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.

Book Review: The Terrible Beauty of the Evil Man 5*

 

Finis Leavell Beauchamp, The Terrible Beauty of the Evil Man

Kodesh Press  (New York, 2014); 396 pages; ISBN-13: 978-0692237885

Price $14.95

Philo of Alexandria once said that every person who has ever become a proselyte walks a similar path that Abraham, our Father, once walked. According to Jewish folklore, Abraham came from a highly dysfunctional home. One legend tells us that his father Terah had his son arrested for breaking the idols of his father’s business. Yes, for those people who become righteous proselytes, their journey is often a dangerous one indeed. The same may be said about the author Finis Leavell Beauchamp and his wonderful book, The Terrible Beauty of the Evil Man tells about a similar spiritual odyssey about a man who came to Judaism through a most remarkable serendipitous path.

Finis Leavell Beauchamp’s The Terrible Beauty of the Evil Man is fascinating story about a person who was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. This Protestant movement has a substantial number of followers all over the world. When I was working on my doctorate at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, a couple of my classmates were Southern Baptists, who came from South Korea.  It was quite amusing to see them try to imitate the body language and cadence of the American preachers.

They are a highly charismatic denomination that believes in many of the folk beliefs that are mentioned in the NT, e.g., demons, exorcisms, faith healings, miracles, speaking in tongues—many of the things that Beauchamp personally experienced when he was a young boy in his parents’ home.

In the beginning of his captivating book, Beauchamp writes a lot about an exorcism he had personally experienced as a young ten-year-old boy.  In one engaging paragraph, young Beauchamp writes about the details he remembered that remarkable day in Texas:

  • The distraction of that man’s breath freed my mind for a lone moment from the terror that I felt. My body shrugged, and I suddenly exhaled laughter. In the midst of that morbid room, I could only  think of how spicy was the cinnamon flooding through my nostrils.   I was horrified that I had laughed, and glanced at the men in the room. I tried to choke back any sound rising in my throat. The exorcist grinned. “It’s ok,” he said. “They know why you’re here,” he said, pointing to the bellicose demons inhabiting my breast. “And the Devil is a mocker. . .” (Page 20.)

On the back cover of the book, Beauchamp writes, “If you were locked up in an asylum, and left for years, or worse, were born in one, how would you learn to distinguish yourself from the others? How would you come to certainly know you were the one who was sane?”

As I read this book, I had a new appreciation for the complex journeys so many Jews by choice have made. However, in Beauchamp’s case, it reminded me much about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In this famous tale, Plato describes a deep subterranean cave where people have remained imprison since childhood. Enchained from the neck down to their legs, all they could see was the back of the cave and the shadows that were cast upon it. These prisoners could not even see the source of the shadows that were on the wall, much less believe that there was an outside reality—a radically different world that did not resemble anything they had ever known. However, what if the cave-dweller were given the capacity to see beyond the cave?

Judging from his experiences, Beauchamp may well have been the kind of prisoner that Plato was talking about!

Fortunately, for young Beauchamp, he survived to tell his unique tale.

As a person endowed with a profound sense of spirituality, the author continued searching until he found in Judaism a faith that spoke to his soul.  One of the most important distinctions that separate Judaism from Christianity is how each religion approaches faith. Christian across the expression prefer certainty; the knowledge that one is “saved” is the only thing that can bring solace to the Christian heart. In Judaism, there is no such thing as a justification by faith. In fact, in Judaism, the questioning of faith prods us to grow and discover—which is exactly what Beauchamp did.

As a boy, he always wanted to solve puzzles. This skill made his mother nervous, which was one of the reasons she thought he was “possessed.” But as he learned, solving puzzles is something many of the greatest philosophical and scientific minds have been doing since the beginning of recorded history.

Thomas Hobbes may have said it most eloquently: Curiosity is the lust of the mind. For heart-centered Christians like his family of origin, intellectual curiosity is always a threat because it raises uncomfortable questions and demands authenticity. In a nutshell, this is why the author continued his spiritual quest.

