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

The Downfall of Abimelech and Hillary Clinton

Image result for Abimelech in Judges death images

 

The Book of Judges speaks of a time of great social chaos in the generations leading to the formation of the ancient Israelite monarchy. The author of Judges bluntly says, “In those days there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Although we view each of the judges in a favorable light, there is one judge in particular, whose ruthless will to power stands apart from all the rest.

His name was Abimelech, the son Gideon and his Canaanite concubine (Judg. 8:31). His father Gideon was a remarkable leader, respected by everyone. The people even offered him the opportunity to become monarch, and like George Washington would later do after him, he refused.

But Abimelech was different—different indeed! After the death of his father, Abimelech (with his mothers’ help) killed his seventy brothers by hiring thugs to execute his closest of kin. Only Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, survived, but the people of Shechem made Abimelech King of their community (Judg. 9:1-6). After a peaceful reign of three years, the author of Judges pointed out that God did not allow Abimelech’s numerous crimes to go unpunished. Autocratic dictators like Abimelech will always attract men like himself, who will do anything to quench their bloodlust for power.

Abimelech’s men split from him and pledged fealty to a man named Gaal, and asked him to take over as their leader, while Abimelech was absent. Fortunately for Abimelech, his commanded Zebu managed to repell the revolt against Abimelech’s authority.  Meanwhile, in another nearby battle where Abimelech and his men were attempting to conquer the city of Thezbez, something totally unexpected happened.

  • Abimelech came up to the castle and attacked it. As he approached the entrance to the castle to set fire to it, a woman threw a millstone down on his head and fractured his skull. He called hurriedly to his young armor-bearer and said, ‘Draw your sword and dispatch me, or men will say of me: A woman killed him.’ So the young man ran him through and he died  (Judg. 9:52–55).

The Book of Judges often loves to show how God ironically  shapes the events that unfold in its stories and historical narratives. In ancient times, the millstone was used to grind corn. This ordinary household kitchen appliance was not unlike today’s toaster.  Abimelech realizes the humiliation he has endured, “What could be worse than be killed in battle by a woman?” So he does his best to save face, and he orders one of his own men to kill him. Nevertheless, his downfall is preserved in Israel’s sacred memory.

Abimelech’s political ambitions remind me much of Hillary Clinton’s political will to power. Often described as a Teflon politician, fewer people in modern American history have been able to dodge as many pitfalls and scandals like Hillary Clinton. Her willingness to use any means to obtain political power is reminiscent of Abimelech. Mysteriously, many of her critics and potential adversaries miraculously died before they could bring her any political harm.

Like the robot from the first Terminator movie, Hillary Clinton is relentless. This past week alone, we learn how CNN fired Donna Brazile, the interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman for allegedly sharing questions with the Clinton campaign before a debate and a town hall during the Democratic primary, and has accepted her resignation. CNN said they felt “completely uncomfortable” with hacked emails showing that former contributor. Despite the countless scandals listed in the WikiLeaks, nothing seems to deter her.[1]

Readers should not forget how Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was fired as the head of the DNC  because she and her cronies sabotaged the Sanders campaign[2]. After the Wikileaks exposed her, she resigned immediately afterward. Within a day, Clinton hires Wasserman-Schultz was hired to work in her campaign. Rarely do we see in society such unethical behavior rewarded, unless your name happens to be Hillary Clinton. If Hillary is willing to resort to foul play and sabotage the congenial Bernie Sanders, what do you thing she would do to her enemy Donald Trump?

The real question I find myself asking: What won’t she do to achieve her objectives?

Oct. 18th, two top Democratic strategists left the presidential campaign after explosive undercover videos showed them conversing about voter fraud and their roles in planting paid agitators at campaign events for Republican candidate Donald Trump. Robert Creamer, founder of Democracy Advocates and the husband of Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, both stepped down from the campaign Tuesday,[3]  one day after Scott Foval was fired from his post as national field director of Americans United for Change. Note that Creamer met with President Obama during 47 of those 342 visits, according to White House records. Creamer’s last visit was in June 2016.[4] Just in case you did not know, Creamer is a convicted felon.

If a man is judged by the company he keeps, what does that say about our President and Hillary Clinton? This is obviously embarrassing to the President and Hillary for good reason. What we see is a culture of corruption that is systemic and needs to be condemned by all people who believe in the integrity of our democratic elections.

