Friday, August 29, 2014

A West Bank Freedom Summer?

In Haaretz, Peter Beinart is urging American Jews to stage a Freedom Summer in the West Bank in opposition to the settlement program.

Here is what he says: [Screw you Haaretz paywall]
"It’s time for American Jews who support Israel but oppose the occupation to commit to large-scale, direct action of our own. And the most important place to do so is in the West Bank. Palestinians in villages like Bil’in and Nabi Saleh have been protesting, unarmed, for years against the theft of their land. But their efforts receive little attention in American Jewish circles or in the American press. Few American Jews have any idea that under the military law that governs Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel routinely criminalizes freedom of speech and assembly. Or that peaceful protesters can be held in detention for years without trial.
But if thousands of American Jews joined those protests, American Jews would know. Protesters would return home with videos to show their synagogues; hawkish parents would be appalled by the treatment meted out to their children. And the American media, which covers Jews far more intensively than it covers Palestinians, would follow. The model would be Freedom Summer, Robert Moses’ campaign to bring white college students to help register voters in Mississippi in 1964, and thus draw the nation’s eyes to oppression that garnered little media attention when practiced only against blacks."

-- Direct, peaceful action #FTW!  Its sexy and it works.

-- American Jews need to be woken up to the fact that West Bank Arabs are being denied basic rights because of their religion/ethnicity. I like anything that threatens to do this.


-- I'm not going to march alongside BDSers or Hamasniks. No Common Cause with them, period.

-- There's zero chance that such a West Bank demonstration will remain peaceful. I don't know why it worked in the American South, during the Freedom Rides and Freedom Summer, because had I been a Southern black living under Jim Crow you damn well better believe I would have thrown stones - or worse. But for some reason when blacks marched and protested in the 60s they (when it mattered) responded to the worst provocations with love. The Arabs simply won't do that - which kills Beinart's idea in its crib.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Do we who whine about anti-Semitism experience anything like this?

Today's bad news:
Scholars have found that blacks and Hispanics treated by doctors for a broken leg received pain medication significantly less often than white patients with the same injury. School administrators suspend black students at more than three times the rate of white students. Police arrest blacks at 3.7 times the rate of whites for marijuana possession, even though surveys find that both use marijuana at roughly similar rates. 
Two scholars sent out nearly 5,000 résumés in response to help-wanted ads, randomly alternating between stereotypically white-sounding names and black-sounding names. They found that it took 50 percent more mailings to get a callback for a black name. A white name yielded as much benefit as eight years of experience, according to the study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 
Joshua Correll of the University of Colorado at Boulder has used an online shooter video game to try to measure these unconscious attitudes (you can play the game yourself). The player takes on the role of a police officer who is confronted with a series of images of white or black men variously holding guns or innocent objects such as wallets or cellphones. The aim is to shoot anyone with a gun while holstering your weapon in other cases.

Ordinary players (often university undergraduates) routinely shoot more quickly at black men than at white men, and are more likely to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man.

Do we who whine about anti-Semitism experience anything like this?
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Our European Summer

While they are certainly an outrage ,I can not decide if the events in Europe this summer are cause for worry. And this NYT oped by a bright woman from Georgia does nothing to help me clarify my thoughts.

PS For those inclined to worry about European Jews let me state that all of this seems foretold by the commentators on Parshas Reeh who warned that bad behavior by Jews living in Israel spells danger. Not that I put extra super faith in such predictions, of course.

NYT:Why Jews Are Worried
Europe isn’t on the cusp of another Holocaust. But the situation is still pretty bad.
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Furgeson Jews

The stupid things Jewish racists say about Ferguson continue to grate on my nerves. So two quick announcements:

:: Jews riot, too, when they believe the police have mistreated one of their own. It's happened in Boro Park and Meah Shearim. And the fact that some riots are more or less violent than other riots does not erase the fact that Jews riot, too.

:: It's only possible to say blacks are "prone to rioting" if you forget the daily injustices the black community puts up with at the hands of the police. Stop and frisk. Driving while black. Choke holds."Resisting arrest" as an excuse to knock someone's head in. As professional and competent as most policemen are, such injustices are committed against blacks at a frequency Jews would never tolerate. If hasidim were subjected to even an eighth of the crap the black community endures, the hasidim would riot and their far more competent leaders would work behind the scenes to ensure the police department reformed itself.

(I'm aware that there is far more criminal behavior in the black community and in general I am not criticizing cops. All the same it can't be denied that police misconduct affects the black community more than it affects any other; moreover if such misconduct were to be directed at, say, Satmar hasidim, you'd have riots and behind the scenes "askonus" carried out by lobbyists and negotiators who are far more competent than Al Sharpton)

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Let the Tanaaim be Tannaim!