Finis’s decision to have an Orthodox conversion proved to be like a psychological  rollercoaster ride for the author. His observations about the political shenanigans within Ultra-Orthodoxy are absolutely on target. His insight that these rabbis possess a control over another person’s life was also accurate (cf. p. 327-331). His comment, “These rabbis may function as angels, but they may also function like tyrants” (p. 330).  It almost seemed to me as I was reading his book that the author may have felt a certain sense of déjà vu when he felt utterly helpless and subject to a controlling rabbinical sponsor, who could care less how his professional decisions impacted the life of this exceptional candidate for conversion. This is an observation that the author never explicitly makes, but I think it is implicitly obvious to anyone who reads between the lines.

Fortunately for Finis, he met a fine rabbi who he enjoyed studying with while he was in Memphis, Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt. A good rebbe makes all the difference in the world for a Jew by Choice.

How true!

This book was not an easy read because of its naked intensity. One can only admire the courage that Beauchamp showed. His willingness to challenge the status quo is one of his most endearing qualities. It is my hope that he will never give up that trait even as he now practices Orthodox Judaism. Judaism can greatly benefit from people who have a healthy sense of curiosity, a willingness to question, and discover truth—no matter where that spiritual journey ultimately leads.  Finis Beauchamp’s candor and willingness to bare his soul is a rare quality among religious writers today, who often tend to write about other people’s spiritual narratives instead of sharing their own unique story with others.

Lastly, the author’s poetry in the back of his book as delightfully spiritual and rich.

 

Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and the American Collective Unconscious

After some reluctance, I decided it was important for me to weigh in on the Duck Dynasty controversy involving Phil Robertson and his off-the-cuff remarks regarding gays and African Americans. Robertson’s equation of homosexuality to bestiality is incorrect. The biblical passages dealing with homosexuality pertain to (1) homosexual rape, or (2) the sexual exploitation of male minors. The Bible has nothing to say about loving homosexual couples whatsoever. Such a social reality did not exist by the time the Bible was written.

“If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” (Leviticus 20:13). Note that the text does not say “if a male lies with a man …” I believe this is one of the first statements in the Torah against pedophilia.

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you” (Leviticus 18:22-24.) This passage is reminiscent of what the Sodomites attempted to do to Lot’s angelic guests when he practiced hospitality. Such sexually exploitative behavior is indeed an “abomination.”

Phil Robertson is not a Bible scholar; he interprets the Bible literally like millions of Christians do. It is this writer’s opinion that people are entitled to believe what they wish when it comes to the  Bible. We do not have to agree or accept their interpretations.

Personally, I do not care for the Religious Right and their Christian agenda for America—especially whenever it involves the likes of Sarah Palin and her ilk. In my opinion, people like her give a bad name to conservatives and independents. The political left is actually making Robertson into a folk-hero. I think the religious right ought to think twice about making Robertson into one of their patron saints.

Secondly, I have never watched Duck Dynasty, nor do I have any plans for watching the redneck program in the future. Reality shows like Duck Dynasty and Jerry Springer have no appeal for me whatsoever.

What concerns me is the matter of free speech in our culture. The ACLU blog says it really best:

  • The First Amendment really was designed to protect a debate at the fringes. You don’t need the courts to protect speech that everybody agrees with, because that speech will be tolerated. You need a First Amendment to protect speech that people regard as intolerable or outrageous or offensive — because that is when the majority will wield its power to censor or suppress, and we have a First Amendment to prevent the government from doing that.[1]

Curiously, the ACLU has declined to weigh in on this topic, and frankly, that is surprising.

Some advocates of the A&E station claim that Robertson may have materially harmed the station with his comments from the Bible condemning homosexuality or his nostalgic memories for the Jim Crow era. I think the producers of the station should have apologized and announce that Robertson’s view about gays and blacks does not reflect the view of the station. Instead, they censored him—but they are having a holiday marathon of the Duck Dynasty program. It seems to me that they are attempting to profit from the publicity and that is immoral.

A&E’s behavior is more ethically problematic and cynical.

