008 in a province of a Western state with a large Jewish population.6 That curriculum is designed, inter alia, to foster religious tolerance, and is apparently to be imposed on both private and parochial schools.

One thing is clear: the proposed curriculum would undercut in countless ways the view that the Torah is sole, or even primary, source of authority with respect to morals or ethical decision-making. The curriculum is explicitly juxtaposed to "confessional religious education," in which the precepts and views of a particular religion are taken as a given. One of the goals of the curriculum is to enable students "to position themselves after due consideration with respect to religions and new religious movements." In other words, students are to be taught that it is ultimately up to them to evaluate the teachings of their own religion, or any other, and to decide whether they wish to be bound by those teachings.

The religious curriculum will introduce students to a variety of different religions, and seek to imbue them with an attitude of tolerance to all of them, including those which according to halachah constitute idol worship. In addition, students will learn that many people derive their ethical moral beliefs from sources other than revealed religion. The message is the same that anti-religious writers are forever proclaiming: One need not be religious in order to be a moral person, and indeed religious people are no more moral than others.

The authors of the curriculum emphasize that some values are growing stronger in the contemporary world and other traditional values waning. They make clear that their preferences rest on the side of the contemporary over the received values of the past. But the very description of such value changes contradicts the view of Torah as the source of eternal values binding on the Jewish people forever.

Underlying the proposed curriculum is a strong emphasis on tolerance that derives, at least in part, from the fear of the Islamic intolerance and even violence. The emphasis on the moral autonomy of each person and the need to recognize multiple sources of ethical values betray a bias against revealed religion in general.

It is hard to imagine any Torah Jew allowing his children being subjected to a curriculum in which Torah is just one among many options. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether any political entity might nevertheless mandate such curriculum.

In the United States the right of parents to provide their children with a parochial education was settled by the Supreme Court almost a century ago.7 If anything that right has even become more firmly entrenched with the rapid growth of the home-schooling movement. At the same time, the state’s substantial interest in the regulation of private education has long been recognized. If a curriculum like the proposed curriculum described is introduced in any American state, it will largely be in response to the legitimate concerns that Islamist education raises among Western policymakers.

1. Mary Habeck of the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University describes the goals of political Islam: "Jihadis . . . neither recognize national boundaries within Islamic lands nor do they believe that the coming Islamic state, when it is created, should have permanent borders with the unbelievers. The recognition of such boundaries would end the expansion of Islam and stop offensive jihad, both of which are transgressions against [Divine] law that commands jihad to last until Judgment Day or until the entire earth is under the rule of Islamic law."

2. Let us say, for instance, that a state fair housing statute prohibits discrimination in the rental of housing on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation. How will a court respond to the claim of a religious homeowner that it violates his religious beliefs to rent his premises to those who will, in his view, be using them for immoral purposes? Note that here the homeowner is not be forced to violate his religious beliefs. He can always withhold the premises from the rental market. But he will pay a heavy price for doing so. As state regulation comes to encroach into every area of life, the number of such conflicts between religious belief and state regulation grows exponentially.

3. To date, the United States has experienced nothing like the 7/7 Tube bombing in London or the Madrid train blasts. And Muslims in America appear to have integrated more successfully than in European countries. The median average income of American Muslims is approximately the same as American whites, and their educational levels are higher. From the beginning, America has conceived itself as a melting-pot of immigrants from many different countries; national identity is not assumed to be based on descent from some group of ethnically homogenous ancestors, as in European countries. Further the deep religiosity of America and the fact religion that there was never a national church in America, but rather a multitude of sects and religions, have made it easier for Moslems to maintain their religious identity and assume their place in the rich tapestry of American religious pluralism. (American religiosity and the lack of a national church stand in stark contrast to Europe.)

Nevertheless, fanatic forms of Islam have found a receptive audience among black inmates in prisons. Anti-terrorist expert Daniel Pipes has repeatedly warned of radical Islamic groups in the United States as well, a warning given more credence by the January expulsion from the United States of an Ohio imam on charges stemming from his fundraising for Islamic Jihad. The plot of 17 Canadian Moslems to blow up the Canadian parliament and behead the prime minister further suggests that the United States should not consider itself immune from homegrown Islamists.]

