Anti-Semitism and its Discontents

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Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s most enduring social diseases that we as Jews have known throughout our history.

With the murder of eleven Jews at the Pittsburgh Etz Hayyim Synagogue, the Jewish community awoke from its slumber only to realize that anti-Semitism is still alive and well—here in in the United States. This attack was the largest anti-Semitic crime in recent American history.

I know Squirrel Hill very well, my father used to make us to the kosher delis back in the early sixties.

But no sooner did the attack occur, people in the media immediately began blaming the attack upon President Trump. While Trump’s mannerisms at times can be admittedly offensive, he cannot be blamed for the murders that occurred at the synagogue. As it turned out, the shooter actually hates Trump for having so many Jewish associates surrounding him.  He also accused him of being a “globalist.”

Robert Bowers is obviously demented.

Yet, the political divisions of our time have made it clear that we are reliving the Civil War. The bifurcation of our society is eating its heart. It is the gravest threat we have seen since the Civil War.

Take ANTIFA for an example; this group feels entitled to attack people with baseball bats, destroys livelihoods and property, just because a politician they do not like happens to be eating out with his or her family. Just ask Paul Welch, a Bernie Sanders supporter who paraded an American flag in protest to ANTIFA’s antics in Portland on Aug. 4, 2016.[1]

When leaders like Maxine Waters encourages people to “get in people’s faces” because they happen to be Republican is the mark of neo-fascism. All this contributes to the heightening of tensions that leads to the kind of anti-Semitic attacks against our people.

Encouraging people to commit acts of violence only serves to heighten violence—on both sides of the political spectrum. This kind of fanaticism only breeds the type of malevolence that exploded at the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat.

Like a virus, anti-Semitism travels across the continents,[2] and finds sympathetic voices here in the United States. As Jews, we have been asleep at the wheel for a long time and have not paid any attention to the rise of anti-Semitism among the “progressive” movements. We tend to think that most anti-Semitic rhetoric emanates from the political right, such as the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other similar groups. However, the banal acceptance of anti-Semitism from the political left ought to be much more troubling for Jews who have long identified with the left.

Political extremism from the right and left are equally threatening.

As is often the case with anti-Semitism, we tend to react to the symptoms but fail to recognize the problem. Hate speech against Israel and Zionism has become an acceptable way of expressing hatred against the Jew. Jewish history has taught us that hate speech that is directed against the Jew almost inevitably leads to violence against the Jew. Not everyone is as honest and straightforward as Farrakhan when speaking about “the Jews,” but when today’s political left prefers being “anti-Zionist,” castigating Israel as the source for all the problems of the world and the Middle East.

On Facebook, pictures of Palestinians lynching Orthodox cladded Jews with pe’ot is considered “acceptable” free expression—despite on their crackdown on conservatives. Social media outlets are going to have to do a better job in curbing anti-Semitic websites—regardless of their point of origin.

THE WOMAN’S MARCH OF JANUARY 2018

This past January, one of the Women’s March co-directors, Tamika Mallory, attended the Nation of Islam Savior’s Day celebration, where Louis Farrakhan told the audience that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

Mallory felt so elated by her photo-op with Farrakhan, she immediately Instagrammed it for all to see. When a news commentator asked her how she could stand proudly by Farrakhan, Mallory denounced anyone who dared to criticize her participation with him. Once again Linda Sarsour and Maxine Waters stood in solidarity with her. Farrakhan speaks of Jews as a “termite problem,” and we all know what any homeowner needs to do to get rid of termites. When the Woman’s March used a platform calling for the boycott of Israel, Linda Sarsour said, “Israelis need to be dehumanized.” Facebook continues to foster the atmosphere and ambiance that is contributing toward anti-Semitism.

Let me remind you that most Israelis happen to be Jews.

The Woman’s March displayed it contempt toward the Jew. Although they showed their solidarity with Louis Farrakhan, they did not extend that courtesy for the Anti-Defamation League. As one observer wrote:

  • The Women’s March has left Jewish women to bear the brunt of white supremacy and patriarchy without their partnership. When Jewish women lifted their voices and demanded to be included in the Women’s March Unity Principles, we were ignored. When we were standing outside the JCC frantically searching for our toddlers, they had nothing to say. When Blaze Bernstein was murdered by neo-Nazis, they were silent. Anti-Semitic incidents were up 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest jump on record, but Mallory had nothing to say on that subject, either.[3]

Yes, the Left has mainstreamed anti-Semitism, and American Jews had better wake up—especially those who are in love with the Left.

