A group of Jews endeavors towards total domination of the blogosphere.

Saturday, June 28, 2003  

Apparently, the first news story on the anti-Israeli Oxford letter incident. The professor is essentially backtracking and pretending he didn't express what he really did. There's no credit in the story to the blogosphere, and that's a shame.
What should be done about this guy? He abused his job by employing an ad hoc discriminatory policy; the only reason there's no talk about him losing his job is because he's at a university, where tenure rules. But this abuse had nothing to do with academic inquiry and everything to do with job function.
(Thanks, Meredith)

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:31 PM |

Welcome back from the Jewish Sabbath. I'll have a response to Yourish's post, as well as all the other comments to my anti-Zionism post, later. First, we've got the fourth posts on Rushkoff from Elder Avraham, then me.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 9:30 PM |

Friday, June 27, 2003  

Cute Top 10 List on Being Frum in Medical School. Ultimate sign of Orthodox sexual repression comes with #1, "You know the real reason you went to med school was to finally get some action....... in the "physical diagnosis" course! what a coincidence that your partner is the hottest guy in your class!!"
How excessive.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 6:54 PM |

Tim Cavanaugh on Abbas, links to an article on his associations with the Munich attacks.
Also on Hit & Run, Julian Sanchez finds Abbas quoting Bush, and it's interesting.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 5:09 PM |

Rushkoff Post on Part II. Elder I basically hit the nail on the head. Here're just a few more points.

First of all, I want to just dovetail with the first quotation in Edler I's latest Rushkoff post. When I go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana, I derive tremendous meaning from the service. Does that mean, by definition, that I'm not thoughtful, dishonest or that I lack integrity? Amazingly enough, the Rosh Hashana liturgy does reflect my innermost beliefs. Contrast that with the story in the beginning of the section about Rushkoff's grandmother:

Sabina's brand of Judaism is more grounded in iconoclasm, end-stage monotheism, and social justice than it is in faith. She feels most Jewish when she is voting for Democrats or raising funds for Hadassah. She doesn't even believe in God -- "He's just another way to keep the masses in line," she like to say -- but prefers to see the godly in everyone. Still, her principles are, in many ways, more Jewish than what is being practiced in the temple where she refuses to worship. How has Judaism gotten itself into a situation where a Jewish woman feels that walking into a synagogue is against her religion? (p.46)
I don't understand. What sort of synagogue service would a professed athiest attend? Better yet, why should the synagogue change its service to accomodate her? As I understand the concept, a synagogue is a place where people assemble to worship God, however they define Him (even as abstractly as Rushkoff does). If lapsed Jews are the ones who really get it, then nobody should ever be coming to synagogue.

Again we note the mocking tones directed towards ba'alei teshuva. I'm assuming he feels threatened by them because they were lapsed, but then they came back. Obviously, to them social justice is not the defining element of Judasim as much as some sort of relationship with God. Therefore, they must either be simplistic losers or under the sway of evil cults. The same Yeshayahu Leibowitz who Rushkoff quotes (without attribution, although he's in the biblio in the back) when explaining the evils of Zionism and reading God into history also describes the essential root of Judasim as submitting to halakha beacuse sacrificing your will to the Divine Will is what gives a human being significance. According to that, these meticulous ba'alei teshuva are infinitely more Jewish than Rushkoff, but, I forgot, we're picking and choosing, and they didn't choose what he chose so they must be way off.

Again with the Myth/History. Apparently, Kabbalah was a myth developed by Isaac Luria that was tragically taken literally by his followers. Again, how does he know what Luria meant as a myth and what he didn't? Footnotes, anyone? The regimen of mediatations, rituals, and texts that Luria and his school (not to mention the schools and sources that Luria (who didn't create Kabbalah) drew on took themselves very seriously -- they were trying to get people to connect to God and to bring redemption (whatever that means) through their ritual actions and meditations. Not very Rushkoffian, is it? Where's the social justice? Or the abstract monotheism (if the kabbalists were anything, they weren't abstract)? Then again, Rushkoff continues to assume that messianism is a tragic late addition to Judaism, when it clearly goes back to Leviticus, Deuteronomy, the Prophets, the Rabbis, and so on. Elder I pointed out how modernist Rushkoff is, despite living in a postmodern age. This imposing of his own categories on the ancient and medieval cultures is the best and worst example of that.

One final coherent thought. One of Rushkoff's points is that every major Jewish tragedy lead to a rethinking and a reemergence. Destruction of Temple, Exile, etc. This is a good thing according to him. These are also historical events that evoked religious responses. Pay attention now. People try to respond to the Holocaust. Suddendly its a terrible thing, since they're reading the Holocaust as Bible, which leads to the literal interpretion of Bible and the rise of messianic Zionism. As if the Sages from 70 CE didn't see the destruction of the Temple in Biblical terms? Give me a break. It seems that developing theology in response to a historical event is only a bad thing if the movement is away from what Rushkoff wants it to be.

I think Elder I basically got the rest of it, and I'm in a bit of a pre-shabbas rush, so I'm cutting this post a bit short. At this point in the book, though, we're left with a contradiction. Synagogue Judaism's failed, and ACLU/yoga stuff people who don't go to shul are the ones who really get it. So what are we trying to do? Close up shop? Make shul athiest-happy? He never really resolves this.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 4:46 PM |

SIW Rushkoff Post #3

It's not really the rabbis' fault that most prayer books no longer say what we mean. A typical Saturday morning worship service still includes a prayer that thanks God for not making us women, numerous references to being God's "chosen people," an understanding of famine as God's punishment for our misdeeds, and a prayer for God to resurrect the dead and bring us all to Israel. On Rosh Hashanah, we repeatedly recite that God is busy choosing who will live and who will die in the coming year. Who honestly wants to say things like this, particularly as one's most profound spiritual practice? This is why thoughtful Jews looking for a spiritual practice that reflects their innermost beliefs end up turning elsewhere or nowhere. Their honesty and integrity demand it.
So...this then means that Jews who do seek out God through these (poorly-defined by Rushkoff) forms are dishonest and lack integrity? All the synagogue-attending Jews are bad Jews? Yes, he says. In fact, if you want to find the good Jews, don't bother looking at a synagogue; no,
They are turning the very best Jews away.
Fuck you.
Really, in all seriousness. For as much as Rushkoff asserts throughout that Judaism is about coming to the table and talking, Rushkoff refuses those who've been working hard at that table all their lives a seat and engages in a dogmatism that is so disabling as to render those who disagree with him, paraphrasing Rushkoff, ineffective, illiterate, incompetent.
Which wouldn't be so bad, again, if he had some universally acceptable values. Charity, Friendship, Kindness...maybe stuff along those lines -- character traits of caring for your fellows. But instead he upholds Iconoclasm, Social Justice and Abstract Monotheism; we discussed these in the previous posts, and why they're generally illegitimate as far as Rushkoff develops them. But how does he then use them to craft a vision of Judaism? Reading the second chapter, it's awfully unclear...mainly because it's full of contradictions.
As a side point, for someone who considers Iconoclasm a Jewish responsibility, Rushkoff feels free to develop his own icons. In the first chapter, he pushed the ACLU down our throats; in the opening of this second chapter, it's the Communist Jew. This is beginning to take on some familiar ground: The Jew who says he doesn't support allegiance to Jewish institutions when he really means that he only supports allegiance to certain Jewish institutions; all Rushkoff is doing is giving us a different idea of the battle -- instead of Reform vs. Orthodox or somesuch, it's the ACLU and the Workmen's Circle versus the synagogues.
In the middle of the chapter, the author presents a few stories that he means to present as indicative of the rock-bottom presence of contemporary Judaism. In one instance, he gives a speech before a group of ba'alei teshuvah and apparently says some things that the rabbi responds to as heretical; later on, the rabbi reveals that these thoughts aren't heretical, but he's saving his congregation from them for now. Sounds like a jackass of a rabbi. Of course, the hows/wheres/whys -- the verification of the story -- are non-existent; and this book seems more and more like a Michael Moore documentary. There are lots of statements about history that seem specious and lack footnotes; there are situations presented today one-sidedly that leave you thinking there might be more to the story; There is a charge to prove the central thesis no matter what is ignored or the contradictions presented in the text itself.
RushMoore goes on to describe a few more stories about how a Board controlled a synagogue, then later on decries rabbinic control of communites. Well, which is the problem -- communal control or rabbinic control? Or when he decries Kabbalah for being focused on individual prayer and ritual, then complains that ritual isn't personalized; which one is the problem?
When he decries Kabbalah, as well, there's a false promise. He writes, "Jewish mysticism finds its origins not in the ancient, pre-Judaic era its promoters claim, but in a myth developed by a medieval rabbi named Isaac Luria." Well, that serves as something of a definition for Lurianic mysticism, but what about the other strains? I'm no defender of the Kabbalah Center, but at least be on-target when you take them on.
Throughout, Rushkoff wants to claim that somehow the Judaism that we're focusing on today is a corruption of past belief and practice. But then he makes every previous belief and practice within Judaism an exception to his rules. Take this paragraph that follows the one quoted at the beginning of this post.
How is Judaism to respond? The most liberal temples simply change the prayers to make them more palatable to modern audiences, which often leaves congregants feeling as though they are not practicing "authentic" Judaism. Moderate temples adopt new prayer books that leave the Hebrew as it is but change the English translations to hide the more retrograde sentiments. Congregants who happen to learn of the difference between the English and Hebrew sides of the page are left to deal with the cognitive dissonance on their own. The most Orthodox institutions leave the text exactly as it is and, instead, work to change their congregants' beliefs to match those voiced in their prayers. As a result, there are otherwise intelligent and educated Jews in America who nonetheless maintain the obsolete racist and sexist beliefs of our ancestors from centuries ago. In all of these cases, Judaism's evolution is either obscured or repressed.
This paragraph encapsulates a lot of what Rushkoff seems to be saying throughout: those whose communities have reformed their practices are unknowingly guilty of having abandoned tradition; those whose communities have tried to re-read the practices are unknowingly ignorant of what they're really doing; and those who've stuck with the old practices completely are simply unknowing. Think about this for a minute, and it seems as though Rushkoff is saying that nobody is aware of what they're doing. This makes Rushkoff the only self-aware Jew in the world. This reminds me of an episode of "The Real World," San Francisco season. A guy named Dominic and another guy I believe named Aaron are playing pool, and Aaron, the college student, asks Dominic something like, "Do you think welfare helps people?" And Dominic gets this knowing grin -- knowing because he's aware of what's coming next. Aaron has learned something new and wants to show it off; Dominic declares that he can see what Aaron's doing, but he'll play along. And Aaron giddily complies. Rushkoff seems to be writing this book thinking that he's the only guy who's heard of or looked into Biblical Criticism, archaeology, anthropology, or Jewish History, and come up with an idea of what it means, Judaism-wise. But he's playing at the edges of Jewish knowledge here. He's got bite-sized tidbits about this Biblical story or that part of Jews' European history. He doesn't acknowledge that other people are aware of these things and still engage in Jewish learning differently than he does. His message, as it's developing in these first two chapters, is not to "think different," or to hold nothing sacred, but to look at the nifty pile of information he's sorted, and hold it very sacred, to the exclusion of the possibility that others might not -- and to aggressively dismiss those others as idiots/imbeciles/etc. There's a word for that: Fundamentalism.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 3:32 PM |