Relentless, Hillary is so close to winning it all, she will not let anything get in her way. “Not now, not ever”

Then out of the blue, the ignominious Anthony Weiner, perhaps out a desire to either protect himself from Hillary’s fabled wrath; or out of a desire to get even with his wife Huma for divorcing him, produces over 650,000 emails that nobody expected existed. Whatever may have been on these files forced FBI Director James Comey to reopen the case given the gravity of the case against Hillary and her loyal legionaries.

But wait, there is still more!

The hacking group,  “Anonymous” promises they have many more new revelations that will keep our nation entranced as we watch the latest episodes of the Clinton Soap Opera, Season 2.

Does this story have the same irony as the biblical Abimelech story of Judges? Who would imagine that man named Weiner, a disgraced politician and suspected pedophile, might bring down the invincible Hillary Clinton. The story has an element of paradox, does it not?

What both stories illustrate is one important theological point worth remembering. God often uses weak and fallible people to achieve His purpose in punishing wayward and unethical and ruthless individuals. If Hillary indeed loses the election, Antony Weiner may well go down in history as the man who changed the course of American history.

You could even say, it is Hillarious.

Does God have a sense of humor? In both Yiddish and German, there is an old Jewish proverb, Der Mensch trachtet und Gott lacht. (דאָס עפּעלע פֿאַלט ניט ווײַט פֿון ביימעלע)”– Men plan and God laughs, or as the comedian, Woody Allen expressed it, “If you want to make God laugh tell him about your plans.” I personally prefer, “What man proposes, God disposes.”[5] This aphorism may well be a fitting epitaph for the political career of Hillary R. Clinton.



[1]  http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2016/10/cnn-severs-ties-with-donna-brazile-230534#ixzz4OmUta1nY

[2] http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2016/07/debbie_wasserman_schultz_fired_as_dnc_chair_on_eve_of_philly_convention.html#ixzz4OmZfj5KI

[3] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/oct/18/undercover-video-shows-democrats-saying-they-hire-/

[4] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/10/19/robert-creamer-okeefe-investigation-fame-visited-obamas-whitehouse-340-times/

[5] Thomas à Kempis,  The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas, Book I, chapter 19.

Zombies and the Fringes of Consciousness

 

Image result for pet cemetery

This past week, I enjoyed watching some of scary zombie movies on Hulu and Netflix; it’s a custom I have kept since I was a boy of seven or eight years old.

Halloween was always a fun time for me as a child. Watching scary movies still remains a ritual every time of this year.

Horror films often give us a rare opportunity to examine our deepest questions about the nature of our existence, of life and death, and life beyond death. To some degree, they force us to examine our deepest fears about the postmortem existence of our souls. When we die, is there any part of our soul that remains present in the body itself?

Horror writer Stephen King’s Pet Semetery, reminds me of a Kabbalistic teaching about the different manifestations of the soul. The highest level of the soul is identified as neshamah—the soul breath of God that gives us the capacity to wonder about our nature and inspires us to act humanely toward one another. The second level is ruach—the spirit realm that inspires within us a capacity to feel emotion and compassion toward all living beings.  And then there is nefesh—the lowest manifestation of life that we share with the vegetative kingdom. On this level, we exist only to physically survive and nothing more.

Stephen King’s movies illustrate what happens when human beings forget what it is that makes all of us “human.” According to this definition, a zombie is a being whose residual soul is bereft of all its humanity. It lives to consume; it consumes only to live.

By all accounts, it seems that the  life of a zombie is pretty simple and uncomplicated. So some of us might wonder: Are zombies merely mythical creatures? Do they or do they not exist? Could a zombie apocalypse really occur?

Inquiring minds really want to know…

While rabbis across the world may wonder, “Who Is a Jew?”—on this night of Halloween, I am going to pose the question: “Who Is a Zombie?” Are zombies “human,” or are they something “Other” than human? The question has profound implications not just in the sphere of science-fiction, philosophy, religion—but also in the area of medical ethics.

The 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes viewed animals as machine-like creatures, bereft of a soul. Every aspect of the animal could be explained in terms of its physical “mechanical” movements. Descartes even entertained the idea of a mechanical person what we could call today, a robotic being. How would one differentiate such a creature from the “real deal”? For one thing, the machine would never be able to spontaneously formulate sentences; its non-verbal behavior would also be limited. (Bear in mind that the rabbis arrived at a similar conclusion regarding the artificial being known as the “golem,” for it too was incapable of human speech.)