We have also heard how Jews are “white” and have “skin privilege.” Anti-Semitism’s animus will always find a way to tar and feather the Jew in an unfavorable light. When Jews become demonized for being “white” and “privileged” this too contributes toward the culture of anti-Semitism.  Obviously, this canard emanates from people who know nothing about Jewish history, or for that matter, about the history of anti-Semitism in the United States.[4]

Blame it on the Identity Politics of our time—another unhealthy sign that threatens to produce more anti-Semitic attitudes.

In the United States, we have seen thousands of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish students or speakers, many of whom are supported by the professors and leaders of these universities. Wearing a Star of David is often an invitation for an anti-Semitic attack. Jewish students are hounded by the advocates of the BDS movement—by their professors and by their classmates.

The culture of anti-Semitism among the American left has been smoldering for quite some time. This is not to say there are not anti-Semitic elements of the political right. Unfortunately, political extremes present a mirrored image of the Other.

The situation has gotten to be so bad, rabbinic scholars are now permitting certain members of their communities to obtain a permit for concealed weapons.

I have met Jews in many communities who “pack heat” because of anti-Semitic attacks in the past. I suspect more synagogues will consider that option if these attacks do not abate.

NOTES:

[1] https://reason.com/blog/2018/08/21/antifa-portland-evan-welch-violence

[2] But bear in mind anti-Semitism is not bound by time or spatial considerations. Jews living in Europe have experienced countless attacks in France and Britain by radical Muslims who vent their hatred of Israel by attacking ordinary Jews or vandalizing their businesses. Some rabbis have urged Jews living in France not to publically wear a yarmulke for fear it might solicit an anti-Semitic reaction. In Britain, a country that has enabled and promoted anti-Semitism since the medieval era continues to spew their animus against the Jew. Jeremy Corbyn may not be a familiar name to most Jews, but this man is the head of the British Labor Party—one of the most important political parties of Britain. Corbyn donated money to Paul Eisen, a well-known Holocaust denier. In addition, he is a member of the anti-Semitic Facebook group, “Palestine Live,” which is also well known for its hatred toward Jews and Israel.

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/260428/tamika-mallory-stop-bringing-hate-into-the-womens-march

[4] https://forward.com/scribe/355864/anti-semitism-in-america-is-nothing-new-dont-deny-jewish-history-and-cultur/

The Power of “The Between” — A Lesson for Rosh Hashanah

Image result for pictures of the I and Thou
Once a judge was interviewing a woman regarding her pending divorce, and asked, “What are the grounds for your divorce?” She replied, “About four acres and a nice little home in the middle of the property with a stream running by.” “No,” he said, “I mean what is the foundation of this case?” “It is made of concrete, brick and mortar,” she responded.

“I mean,” he continued, “What are your relations like?” “I have an aunt and uncle living here in town, and so do my husband’s parents.”
He said, “Do you have a real grudge?” “No,” she replied, “We have a two-car carport and have never really needed one.”

“Please,” he tried again, “is there any infidelity in your marriage?” “Yes, both my son and daughter have hi-fidelity stereo sets. We don’t necessarily like the music, but the answer to your questions is yes.”

“Ma’am, does your husband ever beat you up?” “Yes,” she responded, “about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do.” Finally, in frustration, the judge asked, “Lady, why do you want a divorce?” “Oh, I don’t want a divorce,” she replied. “I’ve never wanted a divorce. My husband does. He said he can’t communicate with me!”

One of the greatest gifts we give to one another is the gift of listening. Nothing hurts us more than the sense that the people we care about aren’t really listening to us when we wish to say something. We never outgrow the need to have our feelings known. This truth may help us understand why a sympathetic ear is such a powerful force in human relationships—and why the failure to be understood is so painful. Indeed, many relationships end because each partner fails to be emotionally present to the Other.