Most of us (I hope) strongly dislike Phil Robertson’s comments. However, when we consider his personal narrative, what else would we expect  from an American redneck? Clearly Robertson is not Yale or Harvard material.

Noam Chomsky once said, “The freedom of speech is worthless without the freedom of offensive speech. Goebbels and Himmler were for freedom of speech that was inoffensive to the state.”

Fortunately, the State is not involved in this controversy, but it seems to me that Robertson has every right to sound like a moron if he so chooses. We also have the choice not to watch his program either. As a member of the ACLU, I am reasonably certain that the ACLU would agree with my position.

One gay writer offered the following defense of Robertson:

  • Phil Robertson is the modern day Archie Bunker. He should make us uncomfortable. We should be disturbed by the show’s narrow gender views, flagrant gun worship and open hatred of anything refined and cultured. This doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining or relevant. It’s funny precisely because it challenges some of our sacred beliefs and relevant because it confronts our opposing ideals of masculinity.[2] Continue reading “Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and the American Collective Unconscious”

Santa Claus, Nitel Nacht and Chabad

Chabad Florida Tefillin Santa closeup 12-2013

 

This past week, a newspaper featured a picture of a Lubavitcher rabbi putting tefillon on Santa Claus. It reminded me of a story from Eli Plaut’s  book, Kosher Christmas. Once mentions how an old Ukrainian Jewish immigrant dressed up as Santa Claus and spoke Yiddish. When speaking to Alan King, he quipped, “Men Mahk a leben,” which means, “A man has to make a living!” (p. 135).

Chabad and Christmas seems like an odd combination. Actually, Chabad’s attitude toward Christmas as a holiday has never been especially positive. Chabad Hassidic literature proves this point.

Here is an anecdote.

A Chabad friend of mine sent me the following email that and solicited my opinion. It comes from the Lubavitch Headquarters regarding how the Lubavitcher (Chabad) Hasidim must conduct themselves on Christmas Eve. Many Jews and Christians may find this custom interesting but very strange–and for good reason!!

“December 25th is universally celebrated by non-Jews, as the birthday of the person upon whom a dominant non-Jewish religion was founded and who had the Halachic status as a Jew who lures other Jews to idol-worship. A spirit of impurity therefore prevails on that day.(Additionally, there was a period when members of that religion used to celebrate this eve by attacking Jews, which led to an enactment against keeping the Yeshivas open during the eve of Dec 25th).”

Note that Chabad never refers to Jesus by his proper name. Simply put, Chabad considers Jesus to be a non-person.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe adds, “It is our custom to refrain from studying Torah on Nittel Nacht until midnight. The reason, as the Previous Rebbe heard from his father, the Rebbe RaShaB (Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, a.k.a., the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe), is so that one will not add spiritual vitality to that person [Jesus], and those who presently follow his views [i.e., Christians everywhere]. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (i.e., Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schnnersohn, the 6th Rebbe) quotes his father in the popular Hayom Yom(Teves 17), ‘I am not fond of those students who begrudge these eight hours and cannot tear themselves away from Torah study!’” [1]

Incidentally, most ultra-Orthodox Jews, like the Lithuanian and Sephardic communities, disregard this custom; for them—the study of Torah is of primary importance.

HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE ORIGIN OF THIS CUSTOM?

To understand a Jewish custom, it pays to have the curiosity and determination of a Sherlock Holmes. Most of you reading this Hassidic instruction might be wondering: “What in the world are they talking about? Why should we finish Torah study before Christmas Eve?”

The answer is more complex than most of us realize.

The origin of Nittel Nacht in modern rabbinic literature is one of the more fascinating chapters of Jewish history and folklore. “Nittel ” actually comes from the Latin, “Natalis,” or, “Nativity Night.” It is truly ironic that 99% of all the Hassidic Jews follow this observance, haven’t the foggiest idea that Nittel Nacht means “Nativity Night.” It is also possible that Nittel Nacht may be a corruption of the Latin dies natalis, “birthday,” i.e., the “birthday” of Jesus.[2]

While Christmas is a joyful holiday for billions of people, historically, during the  medieval era and the centuries that followed, Jews were forbidden to appear on streets and public places on the high Christian holidays under penalty of severe punishment; hence the schools and synagogues were closed on those days. [3] Young and old, who were compelled to remain at home, enjoyed themselves with a variety of games; consequently the meaning of the word Nittel received the folk etymological explanation as being an abbreviation for “Nit Iden-Tore-Lernen” (“Jews must not study Torah”).

