Three Cheers for President Trump!

Image result for new jerusalem embassy pictures

 

Erich Fromm wondered: How can we account for humankind’s capacity for cruelty and violence? Fromm, like the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, believed that violence is something we share with the animal world—especially when it comes to directing our anger against members of our own species. On the other hand, the behaviorist B. F. Skinner believed that there are no innate human traits toward violence; rather it is all a part of human conditioning. Fromm believed that malignant aggression, or destructiveness, in which man kills without biological or social purpose, is peculiarly human and not instinctive. He also argued that there is exist within the psyche of man two polar forces: biophilia, which teaches one to show reverence and love for life. Its opposite is necrophilia—, which does not mean having sex with corpses, but it means an unhealthy love for death.

This distinction is exactly what differentiates most Palestinians from the Israelis. While Israel is always trying to improve the world with its medical advances and technology, using its agricultural technology to improve life for peoples all over the world, the Palestinian mentality—particularly in  Gaza—is hellishly determined to destroy life—especially Jewish life.

We have seen this obsession for death and the glorification violence before with the Nazis, who took great pride in eliminating Jews wherever and whenever possible. Make no mistake about it: today’s successor of Nazism is the Jihadi philosophy of Islam—political Islam. When a Palestinian murders a Jewish family, his family receives a million dollars for each person he kills. This practice has gone on since the Oslo Peace Accords first started. Mahmud Abbas, in particular, has given millions of dollars—blood money to the destroyers of human life.

AS Israel celebrates the U.S. recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the mad Mullahs of Iran have offered $100,000 for anyone who blows up the new American Embassy.

As Fromm taught, such behavior reveals a love for death. Only a sick and disturbed religion teaches its people to behave this way. That is why peaceful Muslims need to initiate an Islamic Revolution; one that will save Islam from destroying itself and the civilized world.

At the fence separating Gaza from Israel, Palestinian terrorists would love nothing more to go on a killing rampage in Israel. For the State of Israel, such wanton violence must not be tolerated. Gold Meir once offered profound wisdom that I wish the Gazans would seriously take to heart:

  • “When peace comes we will, perhaps in time, be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”

Every country has the right to define its own capital. Israel must not be inferior to any other country in this regard. Jewish history is etched on every stone of Jerusalem—whether Muslim fanatics accept this reality or not. For over 3000 years, Jerusalem has been the spiritual capital of our people. The vision of Jerusalem rebuilt and restored has remained embedded in virtually every page of our daily Siddur.

At the end of the Passover Seder, or at the end of the Yom Kippur services, what have Jews loudly proclaimed? “Next year in Jerusalem!”

In 1948, the Jordanians captured the Jewish section of Jerusalem, banning Jews from worshiping at the Western Wall. They used Jewish tombstones as urinals as they literally defecated Jewish memory. Since 1968, Israel has proven to be a peaceful custodian of her ancestral city. It has, for the most part, remained a city of peace.

So why has it been so obvious for the world to accept the obvious? One reason—anti-Semitism. The European countries in particular long for the days when the Jew will be under their bootstrap and depend upon their benevolence to live.

While liberal Jews cannot stand Trump, some because of his boorish manners; others because he is brash and politically incorrect, most of us today as Jews ought to appreciate what President Trump has done for the Jewish people. It took political courage and conviction for him to do what he did. I can remember Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Obama promise to recognize Jerusalem as its capital—but they all lied.

Even Obama??

Yes, even Obama.

Obama went on record saying at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 4, 2008, in his first foreign policy speech after capturing the Democratic nomination the day before:

“Let me be clear… Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided. I have no illusions that this will be easy.”[1]

Bill Clinton also made a similar promise in 1993, where he said after he took office that he supported “the principle’ of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.” In 2000 he said once again, “I have always wanted to move our embassy to West Jerusalem. We have a designated site there. I have not done so because I didn’t want to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair and lasting peace for Israel.”

Yes, Trump’s brashness makes him different from the politicians who offered us nothing but hoya hoya and lots of ungawa.

Yashar Koach, President Trump!

 

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-07/what-have-past-presidents-said-about-israel-and-jerusalem/9234736

Reflections on the Iranian Uprising in 2018: The Silence of Liberals and Feminists

 

Image result for women hijab pictures protest Iran

Most of us are aware that the Islamic leaders of Iran have blocked all forms of social media, yet images continue to flow across the Muslim Curtain of Iran. By far the boldest symbol of the people’s revolt are the images of Iranian women taking off their hijabs, staring silently and defiantly. These brave women risk getting tortured and beaten by Iran’s Phallicratic State—while Western feminism reveals the depth of their apathy and indifference to their sisters who are fighting for the same human rights they enjoy in the West.

Yet, the silence has been deafening.

Instead of promoting war against other nations, in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, the Iranian government must invest in its people. “Death to the Ayatollah! Death to Hezbollah—music to Israel’s ears.

The European Union has been dead silent; Canada has been silent. Most liberals in our county has been silent. Facebook and Twitter have no unfrozen the accounts shut down by the Mullahs. Their silence is complicity.