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Sufi Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.” The man took this advice to heart and returned after a month to say he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying. The Master with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”
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LISTENING TO WHAT IS NOT BEING SAID
Listening seems to be such an important part of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. In our prayers, we try to listen to God and “the still small voice” in the solitude of our souls. I think the problems of much of our world could be partially solved if we took one step back to listen to what people who think or feel differently have to say.

A few days ago illustrates this point better than any university classroom, where diversity of opinion is often squashed.

AN UNEXPECTED EPIPHANY

Last Saturday, Washington D.C. featured a Trump rally, pegged by many as the “Mother of All Rallies. The Black Lives Matter supporters decided to counter with a rally against bigotry and police violence against young blacks. While each side was doing their best to ignore the Other, a black Trump supporter named Henry Davis had a sudden inspiration.

Spontaneously, he decided to invite the BLM activists to join him, but he quickly changed his mind. He made the following challenge:  “So you guys know that the ‘Mother of All Rallies’ was to end the political violence,” he told the BLM group. “It’s about freedom of speech. It’s about celebration.

“So what we’re going to do is something you’re not used to, and we’re going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out. Whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message. “It’s your right to say what you believe,” Davis told the group. “And it’s their right [referring to the pro-Trump crowd] to let you know what they think about what you’re saying.”

Then he handed the microphone to Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. Newsome told the crowd, “I am an American,” eliciting cheers and applause.  “And the beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.

“So you ask why there’s a Black Lives Matter,” Newsome continued. “Because you can watch a black man die and be choked to death on television and nothing happens. We need to address that.” To be sure, the crowd wasn’t willing to accept all of Newsome’s speech. At times they booed him and yelled out “BS” and “All lives matter!”

But there were moments when the crowd accepted the black rights activist’s message. When Newsome said he was a Christian and was taught to “Love thy neighbor,” the crowd cheered. And the crowd responded with a mix of cheers and groans when Newsome proclaimed he was not “anti-cop.” “We are anti-bad cop,” he said. “We say if a cop is bad, he needs to get fired like a bad plumber, a bad lawyer, like a bad f…g politician!”

When Newsome said “All lives matter, right? But when a black life is lost, we get no justice,” some people called him a liar. Newsome’s speech did end with a message of unity: “If we really want America great, then we do it together.”

At that moment, everyone cheered.

In that special exchange, conservative Trumspters and BLM found common ground. After the speech, journalists wanted to know what the BLM leader had to say. Newsome said the moment the Trumpsters “restored my faith in some of those people,” by allowing let him speak. “I feel like we made progress. Two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today,” he said. “If not on a grander level, but just person to person, I think we really made some substantial steps without either side yielding anything.”

All this takes us back to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Relationships often get frayed and unraveled because in relationships we fail to listen to each other.

The great 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber developed an entire ethical philosophy of Judaism known as the “I and Thou.” According to Buber the magic of interpersonal transformation occurs in the moment of what he calls “The Between” where each party turns toward the other and enters into an undivided relationship.

This is where true communication and community emerges from a relationship. Often in my years of doing marital counseling, one of the first rules of engagement is to have a struggling couple to really listen to one another.

True listening is a listening of soul. It involves making eye contact. If involves respecting the other person’s space; it involves a willingness to listen. Authentic listening requires that we not judge, or pre-judge. It is in those moments of actual authentic meeting, healing can often occur because nobody wants to feel as if they are a non-entity and unimportant. These are but a few of the challenges Rosh Hashanah encourages us to travel along the road less traveled, and boldly go where we have never gone before.

If our communities can learn to teach the respect of “The Between” as Buber advocated, then not only will our own personal lives, relationships, and friendships improve—but so will our communities and maybe our country.

This is every bit a spiritual challenge—one which will allow us to consciously feel as though God is speaking to us and through us as we focus on healing ourselves and our world.
The Chinese say, “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with the first step,” and today on Rosh Hashanah, you have already taken that first step. But we need to continue the next steps as we make our spiritual journey

Giving the President a Chance

 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

There is a good reason why politics and religion may be compared to the mixture of meat and milk. Milk by itself is a very nutritious food. Meat by itself is also a source of protein and vitamins, yet when we mix the two together, they both become a forbidden mixture. Politics is a field of endeavor that has the potential to be beneficial for society. The same may be said about religion, yet the mixture of religion and politics has often produced many of the world’s most disastrous genocidal evils in human history. 