Rashi and Ramban discuss, in parshas Eikev, the midrash which claims "the clouds of the divine glory brushed their garments and pressed them so they looked like freshly ironed articles" while the Jews were marching through the desert.

My object, when I read midrash and rishonim, isn't to discover what "really happened" but to see, as best possible, what the writer is attempting to convey. I think all parties under discussion here - Ramban, Rashi and most crucially the original midrash - are of the view that the clouds of glory literally kept everyone's clothing looking sharp as that's where their reading of the verse takes them.

Here, the verse says שִׂמְלָתְךָ לֹא בָלְתָה and the midrash, followed by Rashi and Ramban, take that to mean what it says it means just as they take ואש מתלקחת בתוך הברד to mean what it says it means.

I argue that if a verse says something supernatural happened, the Sages believed it happened. Many of the so-called supernatural midrashim are just alternative readings of the verse. In such cases what apart from our own squeamishness stops us from concluding that the Sages though that what the verse says happened actually happened? (and please note the distinction between what the sages thought happened, and what actually happened as there aren't necessarily one and the same)

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See how 5TJ gets it wrong on Furgeson vs Miami

Like father, like son?

Larry Gordon of the infamous 5TJ believes the only difference between the Jews of Miami and the blacks of Furgeson is that Jews don't riot.

He seems to have forgotten that the Jew in Miami was killed by a criminal,and that the Jews in Miami can rely on the police to investigate the case correctly while, for the moment at least, the blacks of Furgeson have no such confidence in their own local law enforcement.

More to the point, under identical circumstances Jews have behaved identically. The Jews of Boro Park and Mea Shearim have, on multiple occasions, rioted when they believed the police treated them unfairly.

Slaughtering "as I have commanded you"

I love Rashi and can go on for days about his brilliance but I have to say that, l'ad, he gets it wrong on Deuteronomy 12:21:
"When the place which Hashem, your God, has chosen to place His name there, is distant from you and you will slaughter from your cattle and your herd which Hashem has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates as all your soul desires." 
And you will slaughter etc. as I have commanded you - RASHI: This teaches us that there is a command regarding slaughtering [animals to be eaten], how one should slaughter, and these must be the laws of slaughtering which were told to Moses at Sinai.
My point of disagreement is this: God has mentioned slaughtering earlier in the book. Perhaps our verse is not pointing to " laws of slaughtering which were told to Moses at Sinai.", ie,  the oral Torah, but to one of those instances. For example,  a mere five verses earlier we find a wider discussion of slaughtering.

And if you will say that the specific rules and details of slaughtering are not mentioned there either  I will reply that the written Torah never mentions such details. Our case - slaughtering - is merely another one of several cases of the Torah omitting to mention such rules details. If none of those other cases point to the existence of a second Torah neither does this one.

[Let me preempt your expected argument from consequences, please: I'm not looking to do anything other than understand the verse correctly; moreover my suggestion does nothing at all to "disprove" the existence of the Oral  Law. From the fact that this particular verse does not point at the Oral Torah, it does not follow that that there is no oral Torah. ]

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Monday, August 18, 2014

How is #furgeson unlike the West Bank

How is #furgeson unlike the West Bank? Three big differences:
  1. The Ferguson police have used military grade equipment to disperse violently-minded rioters who have come armed with guns and Molotov cocktails - yet, to date, have not killed a single one of them. (The IDF often ends up killing rioters) 
  2. Ultimately the people of Ferguson will be able to settle their grievances in the courts or at the polls. (Palestinians have no such luck) 
  3. There is no genocide-minded terrorist organization in Ferguson coordinating the riots or attempting to recruit and train the rioters for more violent work (perhaps because none of the rioters have been shot and because ultimately they can turn to the legal system or the ballot box for a remedy)

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Its all Netanyahu's Fault

Op-ed: Though he markets himself as an expert on US, prime minister responsible for deterioration in ties to Israel's closest ally.

Money quote:
After slandering the president, trying to humiliate him in front of the cameras in the White House, callously supporting his rival Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections, allowing his ministers – especially Defense Minister Ya'alon – to vilify and sully US Secretary of State John Kerry, expressessing "doubts" over the appointment of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and threatening every Monday and Thursday to "go to Congress," Netanyahu should not wonder why he is not popular in Washington, D.C.
Opinion: Op-ed: Though he markets himself as an expert on US, prime minister responsible for deterioration in ties to Israel's closest ally.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Hebrew has been banned!

A Satamr synagogue in Kiryas Joel has forbidden the use of Hebrew on its grounds. 

I guess this means they won't be learning mishnayos, reciting prayers, or studying SHUT. Hell, even Vayoel Moshe is written in Hebrew -- or do the gabbaim intend to start policing dialects?
  • Ari Mandel Did these monkeys not notice that the sign banning Hebrew, is written in Hebrew?