A senior Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim cleric has issued a decree, or fatwa, ordering the killing of any Jew who buys real estate in Iraq, an aide has said. (via MSNBC) Of course, since we're building a secular democracy in Iraq even as we speak, we don't have to worry about things like this. Right?

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 2:51 PM |

There are many interesting questions and points to be asked and made in reference to the Ernie Eves government’s decision to provide tax credits for parents sending their children to private school and I welcome and encourage comment.

Here are two thoughts of my own:

Can this issue be used by the Republican Party to garner the Jewish votes they have not yet taken from the Democrats by “so strongly” supporting Israel.

Although my instincts on the issue of tax credits for private school tuition are probably similar to those of Elder Weiss’, if I had to choose between a Bush style tax cut and this type of tax policy, I think I would choose this.

One final thought is this: Republican lawmakers argued that the child tax credit that the Congress cut out of President Bush’s tax plan was just welfare for the poor in another form (Steve can get the dozens of articles and references made to this effect), however the same Republicans can, will and have argued in defense of school choice, tuition tax credits, and school vouchers, is this just welfare for the rich in another form?

posted by Pinchas | 1:01 PM |

Boy, I just can't wait until they get these in the Heights...

posted by Pinchas | 12:00 PM |

Amitai Bin-Nun, YU intellectual and Friend of the Elders (well, me, anyway) has a letter in the Jewish Week about the secular campus pamphlet issue:

Congratulations to The Jewish Week for again bringing a difficult issue to the fore (“Debauchery U.” June 20 ). The problem with this article, and the pamphlet in general, is that it conflated solutions for two distinct problems that exist on secular campuses: the social environment and the intellectual confrontation.

What was implied in Perl and Weinstein’s pamphlet, but not spelled out, was that the greatest pressure outside of the classroom is to conform. The antidote is to increase the number of committed Jews on campus to the point where they can form their own self-contained group that a halacha-conscious individual can feel comfortable within.

As for the second objection, that impressionable youth will be subjected to anti-Orthodox intellectual opinions, I can only comment that an uninformed Orthodoxy is an uncommitted Orthodoxy. If an individual’s faith is tenuous enough that a class on evolution can cast in doubt his belief of man’s divine origin, I question how sturdy that belief was in the first place. If the only way to protect Orthodoxy is by sheltering it from doctrinal critique, we may not have something worth preserving. The crux of the Modern Orthodox position is that the Western doctrine of intellectual openness enhances our personas and our religious life as well.

There are Jews who will flourish in campus environments and we need to remain sensitive to their needs, not castigate them as incipient assimilationists.

Well stated.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 11:34 AM |

[Okay, so Blogger's still not letting me do long posts. This is Part A of my Second Rushkoff post. Begin reading here. -- SIW]
Well, either my old post is gone forever or it isn't coming back anytime soon. Instead of rewriting the whole thing, I suppose I could just say, "Rushkoff is wrong in every way in his first chapter," without any footnotes, and then just give a bibliography that includes the Bible, the Talmud, and most other Jewish texts, but I don't want to emulate Rushkoff's writing in my pots.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about his Preface and first chapter. Here's why.
I agree with Elder Avraham that Rushkoff is picking and choosing in a major way, just so that he can find some sort of justification for his modern -- his word, not ours -- sensibilities. The paragraph Avraham cites is pretty damning -- you can likely find most or all of the messages in other texts, including those belonging to idolators/pagans contemporary to really old-school Judaism. A side-note: It's weird to see a "progressive" Jewish text of today that relies so much on modernism, and seems to forget or ignore that post-modernism has existed for some time -- maybe this is a function of Rushkoff's age (42), I don't know.
So, basically, in the first chapter, Rushkoff asserts his Tradition of the Trinity (Iconoclasm, Social Justice, Abstract Monotheism), and reinterprets Jewish history and the Bible to fit that mold. The weird thing about the attitude of Rushkoff's assertion is how much it sounds like dogma; Rushkoff isn't just tearing down old imperatives, he's building up new ones. Surely, he would argue, these dogmas already exist in the text, and are the very foundation of Judaism -- he'd say he's not building up new dogmas, but rather getting to the core three that are the only ones that really exist.
The primary problem with this is that it has no foundation in the Jewish tradition. Other trinities have been expressed before -- Eliezer Berkowitz' "God, Israel Torah," and the "World Stands on Three Ideas" concept of "Torah, Worship, Caring for Others" -- and sometimes they even sound a bit like Rushkoff (take one from Berkowitz and two from the Sages, and you've got Rushkoff's Big Three). Neither of these Trinities -- nor any similar distillation of Jewish ideas -- sought to ignore the rest of the Jewish tradition; they were merely used as a lens through which to interpret the rest in a cute vision. No such abbreviated explanation of Judaism -- including Hillel's sermon on one foot, which Rushkoff cites -- expects the rituals, practices and beliefs traditional to Judaism to be ignored. Rushkoff not only ignores these parts of the Tradition, he actually protests that they never existed: time and again, he says that Jews did not engage in ritual -- how on earth he comes to this conclusion, I haven't the faintest; he repeatedly emphasizes the development of Jewish thought in Diaspora, pretending that Diasporic Jews did not always speak of a return to Zion and/or a Messianic development.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:33 AM |