Most interestingly, the Obama cabinet—including Obama himself has been dead silent. Their silence reminds me of 2009, the time of the first Green Revolution that was spurred on because of obvious election fraud. I remember thinking that this development posed the first major international test for the newbie President elect. I wanted to see whether he was capable of rising to the defense of the oppressed marching in the streets of Tehran.

And the reaction was that of complete silence. Yes, we walked down that road before. A real statesman who believed in freedom and democracy would have done so much more—our ambassador to the U.N., said and did nothing. The rest of the world followed in goosestep. The Iranian Secret Police took lots of names, arrested, tortured, and murdered thousands of the dissidents, as President Obama attempted to rehabilitate Iran’s international image to the Western world.

On Jan. 16th, 1979, Jimmy Carter acted no differently, as he paved the way for the Ayatollah Khomeini to seize the reigns of power. One would be hard pressed to find another example of ineptitude of American foreign policy until the dynamic duo of Barak Obama and John Kerry in 2016. The Iranian mullahs made their intentions known, as our presidents—Democrat and Republican alike—adopted a supine position, or more precisely, the traditional Muslim position of submission.

The Italian journalist Oriana Falachi, in her autobiography met with the Ayatollah Khomeini, and she had her lovely nails polished in red just the other day as she prepared for the famous meeting. The aid to the Ayatollah warned her, if she did not remove the polish from her fingers, the Ayatollah would have her fingers chopped—yes, I said, “chopped” off for being so immodestly dressed. This was a dreadful experience she never forgot. Ayatollah Khomeini was known to have his thugs cut off women’s breasts in his country if they wore a low-cut blouse.

Within hardly a wink of an eye, Khomeini moved swiftly to impose sharia. In March 1979, the new government issued a decree mandating that women must wear the hijab whenever they ventured outside, on pain of arrest. This was not without a harsh reaction. On March 8 that year, over 100,000 women, took to the streets of Iran to protest against this — to no avail, of course. The hijab became the most visible symbol of the totalitarian sharia backwater that the Islamic Republic of Iran became.

Yet, in our great country, the politicians and outside lobbyists did their best to make the hijab a thing of beauty. Now, in 2016, I am proud that my President and his cabinet are doing their best to cheer and support the Iranian women. Nikey Haley’s speech in the United Nations,

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley praised Iranian protesters Tuesday, adding that the US is seeking emergency meetings with the Security Council in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva regarding Iran.

·         “The people of Iran are crying out for freedom,” Haley said. “All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.”

 ·         “This is the precise picture of a long oppressed people rising up against their dictators. The international community has a role to play on this. The freedoms that are enshrined in the United Nations charter are under attack in Iran,” she said. “If the Iranian dictatorships history is any guide, we can expect more outrageous abuses in the days to come. The UN must speak out.”

Haley continued: “We must not be silent. The people are crying out for freedom. All freedom loving people must stand with their cause. The international community made the mistake of failing to do that in 2009. We must not make that mistake again.”

I am so proud of how Israelis are offering their moral support on the Internet.

I suspect that Obama is afraid to speak out on behalf of the people, because he went out of his way to praise the current Iranian regime when he concluded his nuclear-arms agreement with Iran, as the Iranians mused how spineless the United States had become.

Whether you like Trump or not, history will remember him well for standing up to the rogue state and for its oppressed people.

A Memorable San Diego Yom HaShoah Program

Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto (häftad)

 

April 23rd, 2017

This year’s San Diego Yom HaShoah presented one of the finest programs I have experienced in many years since arriving in San Diego almost eight years ago. The musical selections were excellent; the theme of the program was “Memory and Morality” and featured Roberta Grossman, who is the director and producer of new Holocaust film, “Who Will Write Our History?” Her movie is based on upon Samuel D. Kassow’s book, Who Will Write Our History? (Vintage Press, 2009). The book is a compelling read and I hope to have more to say about this remarkable testament to history in the weeks to come. Although Grossman was not a survivor or even the child of a survivor, I admire her iron determination in directing a new film that every person needs to watch, witness, and learn.

 Kassow narrates the tragic story of Ringelblum and his heroic resolve to utilize historical scholarship in preserving the memory of the endangered Jews of Warsaw. Her soon to be released film is scheduled for January 2018 and it offers a remarkable glimpse into the world of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which took place in the summer of 1942.

While many cinematic presentations of the Holocaust often portray Jews acting passively during the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising tells a different story that is seldom ever told—Jews taking their destinies into their own hands by organizing armed resistance against the Nazis. They did this by smuggling weapons and improvising homemade weapons. Actually many Jews in the ghettos across Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1943 formed over one hundred Jewish battalions against the Nazis. The Warsaw Ghetto was by far the most famous of these efforts. That year in 1942, over 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka, Poland, where between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews were exterminated. When the Warsaw Jewish residents in Warsaw heard about this, a young 23 years-old heroic figure named Mordecai Anielewicz, called upon Jews to resist going to the railroad cars. With the weapons they smuggled, they fired upon the Nazis—and they retreated.