Of course, the time of Nittel Nacht will vary depending whether one is a Greek Orthodox Christian or not, for they celebrate the holiday on January 6th. Some Hassidic Jews, Ilan mentions, will not study Torah on New Year’s Eve either for the same reason.

In the final analysis, is there a place for Nittel Nacht today? Emphatically, “NO!!!” Not unless one wishes to insult our Christian neighbors. While there are number of customs that originated during the most depraved times of medieval history, it behooves us to let go of our medieval attitudes.

As modern Jews, it behooves us to cultivate a relationship with our Christian neighbors and friends based on the principle of mutual respect. Jewish leaders often insist that Christianity purge itself of its anti-Semitic attitudes, and this is indeed necessary.

Therefore, the custom of not studying Torah on Christmas Eve ought to be discontinued by any person who wishes to cultivate a respectful relationship with their Christian neighbors. This cannot be done so long as we hold on to the old ideas that should have been discarded long ago in the dustbin of history. Fortunately, most Jews have long historically embraced this change in attitude–except for a handful of Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn and in Israel who are still desperately clinging on to the ghosts of Christmas past.

Today, even Orthodox Jews are beginning to explore interfaith dialogue for the first time in recent memory. We are no longer living in an age of religious polemics and religious intolerance. American society is definitely far more tolerant than the world our ancestors left long ago.

No religion is immune to the dangers of promoting religious prejudice; or as they say, “A pig with lipstick is still a pig.” Prejudice and intolerance should not be quietly accepted as if it is normal–because it is not! Unfortunately, the ghetto is more than just a historical space–it is an unhealthy state of mind that we must leave behind.

The medieval and hateful mentality of the past must be banished by all 21st century people of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths. In a world where the Abrahamic religions are at times still in conflict with one another,  the only solution to the conflict is to let go of the symbols and metaphors of religious hatred and intolerance that still unconsciously clings to our own faith communities.

When Katie Goodman sings, “I’ll be Jewish for Christmas,” her song captures the ambivalence many Jews feel in living in a predominantly Christian society. It is true that many Jews tend to be hypersensitive to their status as the “Other” during the Christmas season.

Yet, this need not be the case. We need to live in the present and embrace a love for people of all faiths.

I want to wish all of my Christian brothers and sisters a very Merry Christmas to you all!

=====

Notes:

[1] Anonymous, HaMaaseh Hu HaIkar (Brooklyn, NY: 2006), 10-11. I would also add that the Rabbis of Lubavitch have never referred to Jesus by name, but always through the pejorative designation of, “that man.” In biblical and rabbinic literature, to be without a name is to be condemned to virtual non-existence.

[2] Curiously, but erroneously, Rabbi M. M. Scheneersohn attempts to provide a Hebraic basis for the word’s etymology, “The word  nitel’ implies ‘lack,’ or possibly ‘suspended.’ In Latin, natal means  “born,” i.e.,  ‘the time of birth’”” (Letter dated 9th Kislev 5735, printed in Likutei Sichos Vol.15,  554)

[3] The earliest Halachic reference of this custom dates back to R. Yair Chaim Bachrach (1638-1702) in his Mekor Chaim of the Chavat Yair OH:155

No Barbara, Obama is not the Messiah

 

 

An interesting conversation took place been CNN host Piers Morgan and Barbara Walters that caught my attention.Morgan asked Walters an important question.  “You have interviewed every president of my lifetime. Why is Obama facing so much opposition now? Why is he struggling so much to really fulfill the great flame of ambition and excitement that he was elected on originally in 2009 [sic, 2008]?”

