A Tale of Two Perspectives

Image result for I am Muslim Image result for victims of the New York Attack park pictures Image result for victims of the New York Attack park pictures Image result for victims of the New York Attack park pictures Image result for victims of the New York Attack park pictures

4 days ago

It is one thing to hear people pray in a Mosque saying “Allahu akbar” in unison, for we all have our unique way of expressing prayer.

However, when you hear somebody on a jet that is flying 40,000 feet in the air screaming to the top of his lungs, “Allahu akbar!”, what is your reaction? What is your heart and mind telling you? If you’re like any normal human being, you are most likely experiencing a sense of terror; you fear that your life might be ending within the next couple of minutes or seconds, as your life flashes before you.  I can guarantee you the last thing you are worried about is whether feeling this way might get you  labeled as “Islamophobic” or a “racist” despite the fact that Islam has nothing to do with race.

Once again, another Muslim terrorist named Sayfullo Saipov, proudly screeched, “Allahu akbar!” after running down some twenty people, killing eight people. One outspoken Muslim imam named Omar Suleiman has successfully persuaded Google to bury anything that is remotely, “anti-Islam.” He complained on CNN how the media perceives “Allahu akbar!” serves what he called, “a nefarious agenda.” Once again, instead of identifying with the victims of the terror attack, Suleiman and his ilk seem as though are trying to get us to identify with the perpetrator.

George Orwell referred to this kind of logic as “doublespeak.”

Frankly, if I were a true Muslim, I would be outraged—but not by those who are complaining about Muslim violence and deviance. Instead I would redirect my rage toward my fellow Muslims who are through their fanaticism single-handedly destroying their religion. They are the ones who have created this problem in perception. It’s time the civilized world of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and responsible Muslims take a different approach and unequivocally condemn religious inspired violence.

It is disturbing that organizations such as CAIR and other Islamic affiliates seldom organize large 100,000-person rallies condemning the kind of violence that is perpetuated by its apostles of hate. Such gatherings now and then occur in Europe, but not in this country. Islamic apologists created a new word, “Islamophobia” as a means of suppressing any kind of criticism toward Islam as a religion. It may seem strange, we do not ever hear of someone being “Judeao-phobic” or “Christian-phobic” because being afraid of Judaism or Christianity doesn’t really make any sense. Being afraid of Islam (which is what Islamophobia suggests) has nothing to do with being afraid of Muslims. I think the Muslim propagandists should have come up with a better term. Criticizing any religion is not a crime in a country that champions free speech.

People often attribute the following remark to the atheist philosopher Christopher Hitchens, who allegedly said, “The word Islamophobia is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” Actually, it was the brilliant physicist Richard Dawkins who made this remark. While I would not use the same caustic language Hawkins uses, I do agree the term “Islamophobia” is a contrived linguistic weapon to suppress honest dialogue about how people feel about Islam as a religion. Islamophobia means “the fear of Islam,” and not the fear of Muslims.

Christopher Hitchens described Islamophobia in the following terms:

  • “A phobic is a person suffering from irrational or uncontrollable dread. I don’t choose to regard my own apprehensiveness about Muslim violence as groundless or illusory” “Fundamentals,” Tablet Magazine 5/24/10
  • “This is why the fake term Islamophobia is so dangerous: It insinuates that any reservations about Islam must ipso facto be phobic. A phobia is an irrational fear or dislike. Islamic preaching very often manifests precisely this feature, which is why suspicion of it is by no means irrational.” “A Test of Tolerance,”[1] Slate 8/23/10

Think about it.

Criticism of religion should not equated with hatred; nor should people who criticize ANY religion be tarred and feathered, or shamed for expressing their concerns about militant behavior of certain Muslims who promote violence in the name of the Quran. Nor does criticizing Islam make one into a racist.

Whatever you wish to call it, it is a term designed to suppress criticism of Islam. Whether you are a rabbi, priest, a Zen Roshi, a Catholic priest or a Protestant minister, you have every right to criticize your religion of origin for the problems pertaining to it as a faith. In ancient times, the prophets pulled no punches on criticizing the Judaism of their times and the way it was practiced. Quite the opposite. Judaism benefited from the prophetic critique.

Islam can also benefit from an honest critique of its doctrines, its holy books, and the way people practice their faith. Islam is not the exception, but it can be a great example if its followers pursue this fearless path of moral integrity. Let us pray that responsible imams take this criticism not as a sign of hatred or intolerance, but as an invitation to examine and discuss a topic that demands an ethical response.

In my next column, I will discuss the overuse of “anti-Semitism” to add further balance to the topic I have raised about religious labels.

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2010/08/a_test_of_tolerance.html

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader at Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Eclipses in Jewish Tradition

This past week, some of my congregants asked me: What does Jewish tradition have to say about solar eclipses?

Like many ancient peoples, the Jews did not develop a scientific understanding of eclipses until much later in its history. Before we examine what exactly Jewish tradition says about this topic, I would like to preface my remarks with some general observations drawn from human history. The human evolution regarding how eclipses occur forms the cultural backdrop that will help us better understand and appreciate the views that emerged in Jewish folklore and history.

Mythical Perspectives on Eclipses

When our prehistoric ancestors first began observing the sun, moon, stars and planets, they realized that all life on this world depends upon the orderly movement of these celestial bodies. Should one of these bodies get displaced, the ancients feared that the world might come to a sudden end. Without the aid of science to explain how and why eclipses occur, the ancients resorted to myth to explain the nature of these anomalies of nature. Some of these myths portray the Sun fighting with its lover, the Moon. Other myths depict the sun and moon making love under a cloak of darkness. One myth that has enduring value is that the belief that the concord and well-being of the Earth depends upon the Sun and the Moon. Although we live in a scientific world, still, nothing conveys the visceral power of this realization such as the power of myth. It is in the realm of myth all these celestial bodies become larger than life.

According to ancient Egyptian myth, the evil deity Set disguised himself as a black pig and leaped into the eye of his brother Horus, the sun deity and blinded his eye. But eventually, Horus regains his vision through the work of  Thout, the moon goddess, who regulates such disturbances as eclipses and is also the healer of eyes. In one of the ancient depictions, the emblem of the winged Sun resembles modern day pictures of the sun’s elongated corona. It is important to remember that myth and science have one thing in common: each approach attempts to understand the order and mysteries of the universe. Sometimes mythic expositions can be very imaginative and profound.

In Tahiti it was believed that eclipses occurred when the sun and moon were mating. Indian tribes such as the Tlingit Indians of the Pacific coast in northern Canada, and other North American Indian tribes had similar beliefs. A Germanic myth sees the love relationship going sour as the principle reason why eclipses occur, as one scholar explained:

  • The male Moon married the female Sun. But the cold Moon could not satisfy the passion of his fiery bride. He wanted to go to sleep instead. The Sun and Moon made a bet: whoever awoke first would rule the day. The Moon promptly fell asleep, but the Sun, still irritated, awoke at 2 a.m. and lit up the world. The day was hers; the Moon received the night. The Sun swore she would never spend the night with the Moon again, but she was soon sorry. And the Moon was irresistibly drawn to his bride. When the two come together, there is a solar eclipse, but only briefly. The Sun and Moon begin to reproach one another and fall to quarreling. Soon they go their separate ways, the Sun blood-red with anger.[1]

Eclipses in the Tanakh?