Rabbis must resist the temptation to speak ex-cathedra about policy opinions based upon current political trends. In the spirit of fearless inquiry, there is no reason why a rabbi and his congregants can’t have an honest difference of opinion regarding the political realities de jure. In any free society, people can have some dialectical tension. The appearance of unanimity has never been something desirable in Jewish history or law. 

The pursuit and process of questioning for the sake of veracity and relevance is not only desirable but necessary. Disputations, raucous debates, and the polyvalence of interpretation have animated Jewish intellectual discourse since the days of Late Antiquity. Jewish tradition also teaches us that it is not what people argue about that matters—it is how they argue and why they argue that matters. Arguing a point in any area should not be personalized to the point where friends become adversaries or enemies. Yet, quite often that is what occurs when people cannot respect to differ. 

With this thought in mind, I must take serious issue with Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who is an Open Orthodox rabbi of Phoenix, Arizona. To show his disdain toward President Trump, he decided to change the ‘mat’bea shel Tefilah” (a rather unorthodox move that breaks with Orthodox tradition) regarding the traditional prayer that we say for the leaders of our country. 

Instead of using a generic prayer, the rabbi decided to reword the prayer: 

• We pray that the decrees from the Executive office do not harm the innocent. We pray that any policies that are meant to harm the vulnerable in prioritization of the powerful and privileged will be quashed. Should there be plans that will merely benefit the most privileged Americans, but not all of humankind and the planet we call home, may they fail. May our nation not consort or conspire with totalitarian despots but reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy. Grant us the strength to demonstrate spiritual resistance, to imbue our sinews with the highest integrity. Give us the wisdom and courage to do what’s right to protect the most powerless and defenseless in society.

I wonder whether all of his synagogue agrees with R. Yanklowitz, but if his congregation is anything like most other rabbis and synagogues, I suspect they probably differ on a variety of religious and political issues. 

He presumes that Jewish supporters of Trump represent an “embarrassment” to the Jewish people.” Not only is he insulting people of conscience who have a right to their own political views, his statement comes across as smug, self-righteous, and I dare say “fascist.” 

President Trump deserves a chance like any other president we have had before. During President Obama’s tenure, I found many of his views morally questionable—yet as my President, I did not speak disrespectfully of him. His position on Iran, for example, I felt represented a reckless endangerment of Israel and could lead to nuclear proliferation in the most dangerous part of the world—the Middle East. During the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, President Obama failed to give a scintilla of support for the courageous Iranians who died defying the theocratic leadership of their country. Nor did he do anything to help recognize or prevent the genocide of Christians in territories held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

Granted, those statements are only one rabbi’s opinion—mine. Honestly, I do not expect my congregants to agree with me on all these matters—nor should they, if they feel certain positions violate their conscience. Frankly, having spirited discussions about the issues of our day ought to be celebrated and not condemned. Demonizing people who differ violates the tenor of Jewish history. As mentioned earlier, debates are nothing new in Jewish tradition. Perhaps R. Yanklowitz should spend more time reading the disagreements of other Rabbis in the Talmud. Their arguments were very animated—even raucous at times.  

On the other hand, some of President Trump’s ideas aren’t so bad. His recommendation about evicting hardened criminals and murderers who come from foreign countries is really a good idea. Turning away people from Muslim countries who idealize ISIS or the Muslim Brotherhood is also prudent given their movement’s involvement with Hamas and their vicious attacks against the Coptic Christians in Egypt. For Jews to welcome people who are hell bent upon their wholesale destruction of their enemies seems very shortsighted and foolish. 

President Trump’s ambition to destroy ISIS is off to a good start so far with today’s capture of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Trump’s desire to eradicate this terrorist organization is something every Jew—and “Open Orthodox” rabbi ought to applaud and support. A President who wants to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is another thing every Jew ought to celebrate. Wanting to defang Iran is yet another policy Jews ought to welcome.