  • BARBARA WALTERS: Well, you’ve touched on it to a degree. He made so many promises. We thought that he was going to be — I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime — but the next messiah. And the whole Obamacare, or whatever you want to call it, theAffordable Health Act [sic. Affordable Care Act], it just hasn’t worked for him. And he’s stumbled around on it, and people feel very disappointed because they expected more.It’s very difficult when the expectations for you are very high. You’re almost better off when they are low and then they rise and rise. His were very high and they’ve dropped. But you know? He still has several years to go. What does he have, three years more, Piers? And, you know, there will be a lot of changes, one thinks in that time.

As you probably know, Barbara Walters is an assimilated Jew who almost never attends a synagogue except when there is a funeral of an important Jewish leader. Still, buried within her psyche is a belief in a personal messiah.

Although Maimonides mentions the belief in a personal messiah in his Thirteen Principles of Faith, he discouraged speculation about the Messiah. For him, the Messiah is not a supernatural figure—his role is political in nature. His job is to serve as a shepherd for Israel and the world; his task is to create a just and peaceful society. Unlike Christianity, Judaism teaches that the Messiah is not an intermediary who is indispensable for the salvation of the individual.

Succinctly put, the Sages offer this piece of practical advice:

  • Rabbi Zera said: Three things come when one least expects it: the Messiah, a found article and a scorpion.[1] 
  • Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai taught: If you have a fruit-tree in your hands and someone says to you, “Here is the Messiah.” Go and finish planting your fruit-tree just the same, and afterwards go out and welcome the Messiah.[2]

Why Jews feel ambivalent about a personal Messiah?  This is largely because Jewish history is replete with many individuals who claimed to the Messiah but failed to fulfill the Messianic requirements of redeeming Israel and establishing world peace. Indeed, the Torah itself warns, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this Torah” (Deut. 29:28).

According to one midrashic text, when R. Akiba beheld Bar Koziba, he exclaimed, “This is the King Messiah!” R. Johanan b. Tortha retorted, “Akiba, grass will grow in your cheeks and he will still not have come!”[3]

Messianic pretenders have caused considerable trouble from the first century to the 20th century.[4] The vast majority of them were charlatans and impostors. Yet, for all the fanfare that has been made about the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the gentile king of Persia—Cyrus—who acted as God’s Messiah (Isa. 45:1) who served to lead the Jewish people back to their ancestral homeland.

As you can see, anyone who purports to be the Messiah arouses suspicions for good reason. Granted, President Obama never claimed to be the Messiah, but many of his followers—especially liberal minded Jews like Barbara Walters—had that expectation.

Perhaps many of us did–myself included.

Perhaps Obama’s promise to “change America” had a messianic kind of ring to it; here was a man whose gift for oratory was exceptional. However, in the management of government, it is far better to tackle problems one piece at a time—both thoughtfully and carefully. We hoped he would channel the peaceful spirit of Martin Luther King  but not Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin’s message of class warfare.

Recklessness and a lack of honesty have harmed the President’s credibility and respect.

Recently, a federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency is likely to violate the US constitution. Suddenly, the whistleblower Edward Snowden is emerging as a modern American Patrick Henry who said, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Fortunately, our judicial system is starting to take notice of the Obama Administration’s excesses and misuse of executive power.

Judge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and was “almost Orwellian” in its scope. In a judgment replete with literary swipes against the NSA, he said James Madison, the architect of the US constitution, would be “aghast” at the scope of the agency’s collection of Americans’ communications data.

Such a man is not a true leader—but a demagogue—and the President does not behave like a secular Messiah.

This is nothing new.

We have known such pretenders—sincere and insincere—in Jewish history. Whenever they appear, these individuals bring great harm and disillusionment to the people.  During WWII, the Jews of America put all their faith in another secular Messiah—FDR, who did very little until he was embarrassed by a group of Orthodox rabbis who marched in front of the White House, demanding a meeting with the President. FDR quietly left the White House through the kitchen rather than face thousands of angry rabbis demanding that he do something to save European Jews from the death camps.

If anyone behaved like a modern day Cyrus, it was President Truman. Against the wishes and advice of the State Department, he helped to create the Modern State of Israel—with no personal fanfare whatsoever. He was a man who acted out of principle. President Truman could qualify as an Isaiah-esque type of Messiah.