[This is Part B of my Second Rushkoff Post; begin reading with Part A, above. -- SIW]
Perhaps in assembling his dogma of the Tradition of the Trinity, Rushkoff is trying to present concepts so universally accepted that they are incontrovertable. The problem is that they aren't. Sure, everybody can agree with doing Social Justice, at least in the abstract, but certainly not Iconoclasm and Abstract Monotheism. Especially Jews, since the Jewish Tradition doesn't deal with these as Rushkoff would like them to.
For one, as I said in my first post, smashing idols is not tantamount to iconoclasm. Jews have emphasized iconic individuals and institutions throughout their history; I named a bunch there, here's one more that is particularly relevant to the Diasporic age: the Rabbinate.
As to Social Justice, yeah, that's great, but just for starters, can Rushkoff agree with a tradition that debates whether a Jew can save a non-Jew's life on the Sabbath? Just one example among many of things in the Jewish tradition that Rushkoff would likely find hard to swallow within his view of Social Justice.
For Abstract Monotheism, which gets the most developed theory of Rushkoff's Trinity, he assembles a course of Jewish history that argues for a continual revelation in which the Jews come to accept God as one among many, then the lone God, then an abstract concept. To do so, he reads the bible with academic criticism (Just which criticism, and by which scholars, we have no way of knowing, and therefore assessing whether they're contradictory) and develops a narrative whereby, for instance, the story of Creation is tacked on in the middle stage, when Jews need to affirm their belief in their One True God. Beyond the problem that Rushkoff's use of Biblical criticism lacks any kind of explanation that would affirm he's sticking to the rules and presenting a chronology that agrees with the scholarship he's using, Rushkoff's narrative ignores those parts of the narrative that might contradict him (predictably). For instance, as proof that the Jews later came to believe in their one true God, he cites the later prophets' statements that Jews' losses in battle were owed to their sins, not to the strength of other Gods -- but the Biblical narrative never addresses other Gods on equal terms, and, as one example of Jews' Vengeful God causing defeat in battle, what about the episode of Achan's sin in Joshua? Another thing Rushkoff keeps talking about is the Sh'ma prayer ("Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One"); I'm not sure when he's arguing it first developed, since it's in Deuteronomy, and he might argue that Deuteronomy was written during the times of Jeremiah; but the Ten Commandments demand the same belief in God in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The point I should be getting at here is that for every case Rushkoff cites in the Bible as evidence of a continual revelation, there is, first of all, a likely contradiction, but more importantly there is the fact that even if there is this chronological development, the later groups don't reject the earlier texts -- they can deal with the entirety of the Jewish tradition and make it cohere, whereas Rushkoff cannot, and I think this serves to appropriately contextualize all of Rushkoff's Preface and first chapter: He picks and chooses the beliefs of the Jews that he wants to present, but those real Jews in those real times had beliefs that didn't reject earlier ones. This has become something of a tangent from the most basic problem with Rushkoff's Abstract Monotheism, which is that Jews' dealings with God in the Biblical narrative are rather concrete -- He speaks directly at Sinai, and throughout, prophets engage Him directly.
That Rushkoff's theories of Judaism are so plainly and obviously contradictory and wrong is not so bad as his insulting attitude towards those with which he doesn't agree. Right off the bat he writes of those Jews who return to practice(pg. 1-2):

Meanwhile, faced with the chaos of modern life, others have returned to Judaism in the hope of finding a traditional community with concrete values and well-defined rules. These "returnees" run back to Judaism with a blind and desperate faith and are quickly absorbed by "outreach" organizations which -- in return for money -- offer compelling evidence that God exists, that the Jews are indeed the Lord's "chosen people," and that those who adhere to this righteous path will never have to ask themselves another difficult question again.
Even in my perusal of the Jewish Press Letters section, I have never seen anyone write such hurtful rhetoric about Ba'alei Teshuva ("Returnees"). I have had a lot of interaction with them, through outreach work as a teen (though none of us received the bundles of cash Rushkoff implies), to my meeting many of them today, at a point in my life when I don't like participating in outreach work anymore. To characterize their hard-come-to thoughts about faith so flippantly and to go so far as to claim that they are avoiding difficult questions is to be incredibly condescending and ignorant of the hard choices these people make because it's what they believe.
Rushkoff repeatedly contradicts the Jewish tradition by asserting his Trinity ahead of the Jewish beliefs and practices that have been part of normative Judaism for thousands of years. He contradicts himself, even, by presenting a narrative that doesn't quite click. I said in my first post that I'd reserve judgement on his Trinity theory until I'd read it in book form; I have, and it's crap.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:26 AM |

Just did another version of my first post, and Blogger isn't letting it go through. We're gonna see if Avraham can post it.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:20 AM |

Dani's got the link to prove that Pat Robertson's people still think that there's a causal relationship between mideast peace initiatives and tornadoes in the midwest (east, west - I like that). I think I had a post about it sometime back but I have to find it (be on the lookout for the link). I also think that Rushkoff wouldn't be very happy about the theory.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 10:11 AM |

A blow to Messianic Jews in Toronto

Chosen People Ministries (CPM), a Jews for Jesus-type group, is not entitled to use a stylized menorah as a legally protected symbol because the organization is not a “public authority,” the Federal Court of Appeal ruled last week.

The court dismissed CPM’s appeal of a Federal Court (trial division) ruling a year ago that reversed a decision by Canada’s Registrar of Trademarks to grant CPM’s semi-circular menorah official mark status in 1999. (via Canadian Jewish News)

For some reason the arguments spilled over into the nature of the group, even though I'm not sure why a normal Jewish group should be different, since the Canadian government isn't really in the business of religion, even in its more normative streams.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 10:06 AM |

Saudi Women Turn Feminist on Groundbreaking TV Show Article via FoxNews

Eight Saudi women appeared on a groundbreaking television program Thursday to criticize previously taboo subjects such as the right to drive, unemployment and political participation among women. Wearing headscarves of red, blue and yellow -- instead of traditional black -- the participants complained about their lack of jobs, opportunities and public voice in this conservative kingdom, where women have less freedom than in most other Muslim nations.
Someone should get them in touch with JOFA.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 9:52 AM |

As you see below, Blogger might have eaten my post. I'll wait until morning before retyping the however-many-hundred-words it was in case it's not really lost.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:46 AM |

My second Rushkoff post will be up in minutes (I figure I meet the post-a-day-deadline by posting this now and the real one later).

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:01 AM |

Thursday, June 26, 2003  

Israeli soldiers exonerated in death of Rachel Corrie. This was just a horrible story from any and every perspective. I wonder if its over.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 10:10 PM |

Etan Golubtchik from Columbia University, responds to Gil Perl's pamphlet about Jews in secular colleges. Check it out here. Key paragraph:

:The setting is nothing more than an excuse. If a person is looking for an excuse to act inappropriately, they will find that excuse even in Meah Shearim if necessary. I've even met some people who have used the land of Israel as an excuse to remove their kippot, saying that being in Israel was Judaism enough. While others I have met and known use the land to become more religious and connected. Whether the non-kosher dining room is near the library, the dorm, or the other side of campus, the ones who plan on going will get there eventually anyway.
Makes sense to my YU mind.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 5:46 PM |

Reader NH sends in a link to the dress code at Jerry Falwell's school. Warning: don't visit if you're not open to viewing racily dressed mannequins.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 5:04 PM |

It took an extra day (maybe blogger got to them too, somehow), but the Jewish Press Letters Section is here! This week features a response to the response to the original BT shiddukh-discrimination letter. There were some doozies, taking the side of the anti-BT discriminators, but the Stupid Letter of the Week award goes to Kenneth H. Ryesky (a lawyer yet) for this classic:

Your June 20 editorial supporting the call by Congressman Nadler for a new investigation into the death of Gidone Busch appeared on the page immediately facing some letters to the editor regarding the bias in the frum community against baalei teshuvah when arranging shidduchim.

You will recall that immediately after Gidone Busch was shot to death in Boro Park by New York City police officers, several Jewish community leaders, including Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz (a VP from Agudath Israel) and former councilman Noach Dear, held a news conference, jointly with the NYPD, at which Dear and the others gave the NYPD strong backing.

Would Dear, Lefkowitz, et al, have been so quick to carry the NYPD`s water if Gidone Busch had been frum from birth instead of a child of assimilated Long Island suburbia?

The question is not whether there is bias in the frum community against baalei teshuvah. The question is whether such discrimination and bias is limited only to the shidduch scene. At least he's taking the right side of the BT-discrimination issue...

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:54 PM |

Now that my "how many issues of Hamevaser will come out next year" poll has dropped below the font page and into the archives, I think its a good time to tally the scores. And they are:

- 1 issue - 5 votes - 45%

- 2-3 issues - 1 vote - 10%

- no issues - 5 votes - 45%

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:18 PM |

Welcome to Protocols, Dano version. I'm about 92% done building my wall, and am taking a break to read Rushkoff, respond to Elder Avraham's post, and then I'll do some more blogging.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:36 AM |

Bradford Pilcher marshalls some arguments to prove that the Democratic party is more in line with "Jewish Values". Although my own politics, which obviously are informed by my Judaism tend to lean Democratic as well, I think that there are more than enough arguments the other way to make this sort of discussion moot. Politics mean different things to different people, and so does "Judasim". Still a somewhat interesting read.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 9:17 AM |

A few thoughts come to mind after reading the first part of Nothing Sacred, titled "The Transparent Faith". I hope the language isn’t too harsh, but I’m going to apologize in advance just in case.

I was wondering about a passage at the very beginning of the chapter:

Sometimes I feel like giving up and accepting the fact that Judaism is simply irrelevant. But then, during a talk or while writing an article, I'll realize that I'm quoting Talmud or reinterpreting a biblical myth in order to support an idea. I don't want to deny myself this greater intellectual and sociological context or the reassurance it affords me. (p. 4-5)
I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it sounds like Judaism is only "relevant" insofar as Rushkoff can find nuggets that he can use to make the points about modernity that he was going to make anyway. That leads us to the next step. If the traditions and texts are only "relevant" if they agree with our modern sensibilities, then why do we need the texts at all? I really hope this isn't just a big game to find cute aphorisms to spice up an article. When I look at the texts from my Orthodox vantage, the whole point is finding a way to make them meaningful, even when they disagree with what my own cultural sensibilities tell me. Sometimes I can easily resolve them, sometimes I can't. But to me, being part of the tradition is the process of that struggle.