“So what is it that defines our humanity?” asks Descartes—it is the presence of the immaterial mind, the soul, which interacts between the brain and the other organs of the body.

But this raises an important question regarding the nature of “personhood,” (to use the more modern terminology). At what point does a human being, cease being “human”? If we apply Cartesian philosophy to our question, it might very well be when our brain ceases to function adequately.

Could this apply to zombies as well? (Not that they care very much about our deep philosophical deliberations!)

Of course, this begs the question: Do zombies really exist? Or, are they merely mythical creatures created out from Hollywood?

In general, many mythic stories of primitive peoples have some sort of basis in fact. This principle would apply to zombies as well.

Ever since I watched that great movie, “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” I have been fascinated with this question. Harvard botanist, E. Wade Davis and Dr. Lamarque Douyon, Canadian-trained head of the Psychiatric Center in Port-au-Prince, have been trying to establish the basis for zombies, and according to them—they do exist![2] By the way, the book is much better than the film!

Haiti is a remarkable country; much of the contemporary folklore concerning zombies originates in Haiti—but there are legends about zombies that really go back to ancient history. Davis narrates the following story:

On a brilliant day in the spring of 1980, a stranger arrived at L’Estère marketplace in Haiti’s fertile Artibonite Valley. The man’s gait was heavy, his eyes vacant. The peasants watched fearfully as he approached a local woman named Angelina Narcisse. She listened as he introduced himself, then screamed in horror—and recognition. The man had given the boyhood nickname of her deceased brother Clairvius Narcisse, a name that was known only to family members and had not been used since his funeral in 1962. This incident was witnessed by more than 200 people!!

Well, it looks like the zombie can speak—and respond to human questions!!

You might wonder, “What could possibly turn a person into a zombie?” I have other questions as well, like—where did this man eat for the past 18 years, McDonald’s take out? What kind of music groups do zombies listen to? The Grateful Dead? (Sorry for the pun!)

Well, in both the movie and in real life, there is a coma-inducing toxin that comes from the voodoo priest (known as “bocors”), which slows the human metabolism. The sources for this toxin “textrodotoxin,” come from: New World Toad (Bufo marinus), and the Japanese “Puffer Fish,” which is considered to be a delicacy in Japan—after the toxin has been removed. The chemicals of these ingredients can affect both the heart and the nervous system. In Japan, thousands of miles from Haiti, those people who have accidentally consumed the puffer fish toxin behave—well, a lot like zombies—Japanese zombies, I might add.

Godzilla, move over!!

Experiments on rats have proven that the drug can induce a trancelike state as well. So, what does this all mean?

For one thing, zombies do not have an appetite for eating human brains. But there is some scientific evidence that certain drugs can induce the famous zombie-like state. So, would a person be guilty if he killed a zombie, according to Jewish law? Based upon the evidence these two scientists have shown, a “zombie” still remains within the category of a human being. Kabbalists believe there is a residue of the soul that lingers in the body after death. Could this explanation apply to zombies?

BEYOND THE QUESTION ABOUT ZOMBIES . . .

 

However, there is one lingering question regarding the nature of a “person” that is still a difficult to ascertain. Would a person still be considered “human,” even if s/he is in a chronic vegetative state? The case of Terry Schiavo is an excellent example of someone whom the State declared as “clinically dead,” while the family who loved her claimed that she was still “alive,” and even allegedly, “responsive.”

About six months after her life-support was turned off, and while she was also starved by order of the court, Discover Magazine produced a fascinating article that made special mention about people like Terry Schiavo, who suffer from the chronic vegetative condition.

 

Here is one part of the Discover Magazine article that I thought was especially interesting.

 

  • In the 1970s, when intensive care dramatically improved the survival of brain-injured patients, doctors found that if the body can be kept alive, the brain usually shakes off a coma—a totally unresponsive, eyes-closed state—within two to four weeks. At that point some people simply wake up, although they may be delirious and impaired. Others graduate to an in-between zone that New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center neurologist Fred Plum labeled the “persistent vegetative state” in 1972. At the time, among these patients, it seemed as if only “vegetative” brain functions like breathing, waking, and blinking were working. The higher functions commonly associated with consciousness seemed to be lost.