Grossman pointed out how the resistance against the Nazis took an unusual form—a group of Jews prior and during the uprising in 1940  knew that they would not survive, but they nevertheless got together to create an underground archive that would preserve their memories as a people. The man who created this archive was named Emanuel Ringelblum. He began formed a secret “sacred society” he called, “Oyneg Shabes” (literally, “Joy of the Sabbath,” as members often met on Saturday). Its purpose was to create a comprehensive archive of life in the ghetto, “to meld thousands of individual testimonies into a collective portrait.” Ringleblum’s archives present a realistic picture of what the people were like and he minced no words in telling a future audience about the heroes, villains, bystanders and the perpetuators’ stories. He instructed them to collect everything they could. Some were artists, thinkers, intellectuals, teachers, factory workers, and so on.

In one story, Ringleblum’s life was also saved by Poles, who also resisted the Nazis. Indeed, many Poles took considerable risks saving Jewish lives. Yet, in his chronology, he also wrote about how other Poles chose to do nothing for their Jewish neighbors. He expressed the hope that someday Jews and Poles would come together and honestly share their stories. His description reminded me of a story I had heard from my father, whose life was saved by a young Pole. In one of the ghettos, the Nazis went on a wild shooting spree, and my father was with his Polish friend. His friend was shot, and knew he was going to die. To save my father, he hit in the head and knocked him out. The Nazis thought he was already dead. Were it not for the gratuitous kindness of this Polish young man, I would not be writing about his heroism.

On another personal note, in my rabbinic career, I was privileged to know a woman named Esther Avruch, whose petite presence survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. She too recalls how some of the Poles could act just as cruel as the Nazis; some would beat the Jews and seize their meager rations of food and water. Yet, other Poles exhibited profound humanity toward her and her family. Starving for food and drink, simple Polish peasants, like a miracle from God, shared their food with the family. They were friends of Esther’s father’s business partners. They acted morally and with compassion.

Ultimately, on September 18th, 1946, Jews and Poles dug through the rubble of the remains of a former school located on Nowolipki St. What they discovered were three buried caches of the Oyneg Shabes archive. Some of the records suffered from decay and decomposition from moisture that seeped in the documents.

Eli Wiesel once told his Nobel Peace Prize audience when he delivered his acceptance lecture in December 1986. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history, “Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered. New Year’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, is also called Yom Hazikaron, the day of memory. On that day, the day of universal judgment, man appeals to God to remember: our salvation depends on it. If God wishes to remember our suffering, all will be well; if He refuses, all will be lost. Thus, the rejection of memory becomes a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.”

The Provocative Imagery of Chagall’s “White Crucifixion”

Image result

 

 

This past Shabbat, at Temple Beth Shalom we had a most remarkable discussion on the famous Russian painter, Marc Chagall, as we discussed his various paintings of Jesus’s crucifixion. A panel consisting of Dr. David Strom, Dr. Tzvi Sax, and Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel explored the history of several of Chagall’s painting, most famously, the painting he made in 1938, “White Crucifixion.”

Chagall did something that no artist before or after him—he portrayed Jesus as a martyr of the Jewish people, and it was this picture that drew considerable attention to the anti-Semitism that occurred in Russia and in Germany in the 1930s.

Instead of Jesus wearing the traditional loincloth, he is wearing a prayer shawl; instead of the traditional Christian depiction of Jesus’ crown of thorns, Jesus wears part of a tallit gadol draping over his forehead. In the place of the patriarchs and angels surrounding Jesus, Chagall portrays images of the pogroms and Nazis, pillaging and burning Jewish communities. Images of Jews attempting to flee their native countries of oppression by boat also stand out in the White Crucifixion. Mothers comforting frightened children, and other images strike the eye with no less visceral power. In the painting’s center, a peasant wears a German placard that says, “Ich bin Jude” (“I am a Jew”).

The entire picture cannot help but make Jews and Christians uncomfortable looking at this graphic work of art. If a picture can say more than a thousand words, Chagall’s painting of the “White Crucifixion” can say more than almost thousand years of history. Interestingly, Pope Francis considers this particular painting one of his favorites. The unusual juxtaposition of Christian and Jewish images provokes the imagination as good art often does.

Religious art, in particular, also needs to be viewed as a kind of visual midrash. Words are as Ludwig Wittgenstein explains, consists of mental pictures of reality. By themselves, pictures do not carry meaning, but they transmit meaning depending how they appear in clusters in accordance with a specific context. Still, mental pictures can convey one sense of visual meaning to the mind, but the actual pictures of an artist convey a much more powerful depiction of the reality the artist wishes to re-present to his audience.

As I looked at this painting, I wondered: How might a fundamentalist, Catholic or Protestant person, or theologian look at this picture? Our ability to step outside our skin is vital if we are to grasp the inner world of Christians, some of whom, blame Jewish suffering on the sins of our ancestors.