This has already been borne out in the comments below, but Rushkoff comes across as extremely pro-Diaspora, which sees the Jews as the universal facilitators (bankers, traders, money lenders, etc.), which fits in with modern conceptions of globalization, tolerance, and pluralism. As he writes

Sometimes consciously and sometimes not, the Jews' many achievements were part of an overarching strategy to make themselves indispensable to others. Assimilation was not a sin; it was survival. (p.9)
I think that there's a fair amount of generalization here (especially bad in a book without footnotes -- there were quite a few places where there'd be a rather striking assertion with nothing to back it up. Being the academic, this bothers me). I mean, Jews did live in ghettos, and often worked and lived completely within self-sufficient kehillot. Also, I'm not so sure that you can't distinguish between "survival technique" and "deeply held belief". Since the Diaspora started, Judaism has been animated by a messianic vision of a return to Zion. Look at the liturgy. I do like the idea of building a narrative based in pluralism and tolerance, but there's a lot that I think Rushkoff is steamrolling along the way in the way of national or ethnic pride. Think Am Segula, no matter how you interpret it.

The next issue is a big one, since it shapes a lot of the book - the relationship between "history" and "myth". Rushkoff wants a very clear distinction between the two. I'm not sure why that has to be. I mean, the fact that I take the Exodus as historical fact doesn't have any impact on any meaning that I give it -- in fact, it probably enhances it. Despite my having read Yeshayahu Leibowitz at a relatively young age, I still see God as the God of history, and I think history is there so we can derive meaning from it. This is especially clear, I think in the section about the prophets. If the people lived correctly, they would stay in the Land. If not, they'd get exiled by foreign powers. In both cases, the point is that history has meaning. Even as God became abstract, this point remained. Maimonides made belief in a messianic age (complete with restoration of Jews to Israel and rebuilding of the Temple) an article of faith. In other words, even though we can't say anything about God's essence, we can perceive meaning in how He shapes history. That doesn't mean that everything that happens now has a direct biblical parallel, though. Just because the Jews re-entered Israel does not make the Palestinians Amaleq. Going in the reverse direction, I'd like proof that the ancients made this clear distinction between history and myth. My feeling is that, especially in oral societies, there was a lot of overlap between the two and to convince me otherwise you should marshall at least a few supprting statements, or at least a footnote.

Next point: Abstract Monotheism. As I said before, when you read a statement like

..abstract monotheism is not the process by which a people find the one true God, but the path through which they get over their need for him. Whether he exists or not, he is beyond humans' perceptual reach or conceptual grasp. He is increasingly inaccessible and rendered effectively absent. Yet at each step along the way, Jews' focus on an external master whose hunger they need to quell or whose edicts they need to obey is replaced by an emphasis on people's duty to one another. (p. 29)
I read this as saying that basically once we get to abstract monotheism we can live as if there is no God, transcending everything like in some Arthur C. Clarke novel. Does Rushkoff think that a personal relationship with God is something that we should strive for, or something that isn't really possible? I don't think Judaism ever gets to that point, and I think that developing a personal relationship with God -- whatever that means to you -- is indispensable. Working towards Social Justice might be one way of mediating the relationship between someone and God, but I don't think it can replace that relationship without becoming an idol/icon in and of itself. There are spiritual dimensions to the festivals as well -- they aren't all about social justice. If we all became ACLU lawyers who occasionally quoted Talmud to illustrate a point but didn't really believe in God as a force in the universe, will Judaism have ultimately succeeded?

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 7:37 AM |

I have to say, this new version of blogger looks rather sleek. It still shouldn't have taken 18 hours of downtime, though...

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 7:36 AM |

Wednesday, June 25, 2003  

"Blogsfera" = "Blogosphere" en Espanol.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:43 PM |

AC Douglas has a long post on what to do about Wagner's anti-Semitism:

It seems to me the very first question that needs asking is: Even if, as Leeson alleges, such anti-Semitic and racist coding exists in Die Meistersinger, does it in any way vitiate the artwork itself?
Answer: Clearly it does not...
It's also clear that those "subtleties" of which Leeson slowly became aware would never have been perceived by him as anti-Semitic and racist coding had he not worked backwards from his knowledge of Wagner's notorious and justified reputation as a rabid anti-Semite (but not on a racial basis; a distinction clearly lost on Leeson), and his knowledge of Wagner's (relatively) scant if virulent anti-Semitic and racist prose writings (in letters; in scattered, almost en passant remarks in a number of other writings; and repulsively prominent in Wagner's twice-published article, Judaism in Music). If, for instance, a Mahler had written Meistersinger the entire imbecile "coding" business would never have been so much as even imagined -- not by Leeson, not by even the fevered brain of the most desperate PC academic.
Well, I don't want to belabor this, and so I'll not go into certain other problematic points of this coding theory (such as, but not by any means limited to, So what, if such coding really did exist? Think about it). Leeson's (and others') "analysis" of the alleged anti-Semitic and racist coding in Wagner's operas adds up to nothing more than a manifest and classic case of the obscenity being in the mind of the beholder not the works beheld, which works are themselves clearly entirely blameless. The proof is that it required the assiduous "researches" of a small band of zealots to "discover" the nefarious and pernicious coding, and this after almost a century and a half of the opera's constant public exposure, prior to which time the supposed evil coding was nowhere and by no-one even so much as suspected.
But would an anti-Semitic audience contemporary to Wagner be similarly ignorant of the coding? Or even just your run-of-the-mill audience at the time? After all Wagner got the joke, so it must've been somewhat transparent. It's kind of like James Joyce -- I don't get everything he's talking about without research, but I know he did, and it's likely a large part of his audience did, as well.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:10 PM |

AKS writes:

"I'm what I'd term a pragmatic anti-Zionist."
That's what Steven Weiss at the Protocols blog wrote here. I commented that I'm extremely interested in his explanation as to precisely what that is...
She commented on my original post by saying:
What in the world is a "pragmatic anti-Zionist?" Someone who thinks Israel should never have been created but deals with the present reality? Or someone who believes in theory that the current enterprise should be dismantled but deals with the present reality? (Posting to my blog as well.)
Well, basically, yeah. I'm an anti-Zionist because:
1) It's a bad idea, and doesn't achieve its primary aim of protecting the Jewish people. Far more people have died in protecting the State of Israel or as victims of essentially anti-Semitic attacks against civilians there than have died in anti-Semitic incidents the world over since its founding. Not only that, but it comes with a built-in conflict with the Palestinians; that's like purchasing a gun for protection, getting a 2-for-1 deal, and laying the other one at the sidewalk so you'll have someone to protect against. The State of Israel does not, and cannot, achieve its primary aim.
2) It's contradictory to contemporary democratic principles. Either it wants to be a Jewish State, which makes it a standard for prima facie discrimination, or it doesn't, in which case there's little point in having it at all.
3) It's contradictory to the Jewish halakhic tradition. There can only be two reasons, from a halakhic perspective, for having the State of Israel: a) Settling the land is a halakhic desirability/requirement, b) It provides the ability to act in accordance with other halakhot, therefore rendering legitimacy to being there. There is a concept within halakha (Jewish law) of Yaharog V'al Ya'avor (Be killed and do not transgress), which basically means that you cannot transgress it, even under threat of death. There is an opposite concept, Ya'avor v'al Yaharog (Transgress and do not be killed), which requires transgression under threat of death. In order for the re-settling of the Land/creation of the State of Israel to be halakhically legitimate, the requirement to settle the land must be that of the first category, since it puts one in the position of risking one's life; as well, as we often see, being the State of Israel also means killing people in the name of the State -- this would also require that settlement of the land fall into the first category. The halakhic requirements of maintaining settlement in the Land of Israel are not in the category of "Be killed and do not transgress," so that means that many of those deaths that have happened and will happen -- on both sides -- are inexcusable from a halakhic perspective. Many who read this will first think to comment that there are greater halakhic decisors than me who support the State of Israel, etc. I say to them that these rabbis have a misunderstanding about the first point, that they think the State of Israel saves lives, which also has a halakhic term, Pikuach Nefesh, and overrides nearly every other Jewish law.
I am "pragmatic," because I recognize that the State of Israel exists, and that it is certainly on no shakier ground, morally speaking, than the countries surrounding it, as well as the fact that it houses many millions of people and that they must be protected from attack. In the long-term, I don't see the State of Israel surviving as it is; eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, democratic reform will take hold in most Arab countries, and they will become more benign theocracies than Israel, which will necessitate a democratic reform of Israel itself.
I object to megalomaniacal morons like Ariel "Vayirshu et Ha'aretz" Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu, etc. But I also think that sitting down at a negotiating table with Arafat contradicts the same values I've talked about above; Abu Mazen is a different story and should be given a chance, and, even if he fails, Israel cannot cease to commit itself to the development of an independent, pseudo-Democratic, Palestinian State, just like Israel has.
Hope this answers your question, AKS.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:38 AM |