 

  • The first vegetative patient Schiff saw, the victim of a stroke, had no sign of consciousness. But when he ran into her three years later at a rehab center, he was shocked to find her awake and capable of talking to him.

 

  • The patients, doctors found, usually had widespread brain damage, but two injured areas were especially noteworthy: the thin outer rind, called the cortex, and the thalamus, a pair of walnut-size lumps in the brain’s central core, along with the neural fibers that connect these regions. The two areas are normally in constant cross talk, filtering and analyzing sensory data and making continual adjustments to attention and alertness. Lacking this chatter, someone in a vegetative state seems to be awake but not aware. They might moan and shift around, but they do not look toward a loud hand clap or pull away from a pinch. Given a feeding tube and basic medical care, someone might stay in this condition from days to decades, potentially until death. [3]

 

Well, as science progresses, it is only a matter of time before it can finally resolve this ethical question regarding the chronic vegetative state. Questions regarding the quality of life–even if such person should be revived from the chronic vegetative state–needs to be ethically weighed and considered by the family. If the patient has no quality of life, it is possible that reviving such a person may only cause indefinite suffering. Would this be something desirable? There is a season for everything under the heavens . . . sometimes we need to let go of the people we love. The dignity of the patient is something we must also take into consideration.

Obviously, the border separating consciousness from death is a question worthy of a Solomon to answer. In one of the symposiums I organized and participated in, I argued that ultimately—we may know a lot about the human body, but we still know very little about the nature of consciousness–where it begins and where it truly ends.

Lastly, here’s a piece of trivia that will probably surprise you: Oddly, even some of the Italian rabbis of the 17th century saw nothing wrong with kids having a little bit of Halloween fun–but that is a topic for another time.

====================

Notes:

[1] R. Descartes, Discourse in Method, c. 5.

 

[2] Time Magazine, “Zombies: Do They Exist?” Oct 17, 1983,
www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,952208,00.html – Similarto Medicine: Zombies: Do They Exist? – TIME – Time Magazine

 

[3] Discover Magazine, Kat McGowan, “Rediscovering Consciousness in People Diagnosed as ‘Vegetative,’” March 2011; http://discovermagazine.com/2011/mar/09-turning-vegetables-back-into-humans/article_view?searchterm=Terri%20Schiavo&b_start:int=3

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 September 2013

 

The Paradox of Bee Honey

Bumblebee (Photo: Wikipedia)

Updated March 6, 2017

We all love bee honey. No Rosh Hashanah meal would be complete without it. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, we find ourselves with a conundrum that has puzzled many rabbinic minds since the days of Late Antiquity. I am referring to the verse in Leviticus, “But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you” (Lev. 11:23). Maimonides explains, “Honey made from bees and hornets[1] is permitted. The reason is that the bees do not actually make the honey from their bodies. Rather, the bees bring the nectar into their bodies, and then it is collected into their mouths from herbs, which they regurgitate into their hive. The purpose of this enables them to provide themselves with food during the rainy season.”[2]

A klatz kashe in Yiddish is an obvious question that any fool can ask, “But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you” You  might counter: Bees have six feet and not four! Actually, bees use its two front arms for gathering pollen, and its four back legs for walking.

The Talmud in BT Bechorot 7a-b discusses an intriguing question: Can something pure come from an impure source? Or, do we say that whatever comes from an impure source, remains ceremonially impure? On the subject of bee-honey, Rashi offers a different exposition from Maimonides; according to him, “The bees bring into their bodies—they eat from the flowers of the tree, and from this they make honey in their intestines.” Scientifically speaking—Rashi’s exposition comes a bit closer to a modern scientific explanation. Perhaps Maimonides might consider Rashi’s exposition as an example of a permitted substance coming out of an unclean source, which the Sages ruled remains “unclean.” However, the science does not really support Maimonides’ explanation. However, according to Livescience.com:

  • Nectar is a sugary liquid that derives from flowers using a bee’s long, tube-shaped tongue and stored in its “crop.” While sloshing around in the crop, the nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage. Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid — nothing like the thick honey you use at the breakfast table. To get all that extra water out of their honey, bees set to work fanning the honeycomb with their wings in an effort to speed up the process of evaporation. When most of the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bee seals the comb with a secretion of liquid from its abdomen, which eventually hardens into beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months. [3]