One of Protestantism’s most illustrious thinkers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for saying on the night of Kristallnacht, “If the synagogues are set on fire today, it will be the churches that will be burned tomorrow.” Yet, who could imagine that the same man would say to one of his colleagues, “that the Nazis were merely giving what was owed to the Jews. After all, “they nailed the Redeemer of the world to the cross,” they had been forced to bear an eternal curse through a long history of suffering, one that would end only “in the conversion of Israel to Christ.”[1] Bonhoeffer’s shocking remark about the Jews did not end there. In another statement, he added:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the “chosen people” who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering…. But the history of the suffering of this people, loved and punished by God, stands under the sign of the final homecoming of Israel [the Jews] to its God. And this homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to Christ…. The conversion of Israel, that is to be the end of the people’s period of suffering. From here the Christian Church sees the history of the people of Israel with trembling as God’s own, free, fearful way with his people, because God is not yet finished with it. Each new attempt to solve “the Jewish question” comes to naught . . .[2]

There can be no doubt that a number of Christians feel that all the persecution of the Jews are the direct result of their rejection of Jesus as “the Messiah,” “a Savior,” and as the incarnational “Son of God.” When Jews look at this Chagall’s painting of the “White Crucifixion” it is not at all difficult to see how some Christians believe this painting reflects the history of the persecuted Jew for rejecting Jesus.

Yes, Chagall’s picture disturbs some Jews for that reason.

Personally, I think any Christian who accepts this interpretation of Chagall’s work has misunderstood the genius of this controversial painting. Let me propose an alternative view that some of you may find challenging. In the Parable of the Final Judgment (Mat. 25:35-40) we find a compelling moral teaching, especially if we strip the text of the Early Church’s redaction of Jesus’ words:

  • For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

By persecuting Jesus’ own brethren—the Jews—Jesus has taught the future generations of Christians who identify with his teachings the following lesson. Murdering the Jewish people is not only a moral crime punishable by God, it is also as though they have murdered their own savior—Jesus himself! In fact, for every Jew who suffers because Christian anti-Semitism, Jesus, too, suffers for he has witnessed the absolute perversion of everything moral that he ever taught.

Christian missionaries throughout history love to cite the following famous passage from Isaiah, when attempting to demonstrate that Jesus is the figure that Isaiah envisioned in his section on the “Suffering Servant of God.”

  • He was despised, shunned by men, A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us, He was despised, we held him of no account. Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God; But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed. (Isa 53:3-5 TNK)

Yet, as the 12th century medieval exegete and philosopher Abraham Ibn Ezra so perceptively observed, the real interpretation is not about Jesus, the suffering servant epitomizes none other than the Jewish people, who have acted as God’s Messiah to the world. While many peoples and faiths claim to be “chosen,” none have endured the pain and suffering of the Jewish people who have suffered discrimination, persecution, and finally genocide for being God’s witness to the world.

So there you have it. Jesus never lived to fulfill the expectations that Jews have hoped from the Messiah. Yet, he like so many people who came before him and after him, Jesus shared a common history in one invaluable respect: Jesus died as a martyr of his people, and for that reason alone, he is worthy of respect for his sacrifice.

In retrospect, I feel very proud that our little synagogue here in Chula Vista, CA., was able to offer one of the most unique programs I have experienced in all my 42 years in the rabbinate.

We Need an Islamic Reformation–NOW!

Credit: Catholic Charities/Jeffrey Bruno (CC BY 2.0).

Reformations are good for the soul. They keep the religious leaders and faiths in check. In the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, people began to read the Bible critically for the first time without having the local priest spoon-feed it to  them while they sat on their Church pews. Of course, the spread of literacy made a huge difference—thanks to the Gutenberg’s printing press. It impacts these technological innovations can probably be compared to the impact that computers and digitalization of literature are having on our society today. The Reformation underwent numerous schisms. Lutherans, Calvinists sprouted up everywhere, and the Baptists were not far behind. Pietist movements, Reformers created enormous conflict—even wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, as recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written by John Foxe in 1563; he narrated the tortures Catholics and Protestants did to one another in lurid detail.

Yet, Europe managed to survive its birth pangs of a new and more tolerant Christianity. The Catholic Church no longer dominated people’s lives. People wanted not just the freedom of religion, but also yearned for the freedom from religion.
While Orthodox Jews lament the birth of the Reform Movement in Judaism, the Jewish Reformation led to many significant changes that even the Orthodox movement benefits from having. For example, the Bat Mitzvah is one example of a change (introduced by R. Mordechai Kaplan of the Reconstructionist Movement) that is widely observed even in some of the most Orthodox Jewish communities—all over the nation. Often, young women will read to a mixed audience from the Megillah on Purim, or from Megillat Ruth on Shavuoth. These are dynamic changes we have witnessed in our time. The emergence of woman scholars in Halacha threatens to expand the discussions concerning traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud. A woman’s voice is not only heard at the traditional Orthodox Shabbat tables or at the young women’s yeshivot, women are adding their voice to the formation of modern Halacha.

So what about Islam? Is Islam ready for a Reformation within its own ranks? As outsiders, do we have the right to encourage and even demand that Muslims consider this option and take the steps to implement it?