For those following the evolution of modern halakha, Reader Bryan sends in this article about Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber publishing an article that permits women to receive aliyot in Orthodox settings. Interesting final paragraph

Sperber's article will likely enable many women and perhaps entire communities to allow women to perform the act of aliyah. However, Sperber feels that, in his own synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, his point of view will not be accepted. "They are so conservative that I cannot even convince them that a woman can dance with the Torah scroll on Simchas Torah."
More fuel to the fire in the ongoing debate as to who actually shapes halakha -- the Rabbis, or the people who follow them.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 9:35 AM |

Just a reminder re: the Blogroll. If you've changed your URL, aren't listed, are listed incorrectly, want to tell us where you're located, etc., drop us a line. We want to link to you, don't feel shy about asking.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:38 AM |

Sarah Beck, Queen of Home Repair:

To all my (mostly self-conceived) Home Repair hecklers, who think, "Ah, Sarah Beck, at home with her Pavlovian telephone ringer, ringing at intervals," take this: today I REPAIRED a CD-ROM. It did NOT work. I took it apart (all of it, using a knife, unscrewing everything that could unscrew) and BLEW on it. Now it works.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:26 AM |

More of Adi Neuman's dispatches from Ba'al Teshuva Fat Camp: Here he is discussing intro classes in part of which he gets metaphysical:

Places where the modern enlightened individual might accept the possibility of divine influence on the physical world:
1. The motion of electrons (Heidenberg uncertainty).
2. The origin of thought. The Christian philosopher William James discusses this in depth in an essay entitled "Human Immortality." In short, nothing we have discovered in modern science places the origin of thought in the brain, and it is just as likely that the brain receives transmissions from or simply interacts with a spiritual plane.
3. By extension, if there is divine influence on the place where thought originates, seemingly random actions from submitting an application (perhaps to a religious retreat) to buying a lottery ticket could be affected by this source.
Even the way a coin is flipped.
4. By extension, almost every action involving humans (and possibly animals) could be affected. Even "natural" events such as an earthquake could be affected, not its course of action but who is there to experience it and to what degree.
And here he shares an episode of rebbe guilt and some bad jokes.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:18 AM |

Reader/Blogger Dani retypes and sends in another Rushkoff article that touches on some of the themes that've come up so far. Thanks a lot for the effort.

Together - American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust
Survivors, Spring 2003, Vol. 17, Num 1, page 6
by Douglas Rushkoff

One of the most troubling legacies of the Shoah is the willingness of Jews and non-Jews alike to confuse this historical event with Biblical myth. The Bible is a story. The Shoah was real. By conflating mythos - the realm of allegory - with chronos - the realm of history, we do both a terrible disservice.

True enough, the Shoah was a sadistic tragedy of epic proportions. The application of science and technology, the great harbingers of modernism, for the extermination of a people, was a terrible shock to the Jews, in particular. For the Jews of Germany had been so seminal to the introduction of modern technology and philosophy to Germany. Now, the ideas of Freud protege Carl Jung were being used to justify a Jewish "genetic memory" for dissent and rumination that would prevent them from fully participating in a nation based on faith and nature. Advances in biology were serving as metaphors for the way a nation could be relieved of its inferior population, the way a farmer might selectively breed his best pigs or corn. And, of course, it was technological innovation and medical science that was turned to purpose of creating the most efficient extermination tools possible.

But however close to pure evil, and however gargantuan the killing, we must resist the temptation to interpret this crime against humanity theologically. For once we raise the Shoah to a continuation of the Torah, we reduce the Torah to a chronicle of history. The allegorical reality of Torah is conflated, for to question the existence of Jacob or his sons becomes the same as to question the reality of the Shoah. As Jews, we are more than allowed to understand Jacob as the mythical patriarch of 10 tribes. As human beings on planet earth, we must not be allowed to question the reality of the Shoah.

Worse, the treatment of Shoah as a Bible story with a moral purpose, gives the Shoah an ending. Once the story is over, the children can go to bed. There may be nothing so disrespectful to the memory of the Shoah, in this regard, than a Holocaust film like Life is Beautiful. For it was in his Oscar acceptnace speech taht filmmaker Roberto Benigni thanked the victims of the Holocaust for "showing us that life is beautiful."

No. The victims of the Shoah did not die in order to show us that life is beautiful. Niether were they killed for that reason. They were killed because Hitler wanted to stamp out "the Jewish question" - a people's time-tested resolve to question idolatry and the abuse of power. But they died for no reason. The Shoah was not a Holocaust, because it was not a sacrifice. The Jews and others killed may have been martyred, but not for a cause. In Judaism, anyway, death is senseless. We say "to life," because we emerged from the civilization of death cults that preceded us. HItler may have believed he was performing a magic ritual. We must not. This distinction is at the very heart of the Jewish faith, which was inevnted, in part, to replace the sacrifice of male children to the god Molloch, and to put in place of this barbarism a religion that puts human beings first.

No, the Jews did not die in the camps to prove anything to anyone. It was not a sacrifice, it was not a new chapter in the Bible, and it had nothing at all to do with life being beautiful. The Shoah is not, nor should it ever be, a part of our religion. The religiosity attending the murder of the innocent is what Judaism was created to end.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:39 AM |

(via Jewschool, via Shmais)

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:19 AM |

Ephraim has lots of interesting links, some of which we've missed.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:01 AM |

Trembling Before G-d director Simcha Dubowski sent me this:

As you may or may not know, for the Trembling Before G-d DVD, we are creating a special film called Trembling on the Road about the movement of the movie in the world. We have been shooting new material and collecting footage of our dialogues, reactions, protests, and events from across the world. I wonder if you or anyone you know has a poignant, funny, interesting, or angry etc. story or reaction to Trembling or any of our events to tell for this DVD - any insight, interesting reflection...a critique of the film...which character or scene moved you... a person you know that was it related to your life or made you think in a new way...We are editing now and gathering footage - filming needs to be finished by mid-July....please contact the director, Sandi Simcha DuBowski, at
I'd also love to see any stories posted here in the comments.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:00 AM |

Tuesday, June 24, 2003  

Bernard Henri-Levy, philosophy superstar. (via A&LDaily)

Lévy's reputation for narcissism is unparalleled in his home country, and he's not unaware of the fact. The headline of one article about him coined the immortal dictum, 'God is dead but my hair is perfect'.
Lévy's in the news because his twenty-ninth book, an investigation into the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, has been at the top of the bestseller list in France since it came out just over a month ago. Lévy's discovery, or contention, is that Pearl's death was a 'state crime' committed in effect by the Pakistani government, because Pearl knew too much about the links between its secret service, nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda. The book led Lévy on a year-long quest he admits became something of an obsession. 'That part of the world,' Lévy explains, 'is where I have been, since my adolescence, most irresistibly drawn. Not the Middle East, despite the fact that I am Jewish, not China and the Far East, despite the fact that I was once very close to what in the Sixties was called Maoism, not Africa, though I know it well. So in writing about Pearl I often had the sense that I was retracing my own steps.'
At the age of 28 he published Barbarism with a Human Face, and became the most famous member of a group called the nouveaux philosophes who turned against Marxism. He was hailed as the new Camus, mistaken for the new Rimbaud. Lévy became such an overnight success he was dubbed a 'publicity philosopher', and the group was suspected of being, in one TV commentator's words, 'an intellectual marketing coup'. An article in the New York Review of Books reported that metaphysics had been 'resurrected as media hype'.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:43 PM |

Well, its time I finally got into the game. In this post, I just want to juxtapose some of my own biases with Elder I's and maybe get down a few thoughts through the beginning of Part One or so. We'll see how it goes.

As far as iconoclasm goes, I just want to add a point to Elder I's. When Rushkoff refers to icons or idols, is he also refering to pieces of non-God-in-specific related dogma that have popped up, especially over the last thousand years? True, Maimonides might argue that we can't say anything about God, smashing some theological idols in the process, but then he turns around and labels you a heretic (with lots of really bad implications back then) if you don't believe in the ressurection of the dead. Isn't that just as iconic, in Rushkoff's scheme of things -- meaning, we're supposed to be deconstructing that narrative too, right? -- and, if so, wouldn't the fact that Maimonides hardens that belief into a dogmatic article of faith argue against him being an iconoclast in the fullest sense? Also, what about the Kabbalistic schools, whose structures of worlds and heavens and sefirot and heavenly throne rooms and so on only got much more complicated as time went on? Even if, say, Maimonides counts as an iconoclast, that doesn't mean that he was representative of Judasim as a whole. Basically, I'm going into the book hoping for a much tighter definition of iconoclasm, especially one that makes sense through the progression of the history of Jewish thought.