Although eclipses are not specifically mentioned in the Tanakh, but there are some passages that speak about celestial anomalies that include the darkening of the skies—either by clouds or eclipses, or some inexplicable phenomenon.[2] For example, the prophet Isaiah says, “I clothe the heavens in mourning, and make sackcloth their vesture” and this verse could be alluding to a solar or lunar eclipse.[3] The medieval exegete Ibn Ezra (1089-1167) thought that the verse, “I go about in sunless gloom, I rise in the assembly and cry for help” (Job 30:28) might also refer to solar eclipse since the verb  קָדַר (ḏǎr) means to grow dark, or the darkening of the sun and moon.[4]

Perhaps the most important passage that bears wisdom on our discussion is from Jeremiah 10:2.

Thus says the LORD:

Learn not the customs of the nations,

and have no fear of the signs of the heavens,

though the nations fear them.

Throughout the ancient Mesopotamian world, people worshiped the celestial gods (sun god, moon god and Venus particularly; in Babylonia, Shamash, Sin and Ishtar respectively) were primary in most ancient religions. Their followers looked for astrological signs and omens how to live their lives. Human beings were believed to be at the mercy of these cosmic deities, and that is why Jeremiah warns the Israelites to abandon these foolish beliefs. Jeremiah’s warning is no less relevant today. In the next section, we will give some examples of how some rabbinic teachers rejected Jeremiah’s wise teaching.

Early Rabbinic Discussions

Similar to other ancient traditions in the world, Talmudic texts assert that an eclipse of the sun is an evil omen for the peoples of the world. However, a lunar eclipse is a particular fatality for Israel, the reason being is since Jews reckon their calendar by the phases of the moon.[5] Rabbi Meir in the Talmud offers an analogy, “A parable: This can be compared to a human monarch who prepared a feast for his subjects, and placed a lantern before them. When he grew angry with them, he told his servant, “Take away their lantern away, and let them sit in darkness!”[6]

And the Talmud goes on to elaborate about the root causes of eclipses.

  • If, during an eclipse, the visage of the sun is red like blood, it is an omen that sword, i.e., war, is coming to the world. If the sun is black like sackcloth  made of dark goat hair, it is an omen that arrows of hunger are coming to the world, because hunger darkens people’s faces. When it is similar both to this, to blood, and to that, to sackcloth, it is a sign that both sword and arrows of hunger are coming to the world. If it was eclipsed upon its entry, soon after rising, it is an omen that calamity is tarrying to come. If the sun is eclipsed upon its departure at the end of the day, it is an omen that calamity is hastening to come. And some say the matters are reversed: An eclipse in the early morning is an omen that calamity is hastening, while an eclipse in the late afternoon is an omen that calamity is tarrying.[7]

I can sense what some of you are probably thinking—modern Jews don’t think or believe this way! Let us borrow a page from Maimonides’ play book. We are not obligated to justify every remark found in the Talmud if it violates common sense, science, and reason. This is not meant as a blasphemous criticism of the rabbis, it is merely a statement of fact. All of us today living benefit from the evolution of our society. We are no longer living as Carl Sagan once described, “a demon-haunted world.” Socrates once said, “We are all midgets standing upon the shoulders of giants” and as a result, we are able to see further than our forbearers did.

The Talmudic discussion about eclipses continue:

  • The Sages taught that on account of four matters the sun is eclipsed: On account of a president of the court who dies and is not eulogized appropriately, and the eclipse is a type of eulogy by Heaven; on account of a betrothed young woman who screamed in the city that she was being raped and there was no one to rescue her; on account of homosexuality; and on account of two brothers whose blood was spilled as one. And on account of four matters the heavenly lights are eclipsed: On account of forgers of a fraudulent document [pelaster] that is intended to discredit others; on account of testifiers of false testimony; on account of raisers of small domesticated animals in the Land of Israel in a settled area; and on account of choppers of good, fruit-producing trees.

To Rashi’s credit, he admitted, לא שמעתי טעם בדבר —“I do not have an explanation for this …,” and I would venture to say Maimonides and the other rationalist medieval thinkers of his age probably felt the same. But the same cannot be said about the Kabbalists, for their mystical writings often gives credence to superstition. This was one of the principle reasons Maimonides warred with the Kabbalists regarding their use of magic and other superstitious practices. Hassidic homes still feature amulets designed to chase away the evil eye.

While most ancient rabbis were unfamiliar with Greek science and astronomy, there were some notable exceptions. The Talmud records, “Rabban Gamaliel had a tube through which he could see at a distance of two thousand cubits across the land and a corresponding distance across the sea” Steinsaltz explains that Rabban Gamaliel utilized a device known as the astrolabe, which was first invented by the Greek astronomer Apollonius of Perga between 220 and 150 B.C.E. This device made it possible to make astronomical measurements regarding the altitudes and movements of the stars; it was especially used in navigation for calculating latitude before the sextant was developed. We must not think all rabbis were primitive, but they were, after all, men of their age.

Concluding Thoughts

Personally speaking, I think the mythic accounts depicting the eclipse as a dangerous phenomenon of nature were more correct than moderns might be willing to admit. That being said, the Talmud and other mythic accounts overlook the most obvious reason why the ancients feared solar eclipses: blindness! As we read in the news the other day, hundreds of thousands of people across the world might go blind or have their vision permanently impaired as a result of gazing at the solar eclipse. There can be no doubt this was certainly no less true in primal times and this simple fact is probably why the ancients viewed the solar eclipses with trepidation and fear.

Among Halakhic scholars, there is no reference for anyone having to say a blessing be recited over the eclipse, especially when considering the potential danger it poses to our vision. This, in my opinion, seems sensible and logical. However, as one modern Halakhic scholar observed, “R. Lau noted that his own religious response to witnessing the eclipse had been to say Psalm 19, “The Heavens tell of God’s glory,” and Psalm 104, “My soul will bless God.”

[1] Mark Littmann, Fred Espenak, and Ken Willcox, Totality: Eclipses of the Sun (New York: Oxford UP, 2008), pp. 43-44.

[2] Isa 5:30; 13:10; 24:23; Ezek. 32:7–8; Joel 2:15; 2:30-32; 3:15; Amos 8:9; Zeph. 1:15

[3] Ibn Ezra thought it might be referring to angels.

[4] Cf. Job 6:16; 30:28; Jer. 4:28; Joel 2:10; 4:15; Mic 3:6.

[5] Mekhilta Bo, 1.; BT Sukkah 29a.

[6] BT Sukkah 29a.

[7] BT Sukkah with Steinsaltz’s Commentary Sukkah 29a.