 


[1] BT Sanhedrin 97a.

[2] Avot d’Rabbi Nathan 31.

[3] Eichah Rabbah 2:4

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Messiah_claimants

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

Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=40162

The Power of a Handshake: When Obama shook hands with Raul Castro

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Human behavior and animal behavior resemble one another in so many interesting ways. When an animal approaches the territory of another, it is commonplace for one creature to growl or make noise whenever it perceives its space is invaded. A dog will characteristically bark whenever it hears another dog walk by its territory. Cats will hiss when a new kitten is introduced as a new family pet. Species of birds will utter their squeaky territorial song and fly directly at the intruder, chasing it way from its territory.

The fear of strangers is universal and greetings reflect the ways human beings have tried to de-hostilize someone approaching their turf. The custom of the handshake goes back at least to Grecian times in the 5th century B.C.E., as seen on a funerary stele. People believe that the handshake demonstrate that one comes in peace without holding any weapon.

Although it is a simple gesture, a simple handshake can dissolve walls of animosity that have been in place for decades. President Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro at the Nelson Mandela funeral created shockwaves in the international diplomatic community. Many pundits have criticized him for showing a gesture of respect to a political adversary of our country. This writer takes umbrage with such a narrow attitude.

The news story about reminded me of wonderful story from Yaffa Eliach’s excellent book, Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust. The story tells how a sincere greeting to a Nazi officer saved a concentration camp prisoner’s life.

  • Near the city of Danzig lived a well-to-do Hasidic Rabbi, scion of prominent Hasidic dynasties. Dressed in a tailored black suit, wearing a top hat, and carrying a silver walking cane, the rabbi would take his daily morning stroll, accompanied by his tall, handsome son-in-law. During his morning walk it was the rabbi’s custom to greet every man, woman, and child whom he met on his way with a warm smile and a cordial “Good morning.” Over the years the rabbi became acquainted with many of his fellow townspeople this way and would always greet them by their proper title and name.
  • Near the outskirts of town, in the fields, he would exchange greetings with Herr Mueller, a Polish Volksdeutsche (ethnic German). “Good morning, Herr Mueller!” the rabbi would hasten to greet the man who worked in the fields. “Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!” would come the response with a good-natured smile. Then the war began. The rabbi’s strolls stopped abruptly. Herr Mueller donned an S.S. uniform and disappeared from the fields.(*) The fate of the rabbi was like that of much of the rest of Polish Jewry. He lost his family in the death camp of Treblinka, and, after great suffering, was deported to Auschwitz.
  • One day, during a selection at Auschwitz, the rabbi stood on line with hundreds of other Jews awaiting the moment when their fates would be decided, for life or death. Dressed in a striped camp uniform, head and beard shaven and eyes feverish from starvation and disease, the rabbi looked like a walking skeleton. “Right! Left, left, left!” The voice in the distance drew nearer. Suddenly the rabbi had a great urge to see the face of the man with the snow-white gloves, small baton, and steely voice who played God and decide who should live and who should die. His lifted his eyes and heard his own voice speaking:
  • “Good morning, Herr Mueller!”
  • “Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!” responded a human voice beneath the S.S. cap adorned with skull and bones. “What are you doing here?” A faint smile appeared on the rabbi’s lips. The baton moved to the right – to life. The following day, the rabbi was transferred to a safer camp.
  • The rabbi, now in his eighties, told me in his gentle voice, “This is the power of a good-morning greeting. A man must always greet his fellow man.” [1]

There is one quote from Rabbi ben David’s book Shalom Aleichem that I really liked that the author attributed to Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein.

  • A person might belittle this simple act. He might think that nothing is accomplished by simply saying “Good Morning” respectfully to someone he passes on the sidewalk instead of looking the other way as if he does not exist. You never know, however, how much that person is looking forward to a warm greeting from another human being (p. 123).

Zilberstein is correct. A handshake and a greeting expresses more than just words, but a willingness to communicate with the Other.