President Sisi of Egypt is a remarkable man in the Arab world.  He says it best last December when he urged reform of Islamic discourse and called on Islamic scholars to send Christmas greetings to Christians. In the televised speech to Islamic scholars, President Sisi stated, “We talk a lot about the importance of religious discourse… In our schools, institutes and universities, do we teach and practice respect for the others?” He continued, “We neither teach or practice it.”
Egyptian Streets quoted President Sisi during the speech, stating, “God did not create the world for the ‘ummah’ [Arabic for ‘nation’ or ‘community’] to be alone. [He didn’t create it] for one community, but for communities. [He didn’t create it] for one religion, but for religions.” President Sisi continued, “Can I impose upon someone pressure, physically or morally, to change their religion? Would God accept this?… What are we afraid of? Are we custodians of people’s minds or choices? No, we are not. In religion specifically, no. Each of us will be judged independently… and [people] will have to answer [for their choices and what they choose to believe].” [2]
To admit that Islam needs a Reformation might sound like heresy, but without it, not only will Islam as a religion completely implode, it may implode the rest of the civilized world along with it.
While there have been relatively peaceful relations between Islam and the West, there have been atavistic forces within Islam that wish to relive the good old days of the 7th century.
In Europe, we are witnessing retrogressive religion at its worse attempting to bring back the burqa, rape squads, sexual slavery advertised on the Internet and Twitter of thirteen year-old girls. The violence of atavistic Muslim young men who enslave and gang rape young girls continues to be ignored by the press. If you turn on your television, chances are you will not see progressive women march down the streets of Berlin or Paris, Stockholm or London protesting in mass against the seventh-century male mentality that defines considerable part of today’s Muslim world, who wish to make Sharia the law of the West.
Many Muslim countries are very concerned about the radical Islamicists that promote Sharia and ISIS, and a host of other arcane early 7th century Muslim practices—such as child weddings, female circumcision, stoning married women who cannot produce four witnesses that she was raped.
The apathy  or moral indifference of these crimes against humanity stem from their craven fear of being labeled “Islamophobic.”
There is nothing “racist” in criticizing the origins of religious intolerance in Islam, for Islam—like Judaism and Christianity—are predicated upon a belief system and is not based upon color.

The bully pulpit of the Presidency is remarkably silent whenever it comes to criticizing Islamic abuse of women and religious minorities faced with genocide. Yet, the progressive voices who could make a difference are deliberately silenced.

Sister Diana Morneka is probably a name you have never heard of before. She is a Catholic nun from Iraq who wanted to come to the United States to speak about the persecution of women and religious minorities of her country. One would think that the United States of all countries would allow this courageous champion of human rights to come and speak to our Congress, yet, inexplicably, our State Department will not give her a visa.
“Sister Diana represents tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, forced to convert or die or flee their homes. She’ll tell us the truth about what’s happening,” U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) May 7.  “Like thousands of other Christians in the region, Sister Diana is a victim of ISIS,” Collins said in a May 5 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “She has devoted her life to helping other victims and advocating for them.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has won numerous human rights awards for speaking up for women’s rights in Muslim countries. In 2004, she collaborated with the artist  Theo van Gogh (before some radical Muslims killed him) who produced a film called, Islam, which documents the oppression of women living under Islam. She is one of many moderates calling for a Reformation in Islam. Ali has also won numerous awards in various European countries. Yet, she has yet to be invited by the Congress or by the President.
If we want Islam to embrace a 21st religious sensibility, then it behooves us to add our voices demanding that such a change take place. Denying the voices of progressives who have lived or grown up in Muslim countries only serves to keep Islam locked up in the shackles of the 7th century.
Isn’t it about time that our President start inviting progressive voices like Zahudi Yasser, President Sisi, Ayann Hirsi Ali, or Sister Diana to the White House to help present an image of Islam that is introspective and self-critical? These are the kind of voices our country needs to hear, instead of gangster rappers, or people like GloZell, who eats cereal out of a bathtub.
As moral people concerned about the human condition, we need even at the risk of being called “politically incorrect,” to address the issue of modern day Islamo-fascists threatening Christians, Yazidi, and Jewish lives in the Middle East today. Just the other day, an Iranian general boasted how Iran has over 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel.
Why in the world would we ignore their threats to complete the job started by Hitler?
Yes, we need an Islamic Reformation—and we need it now!

*

Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com. Comments intended for publication in the space below MUST be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the United States.)

Shaking the Foundations of Orthodoxy with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

My history with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin goes all the way back to 1977. He visited a Hillel Academy in Binghamton, New York, where I  taught Talmud many decades ago. At the time, I knew he was already a well-respected rabbi who had brought many Jews back to Judaism when he served as the founder of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.

Rabbi Riskin has often  taken considerable heat from the Orthodox establishment, which always criticizes the maverick Modern Orthodox rabbi’s controversial positions. Even as we speak, the Israeli Rabbinate is mulling over the question whether to expel Rabbi Riskin from the Israeli Orthodox Rabbinate. Rabbi Riskin approves the ordination of women and allows them to participate in public prayer. He also advocates the use of prenuptial agreements and other halachic leniencies to deal with recalcitrant husbands. He has also gone on record supporting the legalization of civil marriage in Israel. He has a positive view of Jesus and even favors dialogue with Christian groups.

Sound like heresy to you? You betcha!

In a recent column, he is encouraging the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel to welcome the Reform and Conservative movements of Israel in the spirit of goodwill and reconciliation.

Riskin argues that today’s Orthodoxy ought to respect the Reform and Conservative movement because they are trying their best to promote Judaism and Jewish practices, “They’re not tearing Jews away but bringing them closer… That may have been true at the beginning of the Reform Movement, but it’s very different now – they’re trying to bring Jews closer. Not to the wholeness, the fullness of Orthodox Judaism that I love and that I know, but nevertheless, they’re trying to bring Jews closer.”