The President has a demanding job and instead for praying for his failure, he should be praying for his success. If Bernie Sanders and even Chuck Schumer can agree with Trump at times, maybe R. Yanklowitz can reconsider his position too.  

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.

Elie Wiesel’s Words of Admonition: Let Netanyahu Speak to Congress

Holocaust Museum Founding Chairman Elie Wiesel speaks a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Museum in Washington April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

 This past week, I came across a very interesting video  by Ben Shapiro, who is one of the main editors of Breitbart News on the Internet. Shapiro is a Modern Orthodox Jew and his perspective on the issues of today offer  a refreshing alternative opinion—even if a reader does not  necessarily agree with his arguments.

In his latest podcast, Shapiro raised a question that I think many people have asked—Jew and non-Jew:  “Why do American Jews vote with the anti-Israel Left?” His examples are striking:

  • In 2008, American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Even though Obama had spent large segments of his prior life hobnobbing with vicious anti-Semites like Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi, even though he had staffed his campaign with anti-Semites ranging from Zbigniew Brzezinski to Robert Malley, Jews turned out in droves for him. Sarah Silverman harangued young Jews into telling their grandparents that they were racist if they didn’t vote for him; Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama’s designated court Jew – a role he has never relinquished — informed Jews that they were racist if they feared Senator Obama’s positions on Israel.[1]

American Jews voted 78 percent for Obama in 2008.

  • After he was elected, Obama proceeded to undermine Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, force Netanyahu to humiliate himself before thugs like the Turkish government, publicly condemn Israel’s defense of itself during the Gaza war against Hamas while funding the Hamas unity government, repeatedly leak vital national security information that would have allowed Israel to strike Iran, and sign a deal with Iran that essentially foreclosed any possibility of Western attempts to stop Iran from going nuclear.[2]

Shapiro has neatly summed up some of the issues that the Jewish communities in the United States ought to be debating—but in many instances they are not because these are polarizing topics that many Jews would rather avoid discussing because of the tartness and potential rancor such debates might cause.

According to Shapiro, he blames the problem on assimilation. Simply put, he claims that the majority of American Jews has not been to Israel and are generally ambivalent about their religious identities as Jews.  He adds further:

  • Again, according to the Pew poll, 73 percent of Jews said it was about remembering the Holocaust. Just 19 percent said it was about observing Jewish law, and only 28 percent said it was about being part of a Jewish community. Jews, in other words, are not religious. They are secular leftists who don’t want to be labeled white people because they like being diverse and being able to enjoy the in-jokes in Woody Allen films.[3]

While Shapiro brings up a lot of interesting statistics that seem to prove his case, this writer feels that there is an alternative way of looking and perhaps solving the problem that he poses for all of us.

Most Baby-boomers grew up in the Civil Rights era and saw in Obama’s ascension to power the combination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.. In short, they collectively fell in love with their projections of what they imagined Obama would be–not with the reality. This happens all the time in relationships where we fall in love with the idealized image of our partner, only to be dismayed when our partner falls far short of the mark. When this happens, we have only ourselves to blame. I believe that many liberal Jews see the flaws of this man and his countless misrepresentations of the truth (from Obamacare to Benghazi and beyond). They are also well aware of how the President has leaned heavily on Israel, diminishing Israel’s importance in the region. I suspect many liberal Jews are also well aware of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood friendship he has cultivated and how the President’s Middle East policies have ravaged several countries and created a dangerous power vacuum for ISIS and the Iranian caliphate to conquer their neighbors. Despite all this—liberal Jews still cannot admit that they were wrong. As is always the case, there is a heavy price we pay for our enlightenment–and in the future, I suspect many of these Jews will eventually admit that Obama is a false god to whom we have been “praying to a deity that cannot save” (Isa. 45:20). He is the antithesis of Harry Truman.

The the sociologist Robert Bellah once wrote that liberalism has become for many people (especially liberal Jews) a secular religion. Yet, do not think that a secular religion is incapable of being dogmatic, rigid, and punitive—just as dogmatic as any theistic faith that refuses to let reason be its guide, or discourages any kind of self-reflective thought.