[8] See Jeremy Brown’s fine article, The Great American Eclipse of 2017: Halachic and Philosophical Aspects, in http://www.hakirah.org/vol23brown.pdf.  See also Rabbi Tendler in Moreshet Moshe v. 2 p. 51 quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein as explaining that “there’s no bracha for seeing a solar or lunar eclipse and in fact it is a negative sign” And the Responsa Aseh Lecha Rav 150 agrees that a beracha should not be recited because no such beracha is mentioned in the Gemara.

Special Dispensation: Ivanka: A fitting successor to Queen Esther?

 

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As 45th President Of The United States

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — Someone in my synagogue asked me an interesting question about Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner: What kind of Halakhic dispensation was given to them to drive on the Sabbath to the Inauguration of the President? The same question came up recently when the Trump entourage traveled on the Sabbath to meet with the Arab leaders from forty countries in Saudi Arabia.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the rabbi who presided over Ivanka’s Orthodox conversion, sheepishly said, “Not me!” Who might the rabbi have been? Obviously, this is not the kind of publicity most Orthodox rabbis of any genre would want. One theory was that the special dispensation (known as a heter in rabbinic nomenclature) was due to the “safety concerns.”
Think for a minute.

Washington D.C. doesn’t have the best reputation for being a safe city, in fact it is considered one of the more dangerous cities to live in. Would safety be an issue? Possibly, but with all the presidential bodyguards looking over the family, it might not have been that serious of a problem.

There is a funny story attributed to Bill Clinton.
·         A former White House chief of staff Jack Lew, who was known for strictly observing the Sabbath, refused to work or to pick up any phone calls from Friday to Saturday sundown. That is, until Bill Clinton couldn’t reach him — and the then-president reportedly said into the speakerphone: “I know it is the Sabbath, but this is urgent. God would understand.” Lew consulted his rabbi, and it was decided that if the phone calls were emergency, he would not be breaking Shabbat by picking up the phone.[1]
Since the days of the Bible and throughout much of Jewish history, there have always been prominent court Jews in the political arena who have often played a significant role in shaping or influencing public policy.

The images of the lovely Ivanka Trump observing Jewish customs and traditions may remind us of how Queen Esther was depicted in rabbinic folklore and tradition. In some of the early midrashic texts, Esther is an exemplar of Judaism.

For example, Esther is depicted as observing the Sabbath, along with the other holidays. In fact, she is also described as eating challah and avoiding non-Jewish wine. She even observed the laws of Nidah, so that she would not have sexual relations during certain days of the month (Targum Rishon)

You’re probably wondering, why did the Rabbis add these fanciful comments? What purpose did these folktales about Esther serve? The answer I wish to give may upset some of my Orthodox and Hasidic friends, but Aristotle once was purported to have said, “Plato is my friend, but truth is a better friend.”[2]

The Book of Esther on some level embarrassed the Sages because the Book of Esther says very little about her religious orientation; her Jewish identity was to her more like an ethnic identity. It is highly doubtful she observed much of anything living in the palace of Xerxes (Ahashuerus) and when push came to shove, she opted not to get involved in the rescue of her endangered people. Mordechai scolded his niece, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:12-16)

Yet, her piety and willing to sacrifice herself for her people ultimately made her into the heroine we all know and love. Yet, despite the happy ending, the Sages debated whether this book should even be included in the biblical canon because God’s Name is absent throughout the text. With all of Esther’s faults, the Sages gave her a special pass in many ways–a point that the Talmud itself admitted [3].

In a way we should all be proud that Ivanka is teaching people about the joys of being Jewish and traditional. To be honest, whenever I hear questions about Ivanka and her Orthodox husband Jered “driving on the Sabbath” to the inauguration of her father, I find it amazing how critical people are of her. I suspect one reason people don’t like her is because of the national schism that has pitted the Republicans and the Democrats. In the eyes of many liberals, there is nothing—I mean, “NOTHING” that President Trump can do since liberals see the President in the most uncharitable terms.

The same nastiness has been directed toward his lovely wife, Melania and the President’s immediate family. Liberal-minded Jews in general often get nervous whenever they see fairly traditional observant Jews involved in the political arena. However, I have heard many friends express similar comments about liberal Jews who love to bluster their opinions—regardless whether some non-Jewish folks might find their attitudes obnoxious or insulting to their traditional American Christian beliefs.

After watching the meeting that took place between the President and the Arab leaders, I must admit I felt very proud of how the President conducted himself; I believe Jared Kushner played a significant role in trying to promote better American and Sunni-Arab & Israeli relations—and that is something we have not seen at all in the last two decades. Such behavior is important–even on the Sabbath!

In the final analysis, maybe the time has come for us to try to promote bridges that foster and facilitate understanding.

Is Ivanka Trump an echo of Queen Esther?

Maybe with a little bit of encouragement from her fellow Jews.

============================================
[1] http://forward.com/schmooze/360453/ivanka-trump-and-jared-kushner-get-rabbinic-pass-to-ride-in-car-on-inaugura/
[2] This aphorism is actually a paraphrase of the Nicomachean Ethics 1096a11-15.
[3] BT Sanhedrin 74b.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com



[1] http://forward.com/schmooze/360453/ivanka-trump-and-jared-kushner-get-rabbinic-pass-to-ride-in-car-on-inaugura/

[2] This aphorism is actually a paraphrase of the Nicomachean Ethics 1096a11-15.

[3] BT Sanhedrin 74b.

The Scandalous Chief Rabbinate of Israel

 

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein vowing to rebuild after a fire at Kehilath Jeshurun caused major damage to his New York synagogue, July 11, 2011. Lookstein, who has guided the Modern Orthodox shul since his father's death in 1979, will be stepping down at the end of this year. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images/via JTA)

One of my favorite concepts in logic is the reductio ad absurdum (Latin: “reduction to the absurd”) argument, which is a logical method of argument that proves the falsity of a premise  by following its implications to a logical but absurd conclusion.

The latest news regarding the nullification of one the United States’ most prestigious and venerable rabbis of the United States, Haskel Lookstein, is the rabbi who converted Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and officiated at Ms. Trump’s  wedding to Jared Kushner in 2009.

What triggered this conundrum?

Back in April, a small rabbinical court the city of Petach Tikvah  (near Tel Aviv) rejected Rabbi Lookstein’s the conversion of a woman named Nicole, who underwent conversion under his auspices.  When she applied for marriage registration with her Israeli fiancé, Lookstein’s name did not on the pre-approved list of rabbis’, whose conversions are acceptable by the Chief Rabbinate.

One thing led to another and the rabbinate decided to invalidate all of R. Lookstein’s conversions, which include Ivanka Trump, the daughter of business magnate and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Israel Times report details what happened in the first hearing that took place last week when the Supreme Rabbinical Court reinforced the opinion of the Petach Tikvah lower court. To make a long story short, they denied this woman and others their conversion—despite the fact that Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau approved of all Lookstein’s conversions. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also said that the Chief Rabbinate recognizes Lookstein’s conversions.

Negating conversions are nothing new in modern Orthodoxy today. A few years ago, the Haredi rabbis and their political allies threatened to overturn over 15,000 conversions of Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who served as the acting  director of the National Conversion Authority in Israel.