Ultimately,  R. Sheishet in the Talmud differs from the view and follows R. Yaakov’s opinion that theoretically, were it not for explicit biblical passages permitting honey, bee honey too would have been prohibited as being the product from an unclean source. The passage he is alluding to is from the story of Samson (Judg. 14:6-9; and his famous riddle regarding bee honey to the Philistines.[4] R. Sheishet evidently felt ambivalent about his colleagues’ explanation as to how honey is produced and felt that given their lack of knowledge on this matter, he could find stronger footing in citing a biblical verse to prove his point.

There is an intriguing interpretation found in Philo of Alexandria, who explains on Leviticus 2:11: “Moreover, it also ordains that every sacrifice shall be offered up without any leaven or honey, not thinking it fit that either of these things should be brought to the altar. The honey, perhaps, because the bee which collects it is not a clean animal, inasmuch as it derives its birth, as the story goes, from the putrefaction and corruption of dead oxen, just as wasps spring from the bodies of horses.”  Was Philo thinking of the story regarding Samson, which describes what he discovered after he ripped the lion in half, “… he turned aside to look at the remains of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the lion’s carcass, and honey” (Judg. 14:8)?  Still Philo’s interpretation offers  a theoretical novelty—that is if one assumes the verse is speaking about bee honey. Although its food is edible for human consumption as seen in the Tanakh,  it is considered unworthy for the altar because of its unclean status. This position has no parallel in rabbinical literature. [5]

Among modern scholars, there is a fairly wide consensus that much of the honey referred to in the Bible was not bee honey at all, but is really a sweet syrup that is produced from the fruit of figs, grapes, carobs, and dates. Both kinds are still made in the East and are called dibis (honey) by the Arabs. Hence, the famous expression, “a land flowing with milk and honey” may not be referring to bee honey, but rather to a land blessed with ample fruit.

However, among modern scholars, there is a fairly wide consensus that much of the honey referred to in the Bible was not bee honey at all, but is really a sweet syrup that is produced from the fruit of figs, grapes, carobs, and dates. Both kinds are still made in the East and are called dibis (honey) by the Arabs. Hence, the famous expression, “a land flowing with milk and honey” may not be referring to bee honey, but rather to a land blessed with ample fruit.

 


[1] Maggid Mishnah points out that Maimonides derives his view from a Talmudic discussion where he follows the opinion of the Baraitha namely, that hornet honey wasps are “clean: and permitted for consumption. However, R. Shashet and R. Yaakob differ and regard both of these products as forbidden. Among medieval rabbinic scholars, Ramban and the Rosh take a stringent position on this matter. R. Moshe Isserseles rejects their opinion given the scarcity of hornet honey, thus making it a moot point) See  S.A. Y.D. 81:9.

[2] MT Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 3:3.

[3] http://www.livescience.com/37611-what-is-honey-honeybees.html

[4] For other references to bee honey in the Tanakh, see Ps. 19:11; Prov. 16:24.

[5] Spec. Laws 1:291-293.

Book Review: Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel Katz

 

Ghost Riders: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel Katz  —  Publisher: Berkley  (2016) ISBN: 1592409016–Price (Amazon) $18.00–Rated: 5*

Reviewed by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

There is hardly a day when we don’t read another story about a terrorist attack. For the most part, Radical Islam has demonstrated an almost uncanny ability to raise itself from the ashes of death. Whenever I read about the latest terrorist attack, I cannot help but think about Hercules’ battle with the Hydra. According to Greek myth, the Hydra was a nine-headed serpent. The middle head was immortal. As the creature ravaged the country of Argos, Hercules went out to destroy the creature. But no sooner did he cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more grew in its place. With the help of his nephew Iolaus, they managed to burn off the stumps of the other heads—all except for the middle head, which Hercules buried under a huge rock.

The Israeli battle against the forces of Radical Islam  are no less daunting than the battles of Hercules, for unlike Hercules–who lived in the realm of myth–Israel fights the Hydra in real time.