In any kind of free society, the mutual exchange of contrarian ideas prevents society from becoming homogeneous and boring. Yet, in our politically charged society, anyone who dares to criticize Obama is routinely tarred, feathered and thrown in jail.[4]  Critics of Obama often have their jobs threatened or get hounded until they are verbally or socially beaten into submission. Whistleblowers in particular have been targeted by the Obama administration[5]

The inability of the political left to creatively engage people who have different opinions threatens to make this country into a soft fascism. If left unchecked, the days of McCarthyism will transmute our country into a Stalinesque society where people are terrified to dissent from the political status quo.

One more note:  In some ways the problem Shapiro poses also reflects the dark side of the Enlightenment–the inability to recognize the reality of radical evil. We used to think that civilized man was incapable of retrogessing to a more atavistic state. Nietzche warned us about this illusion… human beings are still as savage as ever. Jews could not accept this during WWII and they still can’t accept it…. Contrary to what President Obama has been saying, Iran has been the world’s most deadliest promoter of terrorism throughout the world. Their regime is evil–plain and simple. Based on their track-record, they cannot be trusted.

Recently, Elie Wiesel—one of our generation’s most important witnesses to the Holocaust announced that he planned to be there in Congress when Netanyahu will give his dramatic speech:

Wiesel said that he plans to attend Netanyahu’s address “on the catastrophic danger of a nuclear Iran.” Awarded the Nobel in 1986, Wiesel asks Obama and others in the ad: “Will you join me in hearing the case for keeping weapons from those who preach death to Israel and America?”[6]

I strongly recommend that President Obama and his party members take Wiesel’s message seriously and be present when the Israeli Prime Minister speaks.

[1] http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/02/12/ben-shapiro-why-jews-vote-leftist/

[2] http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/02/12/ben-shapiro-why-jews-vote-leftist/

[3] http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/02/12/ben-shapiro-why-jews-vote-leftist/

[4] http://benswann.com/obama-has-sentenced-whistleblowers-to-10x-the-jail-time-of-all-prior-u-s-presidents-combined/ see also http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/10/jake-tapper/cnns-tapper-obama-has-used-espionage-act-more-all-/ see also http://watchdog.org/173721/obama-administration-whistleblowers/ Yet, Obama bragged he would have the most transparent administration.

[5] Since Edward Snowden began disclosing the extent of the NSA’s secret surveillance practices, discussions about whistleblowing and privacy rights have been more important than ever before”

[6] http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Nobel-winner-Elie-Wiesel-lends-support-for-Netanyahus-Congress-speech-390911.

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.

 

No Mas Hamas!

Ismail Haniyeh (R) with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal

 

Yasser Arafat’s estate was worth almost one billion dollars by the time he had died.[1] It wasn’t because he was an enterprising capitalist. However, he did manage to take a substantial cut of money from the billions of dollars that the Western countries of Europe and the United States gave since he became the leader of the PLO.

This past week, the United States sent another forty-seven million dollars to Gaza. When a people like the Gazan Hamas Jihadists resort to using children as human shields, why should we think that the Hamas leadership will ethically care how they spend the money?

Yet, for all the suffering that has taken place in Gaza, they have a most unusual and surprising accomplishment: there are over 1700 millionaires living in Gaza.[2]

Pretty impressive, no?

How did they do it? Was it through American Express or Schwab, or E-trade investments made in the stock market? In a country that has no natural goods to sell, they have made money through the promotion of terror.

Yes, terrorism pays big dividends—even if it means the people must and will continue to suffer for the near future.

Mahmoud Abbas has declared, “Hamas is a corrupt leadership that doesn’t represent the Palestinian people.” Most of the Gazan Palestinians certainly agree with this statement. Unfortunately, they live in a mobocracy where the rule of thugs is supreme. Worst of all, the West continues to keep these people in power.

One might think the West would not simply send a blank check to the thieves who are robbing their own people. In many ways, the West has created this problem through their cowardice and stupidity.

When President Obama insists upon an “unconditional ceasefire” from the Israelis, the Israeli Prime Minister would be wise to say, “No mas, Hamas.”

What the Palestinians need is not sympathy; they need tough love. It is time for the people to take complete responsibility for their collective misery. Israel has a golden opportunity to help create a new future for the people of Gaza.