For over two thousand years rabbis have respected the right for rabbis in other localities to make decisions for their own communities with complete autonomy. Rabbis who differed with their colleagues on halachic issues generally treated one another with respect and dignity. Unanimity and conformity to a single Halachic standard went against the belief that every community had the right to follow its own traditions and rabbis—even if some of these rabbis followed a minority opinion at times.

But today, we are living in a very different world indeed.

Let me briefly explain why revoking a conversion is wrongheaded and scandalous.

The concept of revoking a conversion is a recent innovation in rabbinic law. As we have posted in other places, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) does not sanction revocation of conversions at all. Should a convert return to his former gentile roots, the halacha still considers him as a “sinful Israelite.” [1]

Simply stated, revoking conversions is risky business and can cause unspeakable harm to countless innocents who are indirectly or directly  triangulated in the rabbinic web the Haredi rabbis have woven.

Reductio ad absurdum in Action

Here is a hypothetical story to consider.

Once upon a time, a woman converts from Catholicism and became a pious Haredi Jewess at the tender age of 20. She raises a family of twenty children. The next generation has the same number of children, as does the third and fourth generation of Haredi Jews. All of them are pious and God fearing Haredim.

By the time this woman reached her 120th birthday, she produced approximately 20x20x20x20 = 160,000 people–not bad for this one prolific Jewish mother!

But something unpredictable happened.

At this matriarch’s 120th birthday, the original convert decides to return to her original Catholic faith on her 120th birthday…

See the problem?

That decision, according to Haredi logic, would jeopardize the Jewish status possibly of up to four generations of Haredi Jews, equaling more than 160,000 Jews!  That would mean all of her offspring numbering 160,000 people would all be technically Haredi Gentiles!  Our little reductio ad absurdum argument explains why our rabbinic ancestors had the common sense not to revoke conversions. Rather, they considered the wayward convert as a “cho’te Yisrael” ( a “Jewish sinner”) and left it at that.

Ethically and halachically, children especially must not be penalized for the sins of the parent, our tradition teaches us. Creating artificial halachic barriers will not solve the problem, it will only compound it–even lead to an exponentiation that will create a scandal for everyone.

I believe the Haredi community has every right to define whom they wish to recognize as a bona fide member of their specific community. However, these Haredi rabbinic leaders do not have the right to legislate for communities outside of its jurisdiction. Every community has the right to decide for itself. That has always been the case in the history of Jewish law. Every community is autonomously responsible for its members.

The fact that all of this is happening near the time of the Three Weeks when Jews are supposed to get along with one another is upsetting and contrary to the spirit of our tradition demands we make the effort to co-exist peacefully and respectfully together.

Let us hope that the Modern Orthodox rabbinate in the United States and elsewhere in the Diaspora  will join the ranks of the Conservative and the Reform in implementing a separation of Synagogue and State, lest we become a mini-me version of the Islamic fanatics who rule oppressively by the force of theocratic law.

We have enough enemies to deal with, we should not be fighting among ourselves.

God is NOT Fixing this ….

 

It isn’t every day I come across a theologically provocative new story headline like the  New York Daily did this morning in the terrible aftermath of the mass shooting that took place in San Bernardino, California—which claimed the lives of fourteen people, while injuring over twenty.

The headline said, “God isn’t fixing this,” which referred to the many lawmakers who offered up their prayers for the victims, but failed to act when it came to enacting stricter gun control laws. The article listed a number of tweets from the various GOP presidential candidates, where each of them “offer their prayers for the victims.” The article neglected to mention how President Obama himself, offered his prayers for the victims and their families.

Gun violence is a complicated issue.

I have always felt that some of the gun laws need tightening. More psychological background screening is a good thing, provided it can prevent unhealthy people from obtaining firearms—especially weaponry such as the Kalashnikov AK-47, which is more of a military weapon used in the battlefields. The idea of a homeowner utilizing such a weapon in the home has always seemed rather odd to me. For someone like Rambo, well that’s different. To the President’s credit, he ceded that these changes will not prevent every act of gun violence, but it may prevent some incidents from occurring. Ethnic profiling here in this case might have also prevented Syed Rizwan Farook  from obtaining the weaponry he used. It certainly works for Israel, and it can work for our country too.

Sadly, political correctness may have contributed to this terrible tragedy.

What was the gun merchant really thinking when he sold Syed Rizwan Farook the weaponry he used? The careless gun merchant contributed to the unlawful and criminal violence that occurred. The Torah emphatically stresses, “You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:14). As Martin Buber notes, “The fear of God” is not the fear of punishment. Whenever the “fear of God” is used in Scriptures, it always denotes the reverence for life. Every gun merchant should have this biblical passage enshrined on the walls of his shop.

While I strongly believe the President has every right to use the bully pulpit to promote new laws concerning gun control, it is important that even more important that  the President walk his talk for justice demands consistency and fairness. Operation “Fast and Furious” scandal is a grim reminder that providing guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders proved to be a dubious and dangerous operation, which ultimately led to the deaths of Mexican civilians as well as the death of the United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed December 2010 with these weapons. This affair was so scandalous that the Justice Department demanded documents related to the scandal from Attorney General Eric Holder, who refused to cooperate, resulting in Holder becoming the first sitting member of the Cabinet of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress on June 28, 2012. The President himself, embarrassingly, invoked executive privilege for the first time in his presidency[1]  over the same documents.[2]

Of course, banning such weaponry does not necessarily prevent a person from getting one. As we have seen in the past, where there is a will, there is also a way. Although I find myself differing with the President on most of our country’s national and international issues, I think there is room for a creative compromise for everyone to compromise.

From the theological perspective, Paul Tillich teaches us a valuable lesson worth considering. Too many times, we imagine that God is a “Cosmic Bellboy,” or “Santa Claus (in keeping with Christmas spirit of the season), who bestows all of our wishes and desires. According to Tillich, nothing can be farther from the truth.

Jewish prayer concurs with Tillich’s point.

Jewish mystics teach us that, “Blessings from above descend never descend into a vacuous space” (Zohar I, Genesis 88a). In other words, everything we ask for from God demands that we make a corresponding vessel to receive that blessing.

If we wish to prevent gun violence, we must find ways to tame the human spirit. Passing laws for, or against gun control will mean very little, unless we also make an effort to distant ourselves from violent thoughts, violent words, and violent deeds. While the Hollywood community tends to be outspoken about the importance of gun control, it is counter-productive for these same actors and actresses to promote violent films that enshrine violent attitudes with images that show no reverence for human life.

Prayer in Jewish tradition is not merely a rote recitation of words; it is contains a recipe and a prescription on how we must manifest God’s mercy and justice in the world. Kabbalists have often said that the shapes of the four letters of  God’s Name “YHWH” resembles that of a human being. The image of God that our Creator has endowed each of us with is a reminder of how each of us participates and partakes of God’s divine nature and Being.