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

B v O on I

What's going to happen when a real anti-Israel president like Rand Paul, a Republican, takes office? You think he'll just chuckle and, like Obama, reach for his checkbook every time Netanyahu mistreats him or one of his deputies?

And while we're discussing GOP Jewish delusions, perhaps someone can help me with this chronic question.

I, honestly, don't see any real difference between Obama and Bush when it comes to Israel-- except Obama provides more money and more weapons. Both provided Israel with  massive amounts of funding, but both called for settlement freezes and urged Israel to demonstrate restraint. (Bush also was first to call for a two state solution, and championed the Road Map.)

Yet, the GOP Jews remain convinced that Obama is destroying Israel while Bush was Israel's best friend. What's the reason for this inconsistency?

-- I don't have very high hopes for this dialog. I bet 10 dollars the GOP Jewish answer will consist entirely of hyperbole, nonsense about tone or the "way he talks" or what he "really means" and the endless stream of false facts.

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Bibi should be on thin ice - but isn't

Today's WSJ tells me the Bibi Netanyahu continue to have difficulty remembering who is the lord and who is the vassal. 
We learn that Israel went around Pentagon procurement procedures to the embarrassment of US policy-makers, and that Netanyahu leaked a draft US proposal solely for the purpose of humiliating John Kerry.

I'd certainly toss Bibi under the nearest bus if he treated me the way he perpetually treats the Obama administration. 

The fact that our president continues not just to tolerate him, but to support and to protect and to fund him, proves that the president is a great philo-Semite or that, truly, "the king's heart in the hands of the Lord"

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Things the Menk-man gets wrong in his supercilious anti-tribute to Robin Willaims:

The whole horror show is on his blog, of course. Choice tidbits follow:

Happiness is not a casual thing, it doesn’t just happen, it is something that one can pursue and develop. This is why Chazal say “it is a great Mitzvah to always be happy” — it’s something we can cultivate.

It was Rav Nachman of Breslov, not Chazal, who told us “it is a great Mitzvah to always be happy”

This statement also teaches us that happiness is not a state of laughing delight. Rav Alexander Mandelbaum, in his “V’hayisa Ach Samayach” (“and you shall only be happy”), speaks about two types of happiness considered by Chazal — happiness with one’s lot, and happiness in performance of Mitzvos. Happiness with one’s lot is developed by considering that G-d gives each individual precisely what that person needs — so he or she, even in a difficult situation, should be happy with the understanding that HaShem saw that the difficult situation would prove to be of ultimate benefit. That sort of happiness doesn’t “just happen.”

While it might be true that healthy people can "cultivate happiness", you can't wish away a serious illness like depression. Taking to heart these words, as Menken suggests,  and recognizing that God runs the world, distributing blessings that precisely match each person's needs, would not have cured Robin Williams's illness.

Depression is not sadness. Robin Williams was not sad. He was sick with a serious mood disorder.

One does not always feel Sasson, joy. But it is a Mitzvah to always be happy — even on Tisha B’Av, even during Shivah. How can this be? We can comprehend this by understanding Simchah as a feeling of moving happily in the right direction, pursuing a goal. That is something that can remain with a person even during times of grief and pain.

That is real happiness. Unfortunately, the purveyors of what the modern world calls “happiness” — the entertainers — realize within themselves, either consciously or subconsciously, that they have not found and are not providing true happiness.

As Robin Williams never said: "If only someone had told me that happiness is when you're moving happily toward a goal. Wow. If someone had told me that, as I worked for years, laboriously honing my craft and building my career as a world class entertainer, my mood disorder would have cleared right up."

In short, let's redefine the word simcha and use that redefinition to pass judgment on a dead man, his entire industry and the modern world. Robin Williams was desperately sick, but that was not because he didn't have handy Menken's redefinition of the word Simcha. He was sick because something went bad in his brain chemistry. And most irritating of all is Menken's cheap, unfalsifiable assertion that Williams was unhappy - again depression isn't unhappiness - because he "knew" all of this "either consciously or subconsciously."

To people like Menken people don't hate your guts because you're a churlish moron, but because "deep down inside" they know the chulish moron is right.

As a mental health professional, I think I am most offended and concerned by his insistence that William's struggle with depression had a cause, and that the cause was his choice of profession. This seems to blame William's for courting his own mental illness. Which, in turn, suggests that having mental health struggles is a choice, and that the truly pious would never experience such struggles because they are "happily" engaged in mitzvot. 

Opinion pieces like Menken's are dangerous. Although in his responses to comments, he alludes to being more familiar with research on depression, he doesn't reference actual fact or research about depression in his post. By glossing over the complexities of what clinical depression actually is, and trying to fit Robin William's death into a neat, little "vort" package, he is actually perpetuating the stigma against mental health that pervades the Orthodox community.