I believe Riskin is correct. The warfare thesis that has characterized the Orthodox movement since the 19th century needs to end. As Riskin observed, “they are not our enemies, they’re our partners!” I believe Riskin is making a valuable point. More specifically, Riskin sees nothing wrong with Reform or Conservative Jews use the mikveh (a ritual pool) as a way of enhancing their observance of Jewish values in their lives.

Unfortunately, others see this matter differently.

R. Avraham Gordimer, who serves as the OU Rabbinic Coordinator/Dairy Specialist at the OU, Chairman of the OU Dairy Committee, wrote a stinging critique concerning Riskin’s inclusive view of welcoming non-Orthodox as our partners in faith. Gordimer is a well-known writer and exponent of Modern Orthodoxy who leans to the right of Riskin.

Gordimer thinks that Modern Orthodox Judaism is threatened by many of the innovations Riskin proposes to do—especially in the area of women rabbis, all of which, “flies in the face of normative Torah understanding.” Furthermore, Gordimer contends, “Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.”

Orthodox rabbis like Gordimer love characterizing Jewish theology as though it were a monolithic structure—uniform, seamless, and without wrinkles. Nothing can be further from the truth. Many of the greatest medieval rabbis grappled whether God possessed a humanoid form (Moshe Taku) , or whether the Torah speaks in the language of metaphor (Philo, Maimonides, HaLevy). Some of the medieval scholars grappled whether we must believe in a physical resurrection or merely a spiritual resurrection where the soul is reborn into the world of Eternity, or is reincarnated into another human body—as the Kabbalists believed.

And yes, many of the Sages believed that Moses did not write the entire Torah—especially the last several verses that narrate his death (Menachot 30a). Do these discrepancies in Judaic belief make us “heretics” (“kofrim”)? Judaism has always stressed that our faith is predicated upon deeds rather than creeds. Christian theology, in contrast, considers itself a religion of creeds rather than deeds. Belief is essential for Christian salvation, as Pascal articulated in his famous wager.

Perhaps what is most disturbing here is the attitude that the “conservative” wing of Modern Orthodoxy is threatening to bifurcate its own ranks because of its zero-sum theology. The Talmud often said, “These and these are the words of the living God, but the halakhah follows the school of Hillel” (BT Eruvim 13b).

Today’s Orthodox movement has trouble even mentioning a famous early 20th century thinker like Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, because he believed that the theory of evolution is compatible with Judaic thought. His name no longer appears on the OU website. Orthodoxy is becoming increasingly narrower in how it views the world. If Orthodoxy cannot find peace within its own ranks, it will never find peace outside its ranks. Progressive thinkers such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin are an anathema to men like R. Avraham Gordimer.

This morning on Facebook, I discussed this topic with a number of scholars. I reminded them what the Talmud teaches us in tractate Shabbat about a famous story regarding Hillel.

  • At another time,  it happened a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’

Similar stories occur with other potential proselytes—neither of whom would ever be accepted in today’s world of Orthodoxy. Yet, Hillel’s optimism triumphs, Sometime later, the three proselytes met in one place; said they, Shammai’s impatience sought to drive us from the world, but Hillel’s gentleness brought us under the wings of the Shekhinah.

The Talmud concludes elsewhere with another remarkable anecdote about why Jewish law follows Hillel and not Shammai:

  • R. Abba stated in the name of Samuel: For three years, the Academies of Hillel and Shammai engaged in debate over the Halacha [matters pertaining to Jewish Law]. Each academy claimed the law should be determined in accordance their school’s interpretation. Finally, a Heavenly Voice ruled, “Both views are the words of the living God, but the halacha is in agreement with the rulings of the Academy of Hillel.” Why were Hillel’s Academy more preferable over Shammai’s? Hillel’s Academy acted with kindness and compassion. They would first take into consideration Shammai’s halachic deliberations before arriving at their own conclusions . . . From this we may deduce the following lesson in ethics: He who humbles himself, the Holy Blessed One raises up the humbled. However, the one who seeks greatness will soon discover how elusive greatness is, for greatness flees from those who seek it . . . (BT Eruvin 13b)

As we approach the period of the Three Weeks commemorating the destruction of the Temple, it behooves us to remember that it is not what we argue about that matters—it is how and why we argue that is of great importance. Orthodoxy needs to make peace first within itself, before it can make peace with the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is a hero and he deserves our respect for his moral courage.

In the Absence of Compassion

Since the days of antiquity, shepherds often served as the leaders of a nation. When the prophet Nathan confronted King David for his illicit affair with Bathsheba, he gently reminded him that the role of a leader is to act pastorally toward the flock that God has entrusted him with watching. The life of David should have taught him that a leader must act faithfully toward his subjects at all times. Neglecting the flock is perhaps one of the most serious offenses a king commits ( 2 Samuel 12:1-7). These ancient stories are important because their message about responsible and concerned leadership is true for all times.

The President has a job to comfort and offer solace to those who have been victimized in a national tragedy… Toward the beginning of his tenure, President Obama seemed to grasp this truth.