The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas has written extensively about the power of the human face. When we see a face staring at us, behind that face is a human being like ourselves that commands respect—even if that person happens to be an enemy. The power of a greeting has the ability to transform human relationships.

===

Notes:

[1] Yaffa Elliach, Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust (New York: Avon Books, 1982) pp. 129-30.

A Tale of Two Digitized Talmudic Translations: The Artscroll and the Steinsaltz Digital Talmud

 

ArtScroll App Main Portfolio Image

Steinsaltz Talmud sample page 1

In his Torahmusings,  R. Gill Student cites an endorsement of R. Steinsaltz’s translation from R. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. His comments are especially important for anyone interested in the science of translation as it pertains to the translation of the Talmud:

  • Every translation is to some extent a commentary… However, I think a good translator has to know not to give too much of his own ideology or his own commentary. Commentary is necessary to explain the text but a good translator gives over the text, the flavor of the text, with just enough extra commentary to make it clear and the rest is up to the student. What we’ve tried to do in this whole project is to allow the student to study and ask. It’s designed to provoke discussion and to provoke questions, not to provide answers but to open things up.[1]

This pithy statement certainly sums up the nature of translating a monumental work such as the Talmud. In this brief article, we shall examine two new digitized translations of the Talmud: The Koren Edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud and ArtScroll’s The Digital Library of the  Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Each translation gives the reader a remarkable glimpse into the world of the Talmud as seen from Rabbi Steinsaltz and the rabbis of the ArtScroll Publishers, one of the world’s most successful Jewish publishers of Orthodox books.

Very few publishers have revolutionized the study of the Talmud like R. Adin Steinsaltz and ArtScroll Publishers. In this article, we shall examine some of the fascinating aspects of their newly digitized editions of the Babylonian Talmud.

In many ways, R. Adin Steinsaltz deserves credit for starting the Talmudic revolution; he began making a Hebrew translation of the Talmud in 1965 and completed the project in 2010. This is no small feat. One could arguably say that R. Steinsaltz is like a modern day Rashi—a comparison that makes much of the Haredi world (who also happen to be the producers of the ArtScroll Talmud) bristle with disdain. Random House published a number of volumes between 1989 and 1999, but the project met with little success.

The new Koren Edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud  made several improvements in the design of the Talmudic text and added color pictures to illustrate the various creatures the Talmudists commented upon in their legal discussions. Steinsaltz did something very bold: he altered the text in order to make it a little less cumbersome for a growing and interested Israeli populace. ArtScroll considered Steinsaltz’s innovation heretical. Many Haredi friends of mine used to say, “Who does Steinsaltz think he is to change the Vilna Talmud?”[2] The fact that Steinsaltz is a Chabadnik may account for part of the animus the Litvisher yeshivas feel toward him. In addition, Steinsaltz added partial punctuation for the Tosfot, which made it imminently more readable. Talmudic purists generally look upon these types of innovations as crutches.

Less than a decade ago, Steinsaltz gave in and finally made a Vilna version of his Talmud—one that would appeal to other young yeshiva students of the Haredi yeshivas. It is a pity that the ArtScroll Talmud project has never given any credit to Rabbi Steinsaltz; in many ways, he is the godfather of their magnificent translation. Currently, ArtScroll is rapidly translating the Jerusalem Talmud.[3]  There is also an excellent translation of the Jerusalem Talmud written in Hebrew by the Israeli scholar Rabbi Bar Lev (1943–). Aside from being a Talmudic scholar, he also received his doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Arizona in 1976 and has written several books on Jewish mysticism. Unlike Steinsaltz, he frequently adds philosophical and psychological perspectives to his expositions. Unlike the Steinsaltz and ArtScroll Talmud translations, his work is free (!). His approach is similar to Steinsaltz and there is no doubt that this excellent work will someday be translated into English.