4. Some have argued that there is no religious liberty argument in the wearing of a hijab because Islamic law does not require it. In support they cite the fact that at least two Moslem countries – Turkey and Tunisia – ban the wearing of a veil altogether, and that it has not been traditional dress in many Moslem societies.

That is not an argument that Torah Jews should be eager to embrace. We would not want a secular court to inquire whether wearing a yarmulke indoors is religiously required, or consider evidence that some Orthodox Jews do not wear a yarmulke at work. A secular court oversteps itself when in acts as a religious authority. The only relevant question in this regard is whether the person asserting the religious liberty claim truly believes that he is religiously required or forbidden to something.

Even where the answer is affirmative, however, that does not mean that the religious liberty claim should always prevail. One of Britain’s most dangerous terrorists recently escaped from the country by disguising himself as a Moslem woman in a full-length garment that revealed only his eyes as he went through passport control. That is just one example of where security concerns might well warrant limiting the religious claim of the right to wear a particular modest garment.

5. Muslims show a much greater propensity for imposing their religious beliefs on others. In one case that attracted a great deal of notoriety, Muslim taxi drivers in Minneapolis have been refusing to take passengers caring pork or liquor products. The airport authority was initially inclined to accommodate the Moslem drivers until columnist and scholar Daniel Pipes aroused a national uproar, at which point the drivers were told that they would have to take all passengers or forfeit their license.

Here the claim of the airport authority seems particularly strong. Taxi licenses are a limited public resource, and the state has a clear interest in ensuring that holders of those licenses use them to best serve the public. (It is hard to imagine an Orthodox taxi driver refusing to transport a passenger carrying pork products, even if the passenger were Jewish.)

6. I am being deliberately vague about the location of the government body that has issued the proposed curriculum so as not to prejudice ongoing negotiations.

7. Even though Pierce v. Society of Sisters was decided under long discarded doctrines of "substantive due process," the decision has been frequently and approvingly cited by the Supreme Court, often in cases involving the "right to privacy," originally discovered by Justice Douglas in various penumbras of the Constitution.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

YouTube: Temple Mount Dig - The Truth

From The Jerusalem Post
In Gaza, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and elsewhere, Muslims are up in arms about what even a moderate like Jordan's King Abdullah called "a threat to the foundations of the Al Aksa mosque."

"What is happening is an aggression, we call on the Palestinian people to unite and protect Jerusalem," said Muhammad Hussein, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for the Islamic world to "retaliate" and make Israel "regret" what it had done.

What is Israel doing that has sparked such violent threats? Some years ago, the pedestrian ramp leading up to Jerusalem's Temple Mount fell apart. Now municipal authorities plan to build a permanent ramp to maintain access to this holy site, and are conducting, as required by law, an archeological salvage dig to make sure no artifacts are destroyed in the process.

All of this is completely outside the Temple Mount platform, and bears no relation or threat to that structure, let alone to the Aksa mosque. Why would Israel dream of undermining the Temple Mount, which is Judaism's holiest site? The claim that Israel is doing so is patently absurd, as anyone familiar with the area can immediately see.
And now you have.

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From Edward Said to CAIR

According to Youssef Ibrahim, the intimidation of critics of Islam might be traced back to Edward Said--
Remember "Orientalism," that landmark book by the late Columbia University professor Edward Said?

The 1978 work put the fear of God into any Western scholar who dared to discuss Islam, Muslims, or Arabs in anything less than superlatives — and it has succeeded beyond Said's wildest dreams.
In a prescient new book, "Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents," author Robert Irwin notes that "because of the possible offense to Muslim susceptibilities, Western scholars who specialize in the early history of Islam have to be extremely careful what they say, and some of them have developed subtle forms of double-speak when discussing contentious matters."

What goes for academia has been happening in a more dramatic fashion in the press, literature, and the creative arts, where death threats, death sentences, and actual murders of writers, artists, and intellectuals have taken a toll.