In terms of Abstract Monotheism, well, I kind of do believe in a God that likes animal sacrifice -- I mean, I do pray for the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple any number of times over the course of a normal day. At any rate, I also believe that one of the points of The Whole Thing is developing some kind of personal relationship with God, which obviously presupposes that such a thing is possible. I'm not entirely sure how Abstract Monotheism works with the quest for spirituality. Are we supposed to be getting over our need for spirituality? One other thing that sort of struck me in this vein was Rushkoff's claiming in a number of articles that the lapsed Jews who turn to Buddhism in a search for something beyond the self are much closer to the real messages of Judasim than lots of affiliated Jews. How monotheist is that, unless Rushkoff's God is The Unity of All Things -- which definitely isn't something that rises from most of the classical Jewish sources, although it is there in paces.

Finally, I'm not so much interested by the Jewish Alphabet Soup talk as much as I am with Rushkoff's view of Jewish nationhood, or his lack of any such thing. I mean, Pharaoh might have used the words "nation of Israel" first, but the rest of Jewish literature doesn't exactly debunk him. He makes vague references towards getting back to the essentials of Judaism as opposed to worrying about numbers, but I'm not very clear as to what that means practically. Does that mean that a refocusing of values will help the population? That it will continue to hurt the population but ultimately its for the better? If so, how? Hopefully the book will address this more specifically.

This turned out to be a long post, so I think I'm going to save the first part of book for either later tonight or tomorrow.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 9:58 PM |

Dahlia Lithwick, the woman I'd love to marry if she weren't already betrothed with a kid, is doing the Supreme Court round-up thing over at Slate with Walter Dellinger.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 9:44 PM |

Some people beg Gary Hart to return to elective politics...and some people beg Cynthia McKinney. Alas puts himself in the latter category.
Also, see his post on blogging the Middle East conflict, where he makes the astute point that blogs can seem to be even more one-sided than their authors maintain, and, consequently, far more biased than, say, traditional media. It's interesting -- if you looked through my postings, you might even think I'm something of a right-winger, even though I'm what I'd term a pragmatic anti-Zionist.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 8:41 PM |

In comments to the first Rushkoff post, wherein I wondered about Rushkoff's talk of a white-bearded old man as the Jewish God, Yehudit expressed displeasure at the erection of what she called a "straw man," and then James said:

The truth is, though, that many people do imagine God as the big man with the white beard in the sky. But this is theology for six year olds, not Judaism. Unfortunately there are many people whose sense of spirituality have not been able to develop past where it was at age six.
So I figured I'd share a little story about my (literal) views of God when I was a slightly younger kid of, I think, around four or five years old. I started telling my friends that I could see God. And by friends, I also mean carpool-mates, including Chaya Shleiffer, who lived at the end of the block, and was perilously unhappy with my declarations about seeing God. She told my mother, "Mrs. Weiss, I just can't stand it when he says that; it makes me feel I'm being kidnapped." So my mother sat me down, and asked me why I was saying that I saw God, and didn't miss a tick when I told her it was because I did see God; she asked me, "Well, if you've seen God, then what does he look like."
To which I replied, "You mean, you want me to tell you what color his cape is?"

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 7:36 PM |

A reader gets here by searching for: shaved hasidic woman pictures. I hope he's not some kind of fetishist. Anyway, hilarious thing is that when protocols comes up on the search, the quote begins with one of my posts "...Send in more crazy pictures!"
That can't leave a good impression.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 7:14 PM |

I was wondering if the guy was Jewish, now I know. Yada reports that Aaron Barschak, the guy who crashed Prince William's party, is Jewish.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 6:53 PM |

Former Bushie John DiIulio on faith-based initiatives. He opens by quoting Hillary:

The Founders had faith in reason.... I would add that they had faith in God, from whom the ability to reason is a great gift.... If government goes too far, and seeks to go beyond separation from religion to outright hostility toward religion, you can end up with something like the Soviet Union.... Government works in partnership with religious institutions.... to promote public purposes-feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless. Faith inspires those good works, to be sure. But tax dollars are properly used to channel the energies of the faithful in a direction that helps our society as a whole.
He contextualizes the debate:
it was the senator's husband who, in 1996, signed into law the first major federal statutes prohibiting government from discriminating against religious organizations seeking public funds available to groups that deliver social services. Under these ''charitable choice'' statutes, faith-based organizations can now compete for public funds on the same basis as all other nonprofits, provided they honor all federal civil-rights laws, do not discriminate against any employee or client on the basis of religion, and do not use the funds to proselytize, lead worship services, or support sectarian activities.
He argues that everybody was for increasing faith-based initiatives, and that current governments discriminate against faith-based non-profits in defiance of the Clinton-era law.
He then defines three categories of faith-based non-profits: faith-mobilized, faith-motivated, faith-saturated, arguing that all three should receive federal funding.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:38 PM |

Alright, it's time to get started on our Rushkoff discussion. Elder Avraham and I have begun reading our copies of the book, and have decided upon a format for discussing it. Over the next week, we will each do at least one long post on the book; it is assumed that any points made by one of us that are not responded to in the other's subsequent post are agreed to or conceded. I'll be e-mailing Rushkoff to let him know we're getting started, so he might chime on from time to time, or not. We will start today and continue until next Tuesday; we'll either go chapter-by-chapter or find some other way to traverse the topics -- this we'll probably figure out as we go along. After this is over, we'll either edit it and publish it directly at Jewsweek, or devise some kind of wrap-up.
Today's initial post is setting the stage for the discussion of the book; we hope that those who aren't reading the book will still be able to follow along, and this post will provide some context for all of our readers. If it seems as though, at times, our posts aren't understandable without the book, let us know and we'll try to clarify.
We'll begin with what we know about Rushkoff's arguments before we open the book. Many of us have read his recent cover-feature in The New York Press. He also had an April column in The New York Jewish Week. He had an Op-Ed in The New York Times on November 20, 2002, which is posted at Rushkoff's website. Then there was his interview with the United Jewish Appeall Federation of New York, which arose some controversy when it was taken down from the site and reposted.
A common refrain in all of these is what seems to be his trifecta of holiness: that the Jewish religion stands on three ideas, iconoclasm, abstract monotheism, and social justice. His claim is that contemporary Jewish institutions and leadership have abandoned those ideas.
He gets somewhat specific in his critique of the Jewish condition, and, thus far, I'm rather a skeptic. What he has said so far requires justification, and the formats in which he's expressed himself so far provide no room for that justification; his book will be the test of these ideas. My biases should be known before I begin, so here are a few:
1) "Iconoclasm" <> "smashing idols". This argument, made often by Rushkoff, limits the actions of Jewish forefathers to a very specific modern definition made by Rushkoff himself. At the same time as Judaism rejected idolatry, it did uphold symbols of its faith: the two commonwealth periods, rather obviously, had the Temples; the Great Sanhedrin; The Torah; The Talmud; King David's reign and legacy; Rabbi Akiva; Bar Kochba; and, from then on, in Rabbinic Judaism, the rabbis. Modernity has added to these rabbinic icons with many associated with the State of Israel. If Rushkoff is going to claim that one of the three core precepts of Judaism is iconoclasm, he'll have to deal with these symbols and the fact that they have been accepted not only by some institutional leadership, but by many, if not most/all, of its lay people.
2) My God doesn't have a white beard. Says Rushkoff in the Press, "I don’t believe in an all-powerful creature with the white beard who rejoices in animal sacrifice." Well, I know I don't believe in the former, and I wouldn't be the first who didn't believe in the latter. This simplification of the beliefs that Judaism has debated/maintained through thousands of years of dialogue seems not to really get at the point of what the discussion of God is all about; we'll see if his book does treat the topic of God as though there are people before him who've dealt with it thoroughly.
3) I don't like a lot of Jewish institutions. Or Jewish institutionalism. But I really don't follow what goes on with the UJA or the JNF or the WZC or any other of those acronyms; for me, much of what those institutions do is irrelevant to begin with. If Rushkoff's main guff is going to be with institutions like the UJA in his book -- as it has been in these articles -- I will have to reevaluate my position on whether these institutions matter to me, and how.
There is a lot more which I've found interesting and contradictory thus far in his articles, but we'll see how his book treats them.
We will hopefully be reffering back to these articles and others over the course of this discussion, and will include comments we receive on the site, by e-mail, and over AIM. Let's get started.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:12 PM |

Interesting find, for the archeologically inclined among us.