On November 10, 2009,  at the funeral of the Fort Hood massacre victims, the President took the podium and said, “that the memory of those slain in a rampage here last week would “endure through the life of our nation.” And, one by one, he listed the names of those killed and described their hopes and dreams and the families they left behind. He further added,  “But this much we do know: No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice, in this world and the next.”[1]

The President acted and spoke appropriately at that time.

Offering comfort to those who have lost lives due to terrorism is something we ought to expect from our President.  Yet, his record has been less consistent in the course of his presidency. For the record, President Obama has sometimes acted appropriately, and other times he has been “missing in action.” And it is for this reason I find the President’s behavior perplexing.

I was shocked to find out that President Barack Obama is not scheduled to attend any of the funerals for the victims of the San Bernardino terror attack nine days ago. According to Breitbart News, the President has yet to visit the town in the wake of the deadliest terror attack against our nation since 9/11. As of this evening, the White House did not return a request for comment about the president’s schedule. This passive reaction seems strange in light of other past events where the President did take a more active role in events that have shaken our nation. For example: President Obama on occasion has offered sent dignitaries from Washington to express comfort toward those who have lost, as we saw  in Ferguson, MI, after Michael Brown was killed.

  • On Jan 12, 2015, President Obama’s absence from Sunday’s peace march in Paris, said Monday that his team erred in failing to dispatch a high-ranking American official to join the show of solidarity against terrorism. Naturally, the French politely did not make a big issue of his absence—despite the plethora of prominent world leaders who stood in solidarity against terrorism. Even Josh Earnest sheepishly admitted that somebody dropped the ball.[2]
  • Chris Kyle was fatally shot at a Texas gun range on Feb. 2, 2013. Yet, President Obama did not personally attend; nor did he send representatives at the funeral of this important American hero. Nor did he acknowledge the courage Chris Kyle showed that resulted in saving countless American lives.[3]
  • Neither did the President send representatives to the funeral of the journalist James Foley (who was an Israeli Jew), who was beheaded by ISIS over a year and a half ago.[4]  Yet, he did send representatives to the funeral of Freddie Gray, who had died a week after sustaining injuries during an encounter with the Baltimore police.
  • However, Obama delivered the eulogy at the memorial service earlier this year after white supremacist murdered many people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Obama used his remarks to push for gun control: “For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation,” he preached.

Perhaps the President is afraid the Muslim community might be tarred and feathered. Most  fair minded people would think this way, but a few might. However,  speaking out against Radical Islam does not make us  guilty of “Islamophobia.” Yet, if we do not show a modicum of humanity by personally offering respects to the victims of terror, then our President has not only insulted the victims of those slain along with their families, he has diminished the respect of the office that he holds. When a nation grieves, it is inappropriate to worry about political correctness. If we have a scintilla of morality and self-respect, we must raise our voice in protest. We must demand a higher standard from our President’s behavior. While the President may be proud of his war against “global warming,” he has a more immediate task he needs to take seriously—and that is comforting the victims’ families and our nation who have suffered deeply from the evils of Radical Islamic terror.


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/us/11hood.html [2] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/13/us/politics/obama-is-faulted-for-not-attending-rally-in-paris.html?_r=0 [3] http://conservativetribune.com/obama-responded-kyles-death/ [4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/aug/26/obama-sent-three-representatives-michael-brown-fun/

Living in an a Dystopian America

Image source: BuzzFeed

Whenever I hear Obama and his minions claim that “Islam is the religion of peace,” I cannot help but think the President is utilizing several concepts drawn from writer George Orwell’s famous book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this political parable, he writes about how the people of Oceania are trained from childhood to be vigilant in detecting and persecuting anything that the State considers as “evil.” Simply put, the State defines what is good and what is evil. Succumbing to the Party is considered the greatest good; obedience and complicity constitute the “love” of Big Brother.  The State aims to pursue a merging of consciousness, where the State’s will—as defined by Big Brother—becomes the will of the individual.

Slogans play an important part of  the collective indoctrination of the people. Orwell describes an usually fictional language he calls, “Newspeak,” which is a controlled language that is designed to constrict the freedom of thought. Newspeak aims to eliminate concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, and peace. Contrarian perspectives are typically regarded as “thoughtcrimes”

Big Brother uses another interesting too to enslave the minds of the people called  “Doublespeak.” Simply defined, it is a language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Wherever one goes in this dystopian society, the citizen always encounters the three slogans of the Party that stand out in bold capital letters: 

  • WAR IS PEACE
  • FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
  • IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Orwell intended to warn us about the dangers of people whose visions for a totalitarian utopias, whether political, economic, social, or theocratic. You can see this kind of “political correctness,” our now-passing rage of liberal conformity today. Often as Jews, we can see how the Left is castigating Israel and demonizing anyone who dares to challenge the status quo.

As we look in the present era, 2015, we can see how people who criticize Obama are routinely called “racist” and marginalized through shaming and other not-so-subtle techniques of intimidation. In Hollywood, actors who criticize the President’s agenda often do not receive acting jobs. There is an atmosphere of terror and the ghost of McCarthy  is reminding us that liberalism can be just as fascist as any political philosophy of the ultra-right.