Bottom line: You can't talk about Islam, not really. Those transgressing are hounded like hunted animals.
Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are two examples of hunted victims.
So too is
the murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

But the consequences of the failure of academia to stand up to the intimidation of Islamists are more than just academic:
Islamic history is served up airbrushed in academia, and the result is a public denied knowledge. The reason many in the West are so surprised by the Sunni-Shiite split now tearing apart the Persian Gulf is that few know the history of early Islam, when a bloody succession to the Prophet Muhammad yielded that split 13 centuries ago. The storm around the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad last year was a perfect example of what happens when willful ignorance and self-censorship come together.
Today the information we receive about Islam is filtered through self-censorship and the politically correct--though Ibrahim claims that 9/11 has begun the long process of reversing this trend.

But that does not mean that the Islamist intimidation has stopped. Fundamentalist regimes such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have invested alot of money into perpetuating their version of Islam and its history--and we are very familiar with one of their conduits:

Take two donations to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization that has participated in its share of sinister activities. In June 2006, it was announced that Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — supposedly a friend of America who built his multibillion-dollar fortune partly through owning Citibank and Apple stocks — will fund a $50 million CAIR project "to create a better understanding of Islam and Muslims" in America.

Surely the prince, who has scores of American advisers, knows how controversial CAIR is. Yet he is giving it $50 million to interpret Saudi militant Wahhabism, making it "accessible" in America.

The other multimillion-dollar donation to CAIR came from the Al Maktoum Foundation, the prime money-distribution arm of the ruling family of Dubai, also supposedly a friend of America.

Some friends. At a time that the US--and the West--face the threat of Islamist terrorism funded through Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, its time to consider who our real friends are.

And who isn't.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

[Updated] The Ellison/Tancredo Kerfuffle: Unanswered Questions

Lots of blogs are writing about the article in The Hill:

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) believes it is his right as a Muslim to be sworn into Congress with the Quran. But apparently, the freshman lawmaker doesn't believe it's Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-Colo.) right to smoke a cigar in his congressional office.

Ellison's office called the Capitol Hill Police on Tancredo last Wednesday night as Tancredo was in his office smoking a cigar. The lawmakers have neighboring offices on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building.

This leaves some questions unanswered.

Question 1: why were the police called?
Ellison's press secretary, Rick Jauert: "I called because the smoke was coming through the walls"
The Hill: "To help keep his office free of impurities, Tancredo has three air purifiers"

Question 2: why did Jauert go to the extreme measure of calling the police?
Jauert: "He's [Ellison] complained of the smoke before."
Tancredo: "If he [Ellison] would have [had] the courtesy to say something I'm sure I would have been more accommodating to his wishes."

Allahpundit got an email from Robert Spencer that "freshmen congressmen are allowed to choose their new offices, so for whatever reason, Ellison wanted to be there."

Question 3: Why would Ellison want an office right next to Tancredo?
The Hill points out: Tancredo supported Ellison's right to be sworn in with the Quran.


Fox News (July 18, 2005):
Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like — if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.
Pedestrian Infidel (September 14, 2005):
U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo wants the National Park Service to reject the crescent- shaped design of a proposed Sept. 11 memorial in rural Pennsylvania, saying it resembles the lunar crescent symbol of Islam and could be seen as a "tribute to the hijackers."
So after Ellison chose for his new office a room next to a man he respected/despised, his press secretary responded to smoke that was/was not coming through the walls after Ellison had previously/never complained about the smoke before.

Got it?

Update: Fox News is reporting that Ellison has apologized to Tancredo...for the commotion after the police came:
A freshman Democratic lawmaker sent a hand-written note Wednesday night to a neighboring Republican congressman to apologize for the situation that erupted after his staff complained to U.S. Capitol Police about cigar smoke.

No word yet that Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is sorry that his staff called the cops in the first place to complain that Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo's cigar was stinking up the hallway they share in the Longworth House Office Building.

Ellison "apologizes for the situation" because "it was so blown out of proportion," Carlos Espinosa, Tancredo’s press secretary, told FOX News.