Ergo, “God isn’t fixing this” may be a more appropriate name for a headline than the writer might have imagined. However, the word for “prayer” “Tefilah” actually derives from the word to be “self-reflective.”

None of us is so high and mighty to take these issues to heart and in the spirit of shalom, find compromises to a vexing problem that everyone can live with. Maybe then, we will prove worthy enough for God to answer our prayers.



[1] Jackson, David (June 20, 2012). “Obama claims executive privilege; Holder held in contempt”. USA Today. Retrieved June 22, 2012.

[2] John Parkinson,. (June 20, 2012). “Committee Votes Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress After Obama Asserts Executive Privilege”. ABC News. Retrieved June 22, 2012.

Symbolism of the Breastplate Stones

 

Note: I wrote this back in 1988 and it probably needs a new revision. But for those who find such topics interesting, here it is for your enjoyment.

Q.  What were the types of stones used in Aaron’s breastplate? What were the reasons a particular stone represented a particular tribe?

A. Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Exodus 28, noted that we really have no way to positively identifying the stones that were set in the breastplate and that when Saadia translated these stones as he saw fit, and had no tradition to rely upon. Ibn Ezra’s point is very important, for anything we say about this subject is nothing more than conjecture. The problem is especially compounded when we consider that there is no agreement as to what tribe corresponded to the correct stone. In light of this, let’s wade our way through these murky waters and see how these stones have been identified. Some scholars have attempted to establish a relationship between the 12 stones in Aaron’s breastplate, the 12 months of the year, and the 12 signs in the zodiac; however, there is no evidence of this in Scripture. Precious stones are used in Scripture in a figurative sense, to signify value, beauty, durability. Philo of Alexandria felt that each stone correspond exactly to the temperament of each given tribe.

 The First Row of Stones:

Odem ‑‑sardius, or, ruby. Ex 39:10. The Hebrew odem, from adam, to be red, ruddy, seems to denote the ruby; as adam does in Persian a beautiful gem, of a fine deep red color, with a mixture of purple. Jb 28:18. Pr 3:15. 8:11. 20:15. 31:10. La 4:7. The Targum of Yonatan identifies this stone with the tribe of Rueben; some identify this stone with the tribe of Judah. [Note that Judah was known for his passionate nature, as was Rueben]

Pitdah ‑‑ is constantly rendered by the LXX. topadzion, and Vulgate, topazius, with which agrees Josephus. The topaz is a precious stone, of a pale, dead green, with a mixture of yellow, sometimes of a fine yellow; and hence called chrysolyte by the moderns, from its gold color. Job 28:19. According to Saadia Gaon, Kimchi, and Chizkuni this stone is most likely the emerald.  According to the Septuagint, pitdah is identified with the sardian ‑‑  a deep orange‑red chalcedony considered by some to be a variety of carnelian. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabba 2:7 identify the Pitda with Simon, while some say it was the stone of Issachar.

Bareket ‑‑ is possibly a carbuncle, from the Hebrew word Bareketh, from barak, (lightning) to lighten, glitter, a very elegant gem, of a deep red color, with a mixture of scarlet. It has been suggested that possibly the breastplate stone was not green but of bluish‑ red color, in which case it may have been an almandine (garnet). Is 54:11, 12.. Saadia notes that this stone may well have been the yellow topaz, possibly a citrine. The Midrash identifies this stone with Gad, while others identify Bareket with Benjamin

The Second Row of Stones

Nofech ‑‑ Ex 28:18. The Targum, KJV, and Bahya identify this as the emerald, others would argue that the emerald was unknown in Mosaic times. This last opinion is debatable for emeralds were recently  rediscovered in Upper Egypt, at Mt. Zabarah. and in Cyprus, and Ethiopia.

Another alternative might be turquoise which was certainly mined in Egypt during Mosaic times. Chizkuni identifies this stone with the carbuncle, whereas the Septuagint renders nofech as coal. Some identify this stone with the tribe of Judah while others identify it with the tribe of Rueben.

Sapir ‑‑  Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390‑ 405 C.E..) translates this stone as sapphirus; Pliny describes sapphirus as “refulgent with spots like gold. It is also of an azure color, though sometimes, but rarely, it is purple; the best kind being that which comes from Media. In no case, however, is this stone transparent.”  However, there is ample reason to believe that the sapphire stone of today which is really the corundum, a stone that was not known in ancient times. Pliny 37:39 and Theophrastos, a Greek scholar were of the view that the sapphire of ancient times was really the lapis lazuli.  The Midrash identifies this stone with the tribe of Issachar, while other identify this stone with the tribe of Dan.

 Yahalom ‑‑  This stone has been identified as a rock crystal; clear and colorless gem,  a pearl,  or a bluish glass (considered valuable in very early times), or blue chalcedony, or perhaps even beryl. Ibn Ezra in his commentary notes that Yahalom is most likely a diamond because it has the ability to break up all other stones.  Its root word is according to Ibn Ezra derived from the Hebrew word holem which means “to smite” (Cf. Isa 41:7). Some translations of the Bible translate Yahalom as “diamond” which is incorrect for the diamond was not known before the Middle Ages. Moreover,  for the Biblical stone had a name engraved on it and the method of engraving a diamond was not invented till 2,000 or 3,000 years after the breastplate was made; nor were diamonds, if known at that time and place in history. The Midrash identifies this stone with the tribe of Zevulun, while others say it was Naphtali’s stone.

The Third Row of Stones:

Leshem‑‑ This stone might be jacinth, zircon; amber yellow or orange  The Septuagint renders it  as liguron . Other scholars identify it with aventurine, a quartz containing very fine crystals of hematite, limonite or mica, which sparkle when the light catches them. It has also been identified as  turquoise which is used in jewelry. This stone may have been a  tourmaline, or more definitely the red variety known as rubellite.  Rubellite is a hard stone, and used as a gem, and is sometimes sold for red sapphire. The Midrash associates this stone with the tribe of Dan because the city of Leshem was located in his tribe [Cf. Joshua 19:47].

She’voh‑‑‑  Variegated black and white agate; The Septuagint identifies this stone as  achatis. This  identification with agate is accepted by all scholars.  White‑gray agates were found in Egypt. This is a stone that assumes such a variety of hues and appearances it may  derive its name from the root shuv  (heb 7725), “to turn, to change”; and are capable of changing its appearance without end. Some identify Midrashic sources identify this stone with the tribe of Naphtali, while others suggest it was the stone of Asher or Menashe.

Achlamah  ‑‑‑ which the Septuagint renders as  ‘amethustos  the Greek word for without being drunk’ the Greeks believed that this stone was supposed to  prevent inebriation. This a gem generally is purple or violet in color. Pliny says that it was crimson, that there were four shades of that color and that it was translucent. Ibn Ezra writes that the amethyst was sometimes identified as the dream stone, for it was could induce dreams in anyone who wears it. [note that the word achlamah is related to the Hebrew word  for dream “cholem.” The Targum identifies this stone with the tribe of Gad or Issachar. If this is indeed the dream stone, then it seem logical to identify this stone with Joseph.