Let us do our part in telling the President, Israel must finish the job it has started. Otherwise, the next Hamas missiles  hurling into Israel will be nuclear. This time is a moment to seize a victory and put an end to the thugs who exploit their own people in a manner that would make Genghis Khan blush.



[1] Gideon Alon,; Amira Hass (14 August 2002). “MI chief: terror groups trying hard to pull off mega-attack”Haaretz. Retrieved 21 July 2007.

 

[2] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/178715

How We Sometimes Lose and Rediscover Our Faith

victory of light over darkness........( right is always victorious )

Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox is someone I admire. As a clinical psychologist and researcher living in Israel, he has researched a social and religious phenomenon about a subject that many of us rabbis would sooner deny than admit: there are an increasing number of Orthodox and Conservative atheist rabbis! By “Orthodox,” I do not necessarily mean your typical Modern Orthodox rabbi. For Shrell-Fox, his list includes Zionist Orthodox and Haredi rabbis.

By now, I hope I have your attention.

These rabbis have something in common: they live religiously duplicitous lives. During the day, they function as icons of their faith, but when nobody is watching them, they live in an “atheistic closet.”

According to Shrell-Fox’s study:

  • Most of them are still there because they love community life, their friends, the Kiddush after the Shabbat morning prayer. Most of them are 40 and 50 years old – not exactly an easy age to start a ‘cultural emigration.’ Moreover, and that’s a very important parameter, most of them make a living off the profession, and their livelihood depends on their faith, even if [that faith is] just outwardly [observed].[1]

A ninth century Jewish philosopher named Saadia Gaon was the first Jewish thinkers to examine the question: Why do so many people have doubts about their faith in God? Although he was speaking to a medieval audience, his ideas are very relevant for the people of 21stcentury. Saadia writes:

  • My heart grieves for humankind and my heart is affected on account of my own people, Israel, who I see in my own time. Many who follow their faith, but they have a distorted understanding of their faith; consequently, their faith is replete with unenlightened views and absurd beliefs that are current among those who follow Judaism. Others, who deny their faith, proudly denigrate their unbelief, ridiculing those who truly believe . . . I also saw people drowning in a sea of doubt, overwhelmed by the waves of confusion with no diver to raise them up from the depths, with no swimmer to bring them to rescue . . .[2]

I wonder: If Saadia were living in the present, what would he say about today’s times? Had Saadia lived in today’s era, he most certainly would have spoken about the state of spiritual anarchy that is so pervasive in today’s religious societies.

Men and women of all faiths have abdicated their responsibility to care and shepherd their people. Every day, there are countless stories about clergy either participating or covering up crimes of pedophilia, fraud, or committing what seems to be an endless string of social crimes. Unenlightened views of God and religion are especially evident in communities around the globe where religious leaders often encourage their followers to commit acts of violence, terror and mayhem against its political foes.

Such amoral behavior hardly inspires belief in a kind or benevolent Deity, especially when God’s followers commit the worse kind of human atrocities and moral indecencies in God’s Name! Religious people are guilty of the worse kind of moral atheism that makes people proudly say, “I cannot believe . . .” Is it not any wonder why serious-minded people have arrived at the conclusion that religion is an illusion that has long outlived its contemporary usefulness?

While I commend Dr. Shrell-Fox for interacting with the disillusioned rabbis he has encountered, whose stories he has recorded, I would not really call these rabbis “atheistic.” The term “atheist” derives from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s).” However, the Greek letter ἄ (alpha) may connote something oppositional and it could mean, “against God.”

The real atheist is not someone who is lost in a state of agnosia, “not knowing” whether there is a God or not. Grappling with the absence of God’s Presence and reality is a theological theme that permeates much of the Tanakh. Perhaps the most famous prayer is found in Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Why so far from my call for help,

from my cries of anguish?

My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;

by night, but I have no relief. (Psalm 22:2)

Within the Jewish community, the real atheists are the Ultra-Orthodox rabbis who use their religion to exploit the public for any kind of pecuniary gain—regardless how insignificant it might be. The real atheists are the Ultra-Orthodox rabbis who seek to expand and dominate the collective psyche of their communities; such demagogues have no respect for contrary viewpoints. They wish to homogenize all Judaic thought into a monolithic formula that promises salvation to those who believe and damnation to those who won’t believe or vote for the religious candidate of their choice. [3]

The modern critics of religion since the time of Spinoza, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Hitchens, Dawkins and others, have done a marvelous job in pointing out the inner corruption and deceit that exists within the religious world of the “true believers.”