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a monastic complex believed to be a convent used from the fifth to eighth centuries. "We have found a lot of monasteries, and many we don't know if monks or nuns lived there," said Uzi Dahari, deputy director of archaeology for the Israel Antiquities Authority. "Here we know for sure this was a convent because of an inscription we found in honor of the mother superior and the female skeletons we found in the underground crypt." The inscription was written in Greek as was the custom of the time, he said. Archaeologists believe that some 20 nuns and novices lived in the convent, Dahari said. He said archaeologists found "many skeletons" in the crypt, but they were prevented from continuing with the excavations by a group of Orthodox Jews, who, because of religious reasons, oppose disturbing the graves and bones of the dead. (via PaleoJudaica)
I wonder if those ultra-orthodox Jews that are so worried about the bodies of the non-Jewish nuns being disgraced would have saved their lives had they been drowning on Shabbas. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, according to a classic piece of Gush lore, has said that if he were on a desert island with a non-Jew who was drowning (on shabbas), he would save him (because he's a human being) and then immediately fall to his knees and beg forgiveness (for technically breaking halakha).

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:56 PM |

Leon Uris, Author of 'Exodus,' Dies at 78. I actually never read the book, although I did see most of the 17 hour movie version (at least it seemed like 17 hours. Maybe it was really only 13 or 14). Also, one of my shul's best chazzans likes to sing kedusha to the Exodus movie theme. Very old-school Zionist.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 9:58 AM |

Interesting article about a national preaching competion -- for teens. The winner, one Eric Stanley, says he felt his calling when he was just 14. Why don't you think Judaism works that way; I mean, can you imagine National Council of Young Israel sponsorig a nation-wide youth "Rabbi's Sermon Competition"? Didn't think so.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 9:36 AM |

Adi Neuman is posting again. Kind of; he's away somewhere with somewhat limited Internet access. He explains where he's been and where he's going, and then discusses what I think can best be described as a sort of ba'al teshuva fat camp. Some interesting observations from the fat camp:

Writing in from Heritage Retreats in Moodus, CT. The site is a former basketball camp/hotel/who knows what else turned into a yeshivish recruiting ground for vulnerable college grads with a diversity of useless degrees. Most people here have unsurprisingly similar stories.
1 Parents are wary of their becoming religious
2 Parents have nixed a desired Israel trip
3 Still getting used to the new language (BT=ba'al teshuvah, FFB=frum from birth, etc.)
4 Knows someone who was affected by a rabbi here
And more. But I think the most common thread is a major anxiety we share, and precisely what I've found to be the hardest aspect of adopting a frum lifestyle: coping with the difficult fact that upon complete acceptance, one will by default admit that they have wasted away many years on virtually meaningless goals and desires.
I had to deal with a similar dilemma when I finally decided that a career in medicine was perhaps not ideal for me. This meant, naturally, that my toiling away in organic chemistry and the thousands of dollars spent on MCAT prep and the admissions process was a waste. I'm just glad I didn't try all that hard in college.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 1:23 AM |

Geoff Metcalf suggests carving a piece out of Iraq to serve as a Palestinian homeland (via Arutz Sheva). As he puts it:

Remember, Iraq and other "Persian Gulf" countries were created following World War I as protectorates of Great Britain. They were literally carved out of Mesopotamia, which was formerly part of the Turkish Empire:

* In 1931, Iraq became independent, with a pro-British regime under King Feisal and Nuri-as-Said.

* British intervention reversed a pro-Axis coup in 1941. After World War II, when the U.S. worried about Soviet influence, the Baghdad pact tried to make Iraq the anchor of a NATO-like pro-Western alliance.

* In 1958, the pro-West government was overthrown by ´Abd al-Karim Qasim. Qasim survived a Ba´athist coup that included participation of Saddam Hussein in 1959.

* Kuwait and other neighboring protectorates became independent of Britain beginning in 1961.

* Qasim was overthrown in 1963 by Abd al-Salam ´Arif.

* Arif´s government was overthrown by a Baathist coup in 1968.

* By 1979, Saddam Hussein had become prime minister and began consolidating a dictatorial regime.

* In 2003 Saddam is out of power and, if not gone, about to be.

So I submit it is time for another "do over"… this time including the creation of the independent and sovereign country of Palestine.
Um..wouldn't a far better conclusion be that unilaterally drawing arbitrary lines on maps causes more problems than it solves?

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:14 AM |

Monday, June 23, 2003  

Adam Sandler gets married! Also, if you follow the links to and on his website, you get to see wedding pics of him wearing one of those big white satin yarmulkas.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 10:50 PM |

Ellis Island Immigration Records Database. Should likely prove very useful to our readership. (via Gawker via UltraSparky)
I think they might be limiting search results to 25...a problem I think my family met when we actually visited Ellis Island some years ago and tried to find information on their (then-not-Net-connected) fancy new computer database.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 10:07 PM |

Question: which of our readers use a Rogers Cable Internet service? It's only available in Canada.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 10:01 PM |

Interesting (semi-)neologism learned from my new roommate, a Hungarian. He says that "everybody" in Hungary uses the Hebrew word chaver to describe their friends, even non-Jews.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 9:55 PM |

As Avraham and I are devoting more time to Protocols, and as our readership grows, I've been trying to find some non-intrusive way for us to get funds to upgrade the site and possibly more. Firstly, for those who can spare a buck, there's the PayPal button. For those who will be purchasing a copy of the books we'll be discussing to follow along, if you purchase them by using the links to Amazon on our page, we get a cut (we'll be discussing Rushkoff's Nothing Sacred this week). Now, for a limited time, we get a nice fee for every referral for the credit card link on the right -- it's a no-annual-fee card, so the only thing you're losing by applying for it is the minute or so it takes to fill out the application. If our readers could spare that minute, it'd be very much appreciated.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 9:07 PM |

Consider this the trashy gossip post. I'm going to follow up on the Carlebach post and the Zohar Azolay post.
Carlebach: A few years ago while home for Pesach, my kid sister Sharon was humming Carlebach tunes frequently. I think this was during her first year at Stern College, so it makes sense. Anyway, my family isn't much of a Zemiros(table songs) family, but occasionally "the girls" will do a tune or two, and of course my father will then become encouraging about it. My older sister was leading a few, and then my father asked Sharon if she'd start one. Sharon asked if she could lead a Carlebach tune.
My mother heard the name and responded with something very nearly like, "Carlebach! Oh, that sick, sick man!"
This was somewhat hilarious to me for a few reasons. Firstly, as anyone should understand, having your mom speak about anything that seems more contemporary to your generation is surprising -- of course, with Carlebach this is kind of like that Onion parody of the college student who finds his father's knowledge of Johnny Cash songs odd, but hey. Secondly, as anyone more in tune with my family would know, rabbinic politics is not a leader, and it's often surprising to find that any of us know who any rabbis are, and to see my mother have such a strong response -- well, it tickled my funny bone.
Anyway, laughing, I asked my mother what she was talking about. She said that when she was at Brooklyn College (I think she would've been roughly '70-74), Carlebach would show up -- I think she said in the cafeteria -- and run around trying to kiss all the female students, ranting about how he was on a "spiritual high."
This was the first I'd heard of it, because, frankly, I'd never bothered to look into who Carlebach was -- the guy was a singer/songwriter, for goodness' sake, not a serious anybody. Subsequently, I'd heard tons about his philandering, but was surprised to see in the Carlebach post and subsequent comments that he was a child molester. It's one thing to run around with 20- and 30-something adherents, but something else entirely to do so with 12-year-olds (which, I think, technically isn't child molestation, but is pederasty). I'm even more shocked at his behavior now, and far more shocked that there is a cult of Carlebach to which otherwise-respectable rabbis encourage their congregations to flow (and before the pederasty allegations from that post and comments, I don't think I'd refer to them as "otherwise-respectable"). Of course, this begs the question that came up so often during my arts-programming work at Yeshiva University, which is whether and how the art can be separated from the artist. Should people play Wagner? Should congregations sing Carlebach's music (perhaps a compromise can be made not to call these "Carlebach prayer services")? What about the Grateful Dead/R Kelly/Rob Lowe(not a musician, but an actor)?
This question is not exclusive to artistry, either. Right now, everything that convicted abuser Rabbi Baruch Lanner has said/is saying/will say is no longer going to be part of any legitimate discussion of Jewish issues. Of course, he didn't write any books -- but Matis Weinberg did. What becomes of that?
On to Zohar Azolay: Meredith, in the comments to that post, asked for the rest of the story. Basically, a number -- perhaps all -- of the YU rabbis conspired to keep Zohar from winning. At first, this allegedly bore fruit in encouraging students to broach the issue of his alleged homosexuality, and finally came to fruition when a complete jackass asked during the debate, "How do you propose to represent the student body when you are a sexual deviant?" This was, thankfully, met by a near-universal chorus of booing and assorted other loud indications of disapproval. The moderator told Zohar not to answer the question and shut off the podium microphone. Zohar went up to the podium anyway and said, "You don't ask these guys about their masturbating every night." Which didn't bring boos, but certainly did bring a lot of loud discussion that put the debate in more chaos than it already had been -- it was really a crazy debate all along, with some nutty folks trying to sabotage the debate (for non-Zohar reasons) throughout.
During the remainder of the campaign, Zohar tried on different strategies for winning, including at one point roaming the halls yelling, "I denounce all rumors against me, they are not true." There had been discussion throughout the campaign between supporters of the two leading candidates -- Pinchas Shapiro and Aryeh Goldberg -- about one of them dropping out of the campaign to assure that they wouldn't split the vote and allow Zohar to win. Finally, on the day before the election, the allegedly placed lots in a rabbi's black hat and drew; Shapiro stayed in the race, Goldberg dropped out.
The next day, Shapiro and company stood in front of the voting booths handing out stickers that people could use to vote for Goldberg as a write-in for the vice presidency. According to the constitution, Goldberg was ineligible for the position, as he was in the business school. An emergency meeting of the student court -- the only time it convened that year -- judged that votes for Goldberg made by business school students couldn't count, but that others could. Goldberg supposedly won (vote-counts are never released in YU student elections), as did Shapiro, even though many were voting for Zohar at that point simply out of protest.
For a long time, the institutional side of YU simply pretended that Zohar didn't exist. He was not awarded the IBC valedictorianship even though he supposedly had the highest GPA (the sole criterion, supposedly). He got whatever degrees he got, and now is largely gone.
Stephen Tolany asked in the comments to the first post whether Zohar was "allegedly gay." I'll first say that those who operated on the rumors and most strongly attacked him were in absolutely no position to say either way. Secondly, to the general public, whether or not he was gay, he certainly had not come out of the closet. Thirdly, as his friend, he never said anything to me about his sexually...except when he felt pressured enough to roam the halls screaming to anyone who would listen that he wasn't.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 8:17 PM |