...Jauert said he wasn't sure where the smoke was coming from and that the congressman didn't know that he had made the complaint.

Ellison suffers from asthma and people in his office are "highly sensitive" to second-hand smoke, Jauert said.
It is interesting that Jauert now says that he called the police on a Congressman even though he was not sure where the smoke was coming from. More interesting, as Lone Star Times points out, is that Jauert apparently contradicts himself-- now he is saying Ellison didn't know he had made a complaint. But according to the Hill article:
Jauert said he then informed his boss what he had done. He said “fine,” Jauert said. “He’s complained of the smoke before.”
Another Jauert contradiction. The whole situation may very well be a small misunderstanding. But it would help if Jauert's statements were consistent.

And, as Red, Blue and You asks, why wasn't the issue of Ellison's asthma mentioned when the police were called?

Update 2: According to ABC's Political Punch, [hat tip Think Progress] Rick Jauert did not call the police at all. Instead, he followed protocol:
He called the House superintendent's office "since that's what you do when these issues arise," he says. "They connected me to the Capitol Hill police." Ellison, Jauert says, did not know he was making that call, though he later went over to Tancredo's office to explain to them that he (Ellison) has asthma. "But by that time the call had been made and the officer had stopped by."
This would explain most of the discrepancies.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Can Anti-Semites Be Great Men?

The issue started when Republican Mitt Romney chose a museum honoring Henry Ford as the site to announce his presidential candidacy. In a move oddly reminiscent of CAIR, The National Jewish Democratic Council criticized Romney's choice of venue because of Ford's history of anti-Semitism.

In response to readers that Henry Ford was a great American even while he was still an anti-Semite, Jonah Goldberg responds:
Sorry, I'm not sold. If you mean by "great" the Thomas Carlyle, "great man of history" great, I think that's perfectly defensible. But when I use the phrase "great American" I mean it as a compliment. There are lots of "great men" I would never want to emulate. There are few great Americans I wouldn't want to emulate.

For the record, I don't hold the view that anti-Semitism automatically disqualifies historical figures from being great Americans — though I would like to think it doesn't help. But there is an issue of degree here. Slavery was a moral horror, but Jefferson was typical of his age and we don't need to get into one of those long arguments about whether slavery disqualifies the founders from our admiration to understand the issues involved. Meanwhile, sure anti-Semitism was prevalent, or more prevalent, in Ford's day but Ford was a real outlier. He was among the chief distributors of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other anti-Semitic theories. While Jefferson is by no means my favorite founding father, I would think a lot less of him if I were to learn that he was a gung-ho booster of slavery and an outright advocate of cruelty to slaves. Similarly, it doesn't bother me too much when I hear the stray off-putting comment about Jews from, say, a Teddy Roosevelt because there's a social and historical context to keep in mind. But Henry Ford really went out of his way to demonize Jews. I think that disqualifies him as a great American — again, in my book. But I certainly understand why others may disagree. It's not like I lose a lot of sleep over my rage at Henry Ford. Nor will I pace the floor swearing vengeance at Romney for announcing his presidential bid at Henry Ford's pad or wherever that was.
Though the context is anti-Semitism, any racial prejudice would be equally abhorrent and would similarly diminish the stature of a person--regardless of their status and accomplishments, which I assume is what Goldberg is referring to by the term "great man of history". It is that aspect of Henry Ford that Romney is connecting to.

It is also that aspect of Henry Ford that Bill Clinton was referring to--without backlash--back in 1999 when he said:
Here in Detroit nearly a century ago, as all of you know better than me, Henry Ford set history in motion with the very first assembly line. He built not only a Model T, but a new model for the way America would do business for quite a longwhile. He said he was looking for leaders and thinkers and workers with "an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done." People like that came together in Detroit and all across America. They forged America's transition from farm to factory. Detroit led the way and America led the world. [Hat tip: John J. Miller]
Part of the problem may be that Ford's darker side may not be widely taught and is not as deeply embedded in the American consciousness. As Jews, we tend to remember such details--and there is no reason we should keep them to ourselves--but using them as political fodder deprives them of educational value.