The Fourth Row of  Stones

Tarshish ‑‑beryl, a precious stone of a sea‑ green color. Emerald and aquamarine are two types of beryl. It may also be citrine quartz or green jasper; The Septuagint calls this  chrisolythos or  berullion; . In the Hellenistic period this name was applied to the topaz, a stone not known in the earlier periods. Now believed to have been identical with mother‑of‑ pearl. Jerome’s  Vulgate translates it as the hyacinthus. Beryl  is a transparent gem of a bluish‑green colour, found in the East Indies [Saadia, Kimchi and the KJV].  Only the green beryl was known and used in Egypt in Moses’ time, the aquamarine and the yellow and white beryls not being known. The name Tarshish is also the ancient Biblical name for Spain, and if this applies here, then we may assume that it is the yellow rock crystal or citrine quartz. known as “chrysolith” according to Pliny (Natural History, xxxvii. 43). This stone is identified with the tribe of Zebulon who dwelled by the sea (Bahya).

Shoham ‑‑ Onyx sardonyx; variegated red and white Onyx is a member of the agate family and is characterized by its non‑transparency and its parallel layers of alternating colors, as red and white, brown and white, black and white. The Vulgate translates it as the sardonyx, a red and white variegated gem. New English Bible renders shoham as “(red) carnelian.” which is frequently found in the desert. In the Book of Job, Job regarded God’s wisdom as a greater possession than even  costly onyx  (Job 28:16). The Targum identifies this stone with the tribe of Asher.

Yashfeh ‑‑  Jasper jasper; green ; the jasper stone was originally  carved by the Babylonians and was usually green and sometimes even transparent. The Greek and Latin jaspis, and has been found in excavations in ancient Judea and in the neighboring countries. This stone may possibly be the opal or jade or green quartz. The Midrash identifies this stone with the tribe of Naphtali or Benjamin.

According to Philo, Josephus, Maimonides, Rashi, the four rows was arranged according to the order of their birth, others suggest that the rows corresponded to they encamped in the wilderness (T.B. Yoma 73b, Saadia, and the Abravanel). According to the Minchat Chinuch, the rows were arranged vertically by the order of birth (cf. Kaplan’s Living Torah for more details). The purpose of the choshen (breastplate) was to remind the High Priest that he had to represent the Jewish people wherever he would go, and that he was their servant at all times.

I would like to make a few concluding comments about the purpose of these stones and why they were so important .Stones had a wide range of  meanings in the ancient world. They represented   indestructibility, constancy, the unyielding, and dominance. Many of the transparent shiny stones symbolically represented the synthesis of earthly matter bound up with the brilliance of spiritual.  These gems represented clarity and light, and were used by the High Priest when he meditated on the Urim ve Tumim.

At the beginning of this article, I pointed out that the twelve stones corresponded to the twelve signs of the Zodiac. There is also a stone for every month, and these are often featured in brooches inscribed with zodiacal signs portraying a person’s horoscope. According to Eliade, stones were adored by the ancients because they were believed to be instruments of spiritual action and vitality. These stones were believed by many peoples throughout history as carrying the charisma of the sun, the moon and the seven planets. Yellow and white stones bore the influence of the sun, blue stones were associated with the heavenly realm [Cf. the color of techeylet found in the Tzitzit symbolizing the heavens and the waters], red stones bore the influence of Mars and passion, Venus was associated with green stones such as the emerald, Saturn was characterized by black stones such as onyx and so on. These stones were used also as a weapon warding off the baneful influence of the evil eye.

Precious stones were believed to have certain curative powers. Abraham wore a precious stone, hanging from his neck, any sick person who gazed upon it was instantly healed (Bava Bathra 16b); cf. the pearl-bag worn by animals that contained a pearl for medicinal purposes. (Cf.Sanh. 68a and Rashi ad loc.). They were also believed to promote human passions and affections. According to Josephus mentions that the Essenes used precious stones for healing purposes (Wars 2:136) Beryl gives hope; emeralds brought wealth, carbuncle, energy and assurance; rubies and red agates were associated with love.

With regard to the tribes and their respective stones, we find in the Midrash

There were distinguishing signs for each prince; each had a flag and a different color for every flag, corresponding to the precious stones on the breast of Aaron… Reuben’s stone was odem and the color of his flag was red; and embroidered thereon were mandrakes. Simeon’s was pitdah and his flag was of a yellow (or green) color… Levi’s was bareqet and the color of his flag was a third white, a third black, and a third red… Judah’s was nofekh and the color of his flag was like that of the sky… Issachar’s was sappir and the color of his flag was black like stibium… Zebulun’s was yahalom and the color of his flag was white… Dan’s was leshem and the color of his flag was similar to sappir… Gad’s ahlamah and the color of his flag was neither white nor black but a blend of black and white… Asher’s was tarshish and the color of his flag was like the precious stone with which women adorn themselves… Joseph’s was shoham and the color of his flag was jet black… Benjamin’s was yashfeh and the color of his flag was a combination of all the 12 colors.[This Midrash was adapted from the Encyclopedia Judaica]

 

A Contrast in Leadership: King Abdullah and President Obama

 

 

Some of us have short memories and some of us have long memories. This writer in particular will not ignore two noteworthy events that occurred in the last six months. Both of these events involved ISIS executing its hapless captives. Both of these events present two very different kinds of responses–as different as day and night.

President Obama took to the podium and said some appropriate remarks for the tragic death of the American journalist Tom Foley.

  • They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people. So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.[1]

What happened next proved to be more important than anything the President said at the podium.  In short, if a picture could tell a thousand words, the images that ensued within four minutes after the President’s speech could fill ten thousand volumes. Within four minutes after leaving the podium, Obama teed-off and could be seen laughing with friends and fist-bumping them during a five-hour round at Farm Neck Golf Course on Martha’s Vineyard  – his seventh 18-holes in ten days.

I cannot recall a president in recent memory who was so oblivious to the pain and shock that the entire nation felt, yet the game of golf had to go on! I can only imagine the European heads of states shaking their heads in disbelief. Putin and ISIS were probably laughing derisively at our President, who forgot about the “optics” of how he looked on camera.

Yes, Mr. Obama, we know why you detest the press.

After discovering how his popularity plummeted in the next several days, President Obama reluctantly admitted, “after the statement that I made, that you know, I should’ve anticipated the optics,” he said.

The second reaction was that of King Abdullah II of Jordan to  news that the Jordanian pilot Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, 27, had been burned alive while confined in a cage.

  • Jordan’s King Abdullah, himself a former general, angrily vowed to pursue ISIS until his military runs “out of fuel and bullets,” in a closed door meeting with U.S. lawmakers that followed the release Wednesday of a grisly video showing a captured Jordanian airman being burned alive in a cage by the terrorist army.[2]

Such resolve, such courage! Who would expect little tiny Jordan to act like the mouse who roared while the most powerful leader of the free world got upset that the world did not see him at his best.

Interestingly, King Abdullah II of Jordan was in the United States when ISIS released the video on the Internet. What did he do? The King immediately cut his trip short in order to return to Jordan to comfort the family of the lost pilot.