Just cooked for the first time in my new apartment. Only thing worth sharing is that it seems Vidalia onions are thicker & need more time to cook than your average onion -- mine were a bit undercooked after the usual amount of time.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 7:35 PM |

The Rushkoff books have arrived. This will serve as notice to Elder Avraham to pick up his copy. We'll have more postings later discussing just how we'll go about this.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 4:37 PM |

Monthly bulletin on democratic reform in Arab countries. (via OxBlog)

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 2:55 PM |

Navah/Bonnie now has a blog, as opposed to her journal. Update your bookmarks appropriately.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 2:50 PM |

Meredith writes:

Word on the street, according to a friend, is that a chassidishe rebbe is instructing married couples among his flock to, should they have child with Down’s Syndrome, leave it in the hospital, give up custody to the State, and tell their friends/family that it was a miscarriage.
The reason? Simple. The child will take up too much of the family’s (and potentially, communities) resources, and hurt their siblings shiddukh prospects.
Supposedly, some charitable organizations that raise money for the care of DS children (and/or possibly also for frum orphaned children) has found out about this rebbe and heard it from his mouth directly.
Any readers out there can prove/disprove?

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 2:40 PM |

Rabbis Union for the People and Land of Israel rallies against Road Map in Jerusalem. This is the top international story at Google News -- can anyone provide some context as to who these guys are?
ALSO, two grafs of biased/bad reporting:

Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war in what many Jews regard as the realisation of a biblical birthright. The land also provided strategic buffers against Arab foes, and Israel's governments soon sowed them with Jewish settlements - a move censured internationally as illegal.
A Palestinian uprising for independence that erupted in September 2000, combined with Israel's rapprochement with several Arab neighbours, have convinced many Israelis that the time has come to relinquish Gaza and the West Bank. Even hawkish Sharon allowed that ruling 3.5 million Palestinians was impracticable.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 2:28 PM |

Catholic victims-advocacy group praises a lone bishop for his work to end abuse. That's got every other bishop mad, with them claiming that they're dealing appropriately with the issue, too. Of course, they don't interview those bishops. Or get the most interesting view, that of the praised bishop, Paul Bootkoski, himself.
This is a typical example of how shoddy religion reporting can be -- a reporter could never file a political story along these lines without contacting the primaries.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 2:22 PM |

Hey, check it out! Salvation offered in 12 seconds on the web. And you don't even have to enter your credit card number....

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 8:49 AM |

Jewschool has a link to an interesting article on the Jews of Northern Ireland.

There's an old joke told in Northern Ireland about a guy in Belfast who is stopped by a ruffian and asked his religion.
Wanting to avoid trouble all around, he responds, "I'm Jewish."
Without missing a beat, the ruffian says, "Fine. A Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?"
And so on. Generally, though, according to the article the Protestants identify with Israel and the Catholics with the Palestinians. The Jews themselves in the meantime, try to stay out of the way.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 8:43 AM |

Still trying to compensate for not having read the new Harry Potter book yet (a truly deplorable state of affairs), I present this rather good satire (from the UK Telegraph), even if the politics are not really those that I subscribe to. A free sample:

The result was Billy Clinter and the Philosophers Stoned, in which young Billy attends a party at Oxford and discovers his amazing ability to smoke but not inhale. With that first fantastic adventure of the shy, misunderstood boy blessed - and burdened - with the awesome power to feel your pain with just one touch, young Billy Clinter became the world's most popular schoolboy.

Then came Billy Clinter and the Gusset of Fire, in which the vast Right-wing conspiracy led by the sinister Lord Newt and Doleful Bob plant a hogtail disguised as a house elf in his hotel room in Little Hangleton. The elf tricks Billy into revealing his pocket sneakoscope and she glimpses its remarkable distinguishing characteristics, the strange lightning bolt along the side that signals the tremendous potency of his Slytherin Beaubaton. After this narrow escape, the young wizard gets into yet more scrapes in Billy Clinter and the Prisoner of Azkansas, in which Rodham tells the story of how young Billy and his much brainier friend, Hillary Granger, finally escape Azkansas after being trapped there for far longer than Hillary had expected to be.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 8:30 AM |

Israel soldier made woman drink cleaning fluid-court. Not the sort of story you want to read just before you go to sleep.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:43 AM |

Sunday, June 22, 2003  

After reading through some of the comments to Meredith's guest-post, I come away with two points:
1) It was a very good discussion all around. Kudos to everyone.
2) Stephen Tolany, Career Reveler (holds the distinction of being the only person in all of existence to have taken every course in the Revel catalog twice), Bibliophile and Permament Resident of the Gottesman Library opined in his comments that the neo-chassidic movement is ultimately doomed because:

Do you think [the Jewish masses] are really jumping onboard a new "movement" that lists a guitar-playing child-molester [read: Shlomo Carlebach - ayb] as one of its three greatest human inspirations?
Those are highly controversial words, so I figured it'd be interesting to try and spin off a side discussion around them. Specifically, what do you make of the charges, and do you think that they will ultimately be what ensures that "Carlebachianism" doesn't catch on -- assuming you think it hasn't caught on yet already.

UPDATE: Check out this link from an old issue of Lilith Magazine for, I guess, one side of the Carlebach debate.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 12:09 PM |

All In Good Fun or wanton violation of the Second Commandment? Check out Isaac Bros. Bible Bobble heads and decide for yourself. (via Marion Star) So far they only have Samson, Moses and Noah, but hopefully they'll come out with more soon. For more variety, but less fun-looking, in your Bible-Idols check out this set of action figures.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 8:47 AM |

Mesora Guy re-enters the political arena:

Some nations free evil people for political reasons. But if we would follow what God says in the Torah, we would not let evil people free. When evil people are free, they will kill more Jewish children. Why do evil men go free? Because of politics. This is evil. God knows better than leaders, and God's Torah says to kill the evil men. But if Sharon wants money from the United States, and he listens to Bush and lets evil people free, Sharon would be evil.
We see that in politics, if we do not listen to God, our politics will kill Jewish children. So even in politics, we can not do anything if we do not use the Torah as our teacher. If we do not follow God's Torah, we will cause evil to ourselves. Even politics makes no sense with out God's Torah.
The Torah is to help us in every area of our lives.
I'd really be happy if, just once, Mesora Guy would cite a source to support his assertions.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 2:36 AM |

Its been an exciting week for Biblical Archeology: The James Ossuary, the Yehoash Inscription, and now this. Some dude thinks he found some wheels in the bottom of the Red Sea that must have come from Pharaoh's drowned chariots. (via WND) Also, more "evidence" for the Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia theory.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 2:20 AM |

If you're feeling a little foolish for being all excited about the new Harry Potter book being out, don't worry. Naomi Chana is too, and she's an intellectual with a PhD. If its OK for her, its OK for the rest of us. Also, check out the Christian Right's perspective, if for no other reason than that its all organized on this one convenient page.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 2:12 AM |

Hasidic Rebel realizes that many Bible stories are not exactly as squeaky-clean, as, say, modern gedolim stories. More interesting, from my perspective, was his indication that Hasidic girls don't learn Navi. What do they study? And not only that, to never even have heard of Shimshon/Samson? Weird.

posted by Voice From The Hinterlands | 2:04 AM |
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