In Goldberg's description, he draws a distinction between men who are great because they have done great things and men who have achieved stature and greatness that is worthy of emulation. Ford would be an example of the former--nothing can detract from his achievements and what they meant to America's place in the world. The latter has a certain moral element to it--Jefferson as a leader falls into that category, even while his association with slavery diminishes his stature.

Richard Wagner, who was an anti-Semite, is a controversial figure in both Germany and Israel--but it would be difficult to say that his achievement itself, his music, is diminished thereby. For all the romanticized view of music as a reflection of one's soul, music--despite its beauty--is amoral: it can make a statement and inspire, just as art and good writing can, but it does not have a particular moral value to it and does not necessarily indicate anything about the person who created it.

Goldberg sets up a dispensation based on the prevailing attitude of the time, which is why he faults Ford for going beyond the pale in actively disseminating anti-Semitic literature such as the Protocols. Wagner, for his part, published his opinions on Jews. Jefferson, however, apparently did not advocate slavery--even while he personally endorsed it. Goldberg may be justified in granting a certain 'allowance' for greatness in the face of the prevalent views of the times, but a certain amount of mediocrity should attach itself to such a person. Surely a great man, a man of stature, would be able to transcend the prejudices of the time just as he transcends in the expectations of his time.

Bottom line, Henry Ford is honored and respected as a symbol of what can be accomplished and what he contributed to American's place in the world, even while he himself is not a model of how one should live their life to accomplish it.

Of course anti-Semites cannot be Great Men--no more than any other kind of racist--but we should keep in mind what a Great Man is and why we want to be one in the first place.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Will Middle Eastern Scholarship At Barnard Sink to Columbia's Level?

As a alumnus of Columbia University, I have grown used to reading about the bias of Columbia University's Middle East Studies program. I recovered from the nausea at the mishandling of the students' complaints and have put behind me the specious arguments confusing sloppy scholarship and self-serving propaganda with free speech--or for that matter the convenient confusion of criticism and demand for accuracy with the stifling of free speech.

Columbia University has done for Middle East Scholarship what it has done for football.

So I really am not surprised to hear that Barnard has it's share of anti-Israel propaganda parading as scholarship either. When Jameel from The Muqata writes about Does Barnard Need Junk Academics? the answer is probably yes.

Nadia Abu El Haj, who is seeking tenure at Barnard, is on a par with Dr. Nabil Hilmi, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Al-Zaqaziq. Back in August 2003, that illustrious gentleman wanted to sue Jews for the theft of everything taken by Jews during the Exodus.

According Rabbi Avi Shafran:
the Talmud tells of precisely such a claim lodged over 2000 years ago in a world court of sorts presided over by none other than Alexander the Great.

The story is recounted in Sanhedrin 91a, where it is recorded that one Geviha ben Pesisa responded on the Jews' behalf. A paraphrase of the excerpt follows:

"What is your source?" Geviha asked the Egyptian representatives.

"The Torah," they replied.

"Very well," said Geviha, "I too will invoke the Torah, which says that the Jews spent 430 years laboring in Egypt. Please compensate us for 600,000 men's work for that period of time."

The Egyptians, the Talmud continues, then asked Alexander for three days during which to formulate a response. The recess was granted but the representatives, finding no counter-argument, never returned.

Neither did Hilmi.

El Haj, who writes that the "existence of the ancient Israelite and Hebrew kingdoms should be considered “a pure political fabrication,” in this case has actually be rebutted by a number of actual historians and scholars. One might actually hope that Barnard might find the wherewithal to actually take a stand for honest scholarship.

Hey, it could happen.

No doubt El Haj can find a position at any of a number of Arab/Muslim educational institutions where such propaganda is the norm.

Go read Muqata's post on what else El Haj is writing.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

AbbaGav on Blogging

AbbaGav has a post up Monday on Ten Ways You Can Tell You've Lost Your Blogging Edge.

After reading it I wondered if this feeling of recognition is what people feel when they attend one of those 12 step programs.

...Assuming of course there really are 12 steps.

Go read AbbaGav and face your demons!

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