This Orwellian phenomenon can be seen in our country’s universities, wretched parodies of what they are supposed to be, are veritable monuments of newspeak and doublethink.  Yet, as we witness the global rise of ISIS and observe how the Iranian mullahcracy continues to threaten both Israel AND the United States, as they stand at the threshold of developing nuclear arms—our President has the temerity to tell us:

  • ISLAM IS THE  RELIGION OF PEACE!
  • THERE IS NO GLOBAL JIHAD
  • BEWARE OF EXTREMISM

Consistently, Obama has never recognized a “global jihad” is shaping up before the entire Western word to see. Now that ISIS is taking over Libya (as Khadafi warned Hillary and Obama), ISIS is threatening Italy and announced, “: “You have seen us in Syria, now we’re right here, just south of Rome…”[1] Continue reading “Living in an a Dystopian America”

Shirley MacLaine: Aging Without Saging

 Shirley MacLaine is a better actress than she is a philosopher or theologian. Jewish groups are justifiably upset with some comments she penned in her new memoir, “What If… A Lifetime of Questions, Speculations, Reasonable Guesses, and a Few Things I Know For Sure.”

The quote that is generating a lot of criticism suggest, the six million Jews and others who died in the Holocaust were “balancing their karma” by paying for sins in a previous life.  But MacLaine did not stop with just the six-million Jews, or for that matter the other eighteen million people killed by one man’s hatred, she also compared  Stephen Hawking to Jesus, writing that just as Jesus chose martyrdom, Hawking “chose to live” with a debilitating disease.

Gee, that must make the Holocaust survivors along with their children really great knowing that somehow, they “karmically” managed to survive. As  a child of an Auschwitz survivor and as a parent of an ALS child, I take great offense to her words.

Let us briefly examine MacLaine’s comments:

  • What if most Holocaust victims were balancing their karma from ages before, when they were Roman soldiers putting Christians to death, the Crusaders who murdered millions in the name of Christianity, soldiers with Hannibal, or those who stormed across the Near East with Alexander? The energy of killing is endless and will be experienced by the killer and the killee.” (pp. 240-241)

Over twenty-years ago, I encountered this kind of muddled thinking once before.  On one occasion I debated a Religious Science minister who said  something almost identical to MacLaine. The minister claimed that if a young child is raped or mutilated, it is I order to clear the child’s soul of his/her “karmic debt.” The Church of Religious Science is an example of a New Age religion sometime ago in the 1980s—based on the metaphysical theosophical thought of Ernst Holmes. Although Holmes never advocated anything that was even remotely similar to what this minister asserted, many of his disciples seemed to developed this idea on their own.

The popular New Age self-help writer, Louise Hay, author of  the NY Times best-seller “You Can Heal Your Life” maintains that every human being is responsible for creating every circumstance that occurs in one’s life. According to her, all disease comes from a lack of self-love and unwillingness to forgive others. This is true regardless whether you have headaches or hemorrhoids—all disease comes from a failure to “love yourself.”

A Pulitzer prize journalist named Michael D’Antonio wrote about a conversation he had with Hay. Her views on Third World nations and AIDS victims prove to be revealing:

  • People starve amid the “abundance of the universe” because of low self-esteem,” said Hay. “A poor self-image is more damaging than one might expect and attracts the kind of experience that seems appropriate. That’s why, she said, women who are raped are responsible for what happens to them. They attract the rapist because they expect and fear an attack. Similarly, the poor of the world are responsible for their plight, as are those afflicted with AIDS…[1]

In another conversation, D’Antonio commented about Hay’s remarks regarding the Holocaust. She mused that the AIDS victims were the reincarnated souls of the Nazis, who were being paid back for “their crimes against the Jews!”

And the Jews? Well, they too deserved their “karmic fate.” [2]

For Jews, this is nothing new. We have been accused of karmic crimes for a long time. Unfortunately, many of the Christian world’s greatest theological minds—ancient and modern—expressed  ideas that also resonated with MacLaine’s view of karma. After the night of  Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for saying on the night of Kristallnacht, ““If the synagogues are set on fire today, it will be the churches that will be burned tomorrow.” But who would imagine him, saying only minutes later to one of his colleagues, “that the Nazis were merely giving what was owed to the Jews. After all, “they nailed the Redeemer of the world to the cross,” they had been forced to bear an eternal curse through a long history of suffering, one that would end only “in the conversion of Israel to Christ”?[3]

Here is one more example of Bonhoeffer’s animus against the Jews:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the “chosen people” who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering…. But the history of the suffering of this people, loved and punished by God, stands under the sign of the final homecoming of Israel [the Jews] to its God. And this homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to Christ…. The conversion of Israel, that is to be the end of the people’s period of suffering. From here the Christian Church sees the history of the people of Israel with trembling, as God’s own, free, fearful way with his people, because God is not yet finished with it. Each new attempt to solve “the Jewish question” comes to naught…[4]

Deicide is not a new accusation, it goes back to the earlier period of Christian history.[5] All of these attempts to explain the suffering of the Jews ignores what I believe to be the only truth worth discussing: Karmic reasons play no role whatsoever in why one people  suffers and not another. When looking at the real causes of human suffering, one thing is clear. Human beings are responsible for the moral evil they perpetuate against other people. Continue reading “Shirley MacLaine: Aging Without Saging”

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”