Can you—the reader—appreciate the difference between Obama’s and Abdullah’s reaction? I do not think for a minute that King Abdullah worried about the optics—his place was with the victims and with his people.

Winston Churchill has never been one of Obama’s heroes. When Obama first took the White House, one of the first things he did while he was in office was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and send it back to the British Embassy. The British probably felt surprised at this sign of presidential disrespect, for one never unilaterally returns a gift from a foreign leader!

In retrospect, it is not hard to see why.  Churchill once said: Continue reading “A Contrast in Leadership: King Abdullah and President Obama”

America’s Deflating Foreign Policy (Revised)

 

CHULA VISTA, California — For many of us who happen to be Tom Brady football fans, we read the story about Brady’s alleged deflated football. For those of you unfamiliar with what practical difference this all makes, bear in mind that an under-inflated ball, the legend goes, is easier to throw and catch. Apparently, deflated balls were used to defeat the hapless  Indianapolis Colts last week.

To use an analogy from another sport, a deflated football is practically like using a corked baseball bat, which makes it easier to hit home runs out of the park. Historically, most of Babe Ruth’s bats were subsequently discovered to be corked, but baseball fans  love home runs, much like football fans love lots of touchdowns.

Sports pundits have been calling the New England Patriots’ victory over the Colts “Deflategate,” but for my money an even greater scandal is the deflation of American foreign policy. The world sees the United States as weak and disinterested in standing up against the Jihadists. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proved to be a good, strong, and silent supporter of Israel, as well as a powerful critic of Obama pro-Jihadist sympathies.

Although Israel and Saudi Arabia have never had formal diplomatic ties, in recent years Israel and Saudi covertly cooperated on plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Over the last couple of years, Israeli and Saudi interests have also aligned on combating the growing threat of Sunni Muslim terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood. He bravely condemned the recent war initiated by Gaza against Israel.[1]

Abdullah also felt outraged by the United States role in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to seize power in Egypt by removing one of America and Israel’s staunchest political allies—Hosni Mubarak. The Saudi capital of Riyadh felt very nervous and extremely wary of the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Iran over the latter’s nuclear weapons program. When the President drew a red-line concerning Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens, Obama’s last-second decision not to bomb Damascus in the wake of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on August 2013 was seen by Riyadh as dithering and weakness — and a sin of omission that has prolonged and exacerbated the Syrian war.

Let us not forget, that Obama made Mohammed Elibary, said to have strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, a member of the United States’ Department of  Homeland Security’s advisory council, until his comment about the inevitability of a caliphate forced him to resign that council.[2]

Of course, American Jews by and large either ignored this appointment, or could care less because of their loyalties to Obama and the Democratic leftists who walk in goose-step with his pro-Jihadi policies. Then again, the continuous snubbing of Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu and the President’s determination to buy loyalty from Iran, as well as elevating the Shiite rogue regime as a partner in the war against ISIS also made King Abdullah feel anger, as they did Israel.

And now in Yemen, which has fallen to the pro-Iranian rebels, Saudi Arabia is finding the web of Iran slowly encloses their country. No, Mr. President, your Yemenite success story was no success. Not by a long shot.

Unnamed administration sources threatening “serious consequences” if Bibi Netanyahu meets with Congress in March sends an uncomfortable signal to the entire free world—namely, the United States is feeling little loyalty to one of its most important allies of the Middle East—the State of Israel. Other allies of the United States have good reason to feel nervous about the deflating effects of Obama’s foreign policy.

I hope that Netanyahu defies the President—because the Iranian menace is laughing, while our President continues to behave as the “Appeaser in Chief.” Thomas Friedman is certainly not regarded as a conservative columnist of the New York Times, but even he had some sharp words about the President’s feckless foreign policy when it comes to recognizing the global war of Jihadist Islam:

  • “The administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness. Asked why the administration won’t say [after the Paris attacks] we are at war with radical Islam, Earnest on Tuesday explained the administration’s first concern ‘is accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it.’This makes it sound as if the Charlie Hebdo terrorists set out to commit a random act of violent extremism and only subsequently, when they realized that they needed some justification, did they reach for Islam.[3]

Aside from the President’s absence from the Parisian march against Jihadist Islam, the President completely ignored President Abdel Fattah al Sisi courageous remarks, when he spoke on January 1st to a large college of Muslim clerics. He dared them to “promote a reading of Islamic texts in a “truly enlightened” manner to reconsider the concepts “that have been made sacred over hundreds of years.” By such thinking, the Islamic world is “making enemies of the whole world. So 1.6 billion people (in the Muslim world) will kill the entire world of 7 billion? That’s impossible … We need a religious revolution.”

Sisi has also called for religious toleration – on New Year’s Eve, he became the first Egyptian president to attend a Coptic Christmas Eve mass. It was a popular move among Christians, to whom Sisi’s authoritarianism represents a bulwark against the return of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is a man our President ought to be supporting, but according to Obama, there is no Jihadist threat  to the civilized world. Any talk about a “Global Jihadist” threat is treated as a symptom of “Islamophobia.”

It is not the place of our President to act as an apologist for Muslim Jihadi movements.

Instead of inviting rock stars and other Hollywood or sports celebrities, maybe the President ought to invite moderate and secular Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.M. Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Ibn Warraq, and other secular Muslims who oppose the marriage of State and religion, as advocated by Sharia law. These Muslims affirm the power of conscience and believe in the equality of all human beings. They also advocate eliminating such backward practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence. Most importantly, they affirm Islam as a personal faith—not as a political doctrine.



[2] http://www.libertynewsonline.com/article_301_36189.php#sthash.sG33Hzqb.dpuf; http://www.clarionproject.org/analysis/senior-homeland-security-adviser-slams-egypts-christian-copts See also http://pamelageller.com/2014/09/obamas-muslim-pro-muslim-brotherhood-homeland-security-adviser-resigns.html/#sthash.8lwuXjd6.dpuf.

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/opinion/thomas-friedman-say-it-like-it-is.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fthomas-l-friedman&_r=0

Rescuing Spinoza from the Depths of Hell

This past week, the Jewish Chronicle published a remarkable article that caught my attention that I would like to write about, which just appeared in the news for the first time.[1]

The time: 2012

The place: Modern day Amsterdam.

The event:  A group of university scholars and leaders of the Amsterdam Jewish community meet to discuss the possibility of lifting a ban of excommunication made against Baruch Spinoza. This ban has been in effect for 356 years.

The Amsterdam Chief Rabbi, Haham Dr. Pinchas Toledano was asked  to lift the 356-year-old ban of excommunication, but he refused to do so  for several reasons:

He gives many reasons for his position:

  • Spinoza never asked the community to rescind the ban despite the fact that the average excommunication [and there were many in those days] was lifted after 30 days. Therefore, “beyond any shadow of doubt, Spinoza never requested to rescind the herem.”
  • Spinoza never asked for forgiveness and felt his positions were justified within the matrix of Judaic thought.
  • Toledano explains that we do not wish to intimate that we approve of Spinoza’s heresies.
  • Judaism does not recognize the freedom of speech.