As a student, I can recall the days when the yeshiva administration discouraged the study of the Steinsaltz edition because it was too modern looking of a text. Years later, I discovered that all the yeshiva teachers all had their own Steinsaltz volumes proudly displayed in their dining and living rooms. Steinsaltz’s volumes help Israelis and Haredi scholars alike to learn Talmudic Aramaic. His comparison to Greek and Latin cognate terms makes his study a wonderful resource to have—and now, the English speaking public will find these features very useful and effective.  Steinsaltz’s summaries on the bottom of the Hebrew or English page, along with the biographical sections of the rabbis, or his expositions about rabbinical life in the days of Late Antiquity—make the modern study of Talmud crisp and easy to follow.

The ArtScroll Digital Library  has been described as “a revolutionary new way to study the Talmud! Ground breaking technology enhances the bestselling Schottenstein Talmud – and will allow you to study the Talmud in ways never before possible.”

This statement is quite accurate.  The Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud by ArtScroll (hence referred to as the “ArtScroll Talmud”) is much more of a Lithuanian rabbinical product—one which captures the rich intellectual environment of a forgotten era. Anyone who wants to delve into intricate halachic details of a Talmudic text will never tired studying the ArtScroll Talmud, which replicates most of the great debates of the Rishonim (medieval) and Achronim (modern rabbinical) scholars. Unlike the Steinsaltz edition, the ArtScroll edition is not terribly interested in the historicity on how the Talmud originated. Unlike R. Steinsaltz’s herculean stamina in producing his translation and commentary, ArtScroll uses a committee of several rabbinical scholars. In this sense, R. Steinsaltz is more like Rashi and Maimonides—both of whom did not employ a committee in producing their works.

ArtScroll preserves the Vilna Talmudic text’s classical style. However, it is important to note that they too—like Steinsaltz—added a Modern Hebrew translation on the opposite side of the page (in the Hebrew editions). They did the same with their English translation as well.  Each Hebrew page is contrasting a page of English translation—one Hebrew folio takes approximately six to eight pages of English to translate. This layout can be a tad bit tedious—certainly much more tedious than the Steinsaltz edition, or for that matter—the Vilna edition itself.

The ArtScroll Talmudic notes are superlative; as an avid student of the Talmud, I thoroughly enjoy the scholarship the ArtScroll writers demonstrate. Since their work is annotated with countless cross-references of the Talmud and the legal codes, one would have to sometimes open several volumes to flow the train of Talmudic thought. In my opinion, the newly digitized version of the ArtScroll Talmud’s best feature is its ability to hypertext a Talmudic text to other discussion found elsewhere in the Talmud. Moreover, when you read a specific section of the Talmud, the text immediately is highlighted in yellow—both in the text and in the ArtScroll notes. Note that the ArtScroll Talmud has the strange habit of transliterating in Ashkenazic Hebrew rather than Sefardic Hebrew. (Incidentally, this was one of the principle reasons why I sold my English ArtScroll Talmud for the Modern  Hebrew translation. One suspects that the Brooklyn-based company has always felt somewhat ambivalent about the Modern State of Israel, but that’s for another discussion.).

Unlike the ArtScroll Talmud, R. Steinsaltz is far from finishing his English translation. That being said, Koren is rapidly keeping up with the Daf-Yomi (a lectionary for the daily study of the Talmud). In addition, the ArtScroll lets you know which Talmudic tractate is being studied so that one may study with the international Jewish communities whom have made the Talmud an important part of their daily lives.

The new Digital Steinsaltz Talmud is printed in a PDF format, and it assumes that the purchasers of these books will not illicitly use a pirated copy. On the heading of each folio is a warning to that effect. Personally speaking, I have always found it odd that yeshiva students would literally “steal” an electronic rabbinical text in order to study Torah. Such behavior is strangely reminiscent of Alice and Wonderland. However, there is must be a kosher way to go down the “Rabbi hole.” As a PDF, the text files are easily downloadable for and PC or Android device. The Digital ArtScroll Talmud is produced in an Apple and Android version. Sorry, this product is not available for Windows. Since I wanted this product so much, I went to the Sprint store to purchase a cheap Samsung Tablet for $50 and I have downloaded the volumes from the Android shop. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Digitized Talmudic Translations: The Artscroll and the Steinsaltz Digital Talmud”