Religious minded people owe these secular thinkers a great debt of gratitude. They behave much like the biblical prophets of old, demanding that we throw our false idols out of God’s Temple. Rabbinical wisdom bears testimony to this obvious truth. Someone asked Rabbi Reuben: What is the most reprehensible act a man a person can possibly do? He replied, “to deny God’s existence. For no man violates the commandments, ‘You shall not murder’, ‘You shall not steal’, till he has already renounced his faith in God.” (Tosefta Shavuoth 3, end)

Maimonides would probably have more in common with an atheist like Christopher Hitchens than one might imagine. For Maimonides, before one can arrive at a belief of God that one can logically accept, one must first arrive at an understanding of what God is NOT (a.k. a. the via negativa — the path of negation.”) When we read about the religiously inspired violence of the religious fanatics of today’s generation, we are witnessing the atavistic power of religion that deflates and flattens religious consciousness.

We must not let these charlatans destroy all that is good and sacred.

Most importantly, we cannot let them destroy our faith in a moral and ethical God.

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A Halachic Reductio ad absurdum

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.

“Fortifying the Walls of Conversion” ?

Today, at a conference dedicated to “fortifying walls of conversion,”  the Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger expressed moral support for Rabbi Sherman, who annulled thousands of conversions carried out by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who has been the past acting  director of the National Conversion Authority in Israel.

In the past couple of years or more, Haredi politicians in Israel have on a number of occasions tried to oust the rabbi, most notably under the corrupt leadership of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert , but Rav Druckman refused to go and there was nothing his critics could do to force him to leave. Even after his departure from the directorship, Haredi politicians and rabbis are still trying to overturn all of his conversions, which may affect the status of about 15,000 converts in Israel.

Explaining Why Revoking Conversions is Wrongheaded

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

Say, for example, a woman converts from Catholicism and becomes a pious Haredi Jewess at the tender age of 20; she then raises a Haredi family and has  20 children of her own–all who live pious Haredi lives. Now each of those 20 children of the second generation have 20 children of their own, and they too, remain pious and God fearing Haredim.

As time passes, each person of the the third generation of 20 children produces  20 children–all who remain within the Haredi community. Continue reading “A Halachic Reductio ad absurdum”

“Monkeying” Around with Evolution & Thoughts on Global Warming

Debating Evolution in Israel

The United States is not the only place where creationists attempt to redesign the science curriculum in textbooks. Israel’s chief scientist in Israel’s ministry of education, Gavriel Avital, “sparked a furor” by questioning the reliability of evolution and global warming, leading to calls for his dismissal, according to Haaretz (Feb. 21, 2010).

Avital asserts, “If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he was quoted as saying. “There are those for whom evolution is a religion and are unwilling to hear about anything else. Part of my responsibility, in light of my position with the Education Ministry, is to examine textbooks and curricula.”

Of course all thus sounds quite familiar to those of us who are debating the merits and demerits of the Intelligent Design theories in this country. Frankly, I personally see nothing wrong with raising the issues that science confronts today. For those who argue that Intelligent Design is bogus science, wouldn’t it be interesting for students to at least participate in a scientific debate  and understand why it is bogus science? If science is to be relevant to students, then it should take on the issues that confront its accepted wisdom.

I wonder: how many students really understand why the geocentric view of the solar system is scientifically incorrect? Physicists have long argued whether light functions more like a wave or like a particle? The history of science is fascinating. Why shouldn’t students see how scientific views of universe evolves?

Now, with respect to the Anthropic Principle, this is a theory in modern physics that does have very interesting theological and philosophical implications. Why should this theory be banned from discussion? Are we so insecure in our beliefs that we are afraid to entertain the great questions that have puzzled many of the world’s greatest philosophers, scientists, and thinkers since the time of Aristotle? What ever happened to the love of learning? Continue reading ““Monkeying” Around with Evolution & Thoughts on Global Warming”