While one may or may not accept the first three reasons Toledano offers, the last reason about Judaism being against the freedom of speech is especially offensive and historically untrue. Throughout the medieval era, Jewish thinkers took umbrage with each of Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith. There has never been a catholicity of Judaic belief in Jewish history. This is an important distinction we make between the Christian faith that insists upon correct belief vis-à-vis  Jewish belief.

While one may or may not accept the first three reasons Toledano offers, the last reason about Judaism being against the freedom of speech is especially offensive and historically untrue. Throughout the medieval era, Jewish thinkers took umbrage with each of Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith. There has never been a catholicity of Judaic belief in Jewish history. This is an important distinction we make between the Christian faith that insists upon correct belief vis-à-vis  Jewish belief.

Perhaps the Ultra-Orthodox ought to take a lesson from the Catholic Church.

When Galileo first championed his heliocentric theories to Copernicus in 1610, the Catholic Church unleashed the power of the Inquisition, who ruled that such theories of the solar system were heretical. Galileo’s books were banned and burned. Nobody was allowed to even discuss his “dangerous” scientific ideas.  In 1633, he was tried and arrested for heresy and remained in prison until his death in 1642. Oddly, despite the scientific progress the world had seen since the time of his death, only Pope John Paul II finally freed Galileo from the tortures of purgatory in 1999.

People nowadays laugh that it took so long for the Catholic Church to finally honor a truly great figure in modern history. Today, many of the Church’s greatest theological minds are also physicists who believe that a symbiosis of science and religion is possible, as Einstein famously stated: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

In short, anyone who is familiar with much of what Spinoza writes about with respect to God, Bible, and revelation, one can more or less discover many of his ideas in the classical sources. Granted, we have every right to differ with many of Spinoza’s ideas, much like we would differ with Maimonides’s view of Kashrut, or Gersonides’ views regarding Divine omnipresence.

The real problem that we are witnessing today is the attempt of Ultra-Orthodox  (Haredi, Chabad, Haredi Light Judaism, etc.) seeking to homogenize Judaic thought so it will exclude any non-Orthodox form of Judaism. That is the problem that demands addressing.

Our problem boils down to a very human problem: the fear of new ideas. Carl Jung once referred to this problem as  “misoneism” and it is nothing new in the history of human civilization and progress. Stalwarts of the status-quo fear a loss of position and power that comes with the introduction of a new paradigm. History reflects such rigid and intransigent thinking. Unfortunately, it is a problem that is evident in many walks of life—especially when it comes to religion.

The way to fight heretical ideas is not by burning or forbidding these books to be read. We must combat questionable or debatable ideas by coming up with better ideas. This is a legacy that Spinoza tried to start in his own way, and we are greatly indebted for the questions he poses for modern Jews of all denominational movements to wisely consider answering.

 

 

 

Moral Confusion in the White House

 

In a number of recent news reports, we have heard the White House blast Israel for flagrantly killing children, mothers, and the sick. This past Sunday, Face the Nation featured the senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett said that Israeli attacks on Gaza schools and hospitals were “indefensible.”

“This is why the ceasefire is so important,” Jarrett said. “It’s a devastating situation. Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself, and we are Israel’s staunchest ally. But you also can’t condone the killing of all of these innocent children.” “I think everyone involved is frustrated,” Jarrett said. “But you can’t let your frustration get in the way of trying to be a constructive player here, and that’s what [Obama’s] determined to do.”

These tunnels extended well into Israeli territory, and confessions of many of the captured Hamas Jihadists spoke about a 9/11 type of massacre scheduled for Rosh Hashanah, where thousands of Hamas terrorists would capture as many Jewish children and families, as they inflict a crippling blow to Israel. John Kerry reminds me of a Rodney Dangerfield personality. He gets “no respect” from Israel. Could that be because he said that Hamas is allowed to keep their terror tunnels?

Who is designing our country’s foreign policy? Kafka?

One would think that Janet Garret would have said, “Indefensible!” but this was hardly the case. Still, as we speak, the US Embassy has canceled tourist visas for Israelis coming to the United States. For all the 75% or more members of the Jewish community, do you not see anything wrong with this kind of stigmata the Obama Administration has imposed?

While there are about 30-40 tunnels, each of these tunnels costs about one million dollars each. Obama just sent to Gaza forty million dollars. No, he didn’t send food or medical supplies, he sent money. Ask yourselves an obvious question: How does he expect Hamas to spend that money? Does anyone really think Hamas will spend it on theme parks or museums and more hospitals?

Hamas has converted the entire country of Gaza into one colossal human shield. Why doesn’t Obama or Kerry ever condemn the United Nations for allowing their buildings and schools to be transformed into arsenals?  Why are the President and his quislings taking a “neutral” stand regarding this conflict? Why don’t they say, “Beating innocent civilians to remain as human shields instead of leaving their homes is morally indefensible?”

Obama’s DHS has members of the Muslim Brotherhood serving in the US government. You can be sure that the Muslim Brotherhood is doing their best to help their followers in Gaza, who all admire the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS.

Then again, what about the numerous ballistic reports that prove that many of the hospitals have been hit by Hamas missiles that misfired into the hospitals and schools?

If we want to be honest about war, there has seldom ever been a war where innocent people don’t die. Just ask the Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just ask the Afghani people immediately after 9/11, when the United States imposed a media blackout as American planes destroyed over 5000 innocent Afghanis.

No, the Israeli army’s moral standards towers above our own country here in the United States.

Does Israel have a right to defend itself? You better believe it. If President Obama and Janet Garret led the Allies against the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese army, you can be sure that the bad guys would have won.

War is not for the squeamish. Its cost in human lives is horrific so that bellicose nations will think twice about waging war in the future.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other moderate Arab countries are sick and tired of seeing Hamas out of control. They are worried about ISIS and Iran. As we speak, we are watching a dramatic realignment of regional powers, where once warring nations with Israel have paradoxically become allies (in an unofficial manner).

How should the President act? He should look at Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as an example of a leader whose moral compass is intact. Harper said, “Self-defense is “not merely an Israeli right” to be exercised only in the abstract, but an “Israeli obligation” that must be defended by all Western nations.” He added further, “Canada calls on its allies and partners to recognize that these terrorist acts [by Hamas] are unacceptable and that solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict. . . Canada mourns the death and suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. Responsibility rests solely with Hamas and its allies, who launched and continue to feed this crisis,’’ he said .

Harper also rejects outright calls coming from both the White House and the UN that Israel must agree to a negotiated ceasefire with Hamas. “Not only should Israel not agree to a ceasefire, says Harper, Israel should continue her offensive until the Iranian-backed terror group is ‘massively degraded,’ if not eliminated entirely. Indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel are terrorist acts, for which there is no justification.”

That is how an ally of Israel ought to behave.

PS, Happy Birthday Mr. President. Please use this new year of your life to do what is right and noble–defend Israel.