Some of his post is breathtaking:

I don’t believe that Williams simply had a mental illness
How fortunate for R. Menken, since he seems to have no interest in talking about mental illness but instead promoting his own "happiness is always a choice" agenda. [DB: And how many hours did Dr. Menken sit with the patient prior to the diagnosis?]

Few are discussing how common depression seems to be among the leading entertainers
A Google search will refute this, but it's important to claim there's no discussion in order to promote the relevance of your own discussion. The faint whiff of a conspiracy of silence never hurt ratings, either.

I did a little research.
Yes, but he should really remove the "a."

I’m not aware of any other industry whose top practitioners are so
likely to have trouble with drugs, alcohol, broken marriages, other
self-destructive behaviors, and of course suicide.

See preceding bullet.

That is real happiness. Unfortunately, the purveyors of what the modern
world calls “happiness” — the entertainers — realize within themselves,
either consciously or subconsciously, that they have not found and are
not providing true happiness.

Here's what the post is really all about, and DB nailed it when he wrote, "In short, let's redefine the word simcha and use that redefinition to pass judgment on a dead man, his entire industry and the modern world."

B'tachles, this "vort" isn't about Robin Williams, suicide, or even about happiness as such; the tragedy of Robin Williams death is just a convenient platform from which R. Menken can launch another salvo at modernity.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Jews talk about

During my brief and recent involvement with the Abraham's Tent Interfaith Facebook Group, I have learned that Jews are far more concerned about petty details than Muslims - or at least the Jews who are inclined to participate in the interfaith discussions hosted by this particular group are far more concerned about petty details than their Muslim counterparts.

Ask a question about Muslim observances, and you'll generally get one answer, or perhaps a brief discussion about regional differences. Ask about a Jewish observance and you can expect hundreds of comments discussing every possible in and every possible out.

The other day, two group members met and posted a double selfie. The Jew was wearing Jewish clothing: a Breslaver kippa, white shirt and visible arba kanfot. The Muslim was in a tunic of some kind and a Bukharin cap. We asked for explanations, but none of the Muslim members seemed able or willing to discuss what the tunic or cap signaled - if anything - or what scriptural verses or interpretations made them necessary, or how the garments developed historically. But we Jews went to work on what our guy was wearing. For two days we hammered away about varieties of techayles, the different things different styles of kippa say about the wearer, the types of knots people put in their tzitzis and more. Is it because Judaism is so much older than Islam?

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Out praying the Arabs

We Jews have believed in praying for military victories since the time of the Bible. In days of yore, there was a certain logic to this. Our enemies were pagans, who worshiped the false, graven gods, while our prayers were directed to the One True King. 

But now? Now, our enemies also address their prayers to the One True King. What's worse, our enemies outnumber us, and they pray more frequently, and with greater fervor, too, if YouTube can be trusted.  If the videos can be believed, they don't chat during prayers, and they seem to stay perfectly focused on the words and their meaning from beginning to end. 

According to our Rabbis, we need to raise up a great sound of prayer, but the great sound of prayer raised by the Muslims drowns us out. If we believe that prayer works, i.e. if we believe prayer spurs God to action, and that they work best when they are said fervently and in great numbers. Doesn't it follow  that their prayers are more powerful?

Possible solutions

God won't answer the prayers of the Muslims because then it will seem like the Jews aren't really his special guys. So for the sake of the glory of his own name He ignores Muslims prayers when they beseech him to harm the Jews. FLAW: If God is just going to impose His own calculations on the process and ignore prayers when it suits Him what's the point of praying in the first place

God takes into account the character of the person who is offering the prayers. We don't have to worry about the power of Muslim prayers, because they're being offered by morally corrupt people. FLAW: Says who? The Muslims will be happy to explain to you why they are morally exquisite and we are morally corrupt. And even if we can agree that God will ignore the prayers of terrorist murderers, what about the billion or so Muslims who pray 5 x per day and aren't terrorist murderers? And again if you say God focuses His attention on the person doing the praying, the actual prayer itself ceases to matter. 

In reality prayers don't spur God to action. In reality, we pray to improve ourselves with the expectation that God will deal more favorably with us after we've been improved. FLAW: If so, wouldn't Muslims be improved by their prayers - especially if they say them more often and with more fervor? So we're back where we started.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

The Arab plane ride

How strange. The last time I was on a plane all the Arabs were talking about how annoyed they are that long skirts and kosher wigs are keeping us safe.

Photo: If you don't have a good story, make up a great one.

How strange. The last time I was on a plane all the Arabs were talking about how annoyed they are that long skirts and kosher wigs are keeping us safe.
If you don't have a good story, make up a great one.

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