Samuel Katz’s books on Radical Islam always make an exciting read. His latest book, The Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism, from the first page onward reads like a modern day spy thriller.  Katz reminds us that the seventh of the eight Israeli wars was fought between October 1, 2000, and April 30, 2008. It was the longest protracted conflict in Israel’s brief and bloodstained history, and it was waged inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as inside most of Israel’s town and cities. The battlefields weren’t barren stretches of no-man’s-lands where two armies clashed. They were cafes and city buses, shopping malls, even children’s bed rooms . . .”

Katz reminds us that there was no master plan at work here. The sole purpose of the Intifada was to make Israel bleed  . . .and it worked. However, what distinguishes Israel from all other Western countries of the “civilized” world (I use  the term “civilized” much like Gandhi did when he defied Britain), is her ability to reinvent her strategies in dealing with this religious culture of death that threatens the world today.

This asymmetrical war demanded a new response. What did Israel do? Katz reveals that Israel assembled a Special Forces unit that functioned underground incognito called, Ya’mas– special undercover operations unit of the Israeli Border Police.  This group is the Israeli equivalent to CTU—this organization would make Jack Bauer proud. Ya’mas draws from a variety of ethnicities. Most applicants that apply for this unit typically end up getting rejected. They function so effectively in getting rid of terrorists, bomb makers, suicide bombers—their effectiveness is legendary. They are affectionately called “Duvdevan” (Hebrew: דובדבן ; lit. cherry) because of their elite  status.

During their operations, Duvdevan soldiers typically drive modified civilian vehicles and wear Arab civilian clothes as a disguise. Katz points out that some of the Israeli units would dress up like a beautiful woman—with clothes worthy of a Broadway play. Together, these soldiers go into the belly of the beast, giving the Palestinian leadership anxiety-attacks because they never knew who was going to attack them next! (Cf. pp. 16-19.) The unit can perform high-risk arrests, raids, targeted assassination, kidnappings and a range of other urban warfare operations.

The Ya’mas is a unit that never takes a day off; they operate in many places simultaneously, and they function autonomously independent of the normal Israeli army units.

I loved reading this book and if you want to see how a real counter terrorist unit functions, Samuel Katz’s Ghost Warriors is a must read! I rate it 5 stars.

*

Daniel Klein’s New Translation of Shadal Commentary on Exodus

Author: Daniel Klein(editor and trans.)  and Samuel David Luzzato: Shadal on Exodus: Samuel David Luzzatto’s Interpretation of the Book of Shemot . Kodesh Press, 2015ISBN-13: 978-0692522066. Price: $29.95. Rating ***** — Reviewer: Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — One of the most remarkable modern day exegetes of the 19th century was the Italian biblical commentator, Samuel David Luzzato, better known by many as Shadal (1800-1865). His approach to the contextual meaning of a passage is what Jewish exegetes call, “the peshat.” While most medieval exegetes make it a habit to cite other medieval exegetes, Shadal makes it a point to examine and critique many of the well-known Christian scholars’ expositions of his era, as well as other leading Jewish scholars of his day, e.g., Moses’ Mendelsohn’s Biur Commentary, which he criticizes over forty times!

Many Orthodox scholars—past and present—might look askance at the various sources Shadal brings into his commentary. Shadal’s list of non-Jewish scholars included, Nicholas de Lyre (1270-1339), Samuel Bochart (1599-1667), Heinrich Gesenius (1786-1842), who wrote one of the most important Hebrew-Chaldean lexicons of all times, and a list of many scholars. Some learned rabbinical scholars might think that bringing the words of the German anti-Semitic scholar Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791) into a discussion on the Torah could certainly seem inappropriate and even disrespectful. Still, Shadal treated him and others with a modicum of intellectual respect even though some of the German attitudes were truly contemptuous when it came to granting Jews their civil rights. For today’s critical age, Shadal teaches us to be open-minded when considering the truth of an interpretation.

A reader cannot help but be impressed with Shadal’s mastery of the classical literature and cites Roman Diodorus of Sicily, Aristotle, Josephus and Philo of Alexandria as effortlessly as he does the Talmud.

One of the more endearing qualities Shadal demonstrates is way he cites the views of his students in clarifying an interpretation of a biblical text. Lesser men would take credit for other’s interpretive insights, but Shadal takes great pride in inspiring a new generation of Torah scholars (cf. pp.63-64, p. 87). One of his favorite students, Rabbi Abraham Hai Mainster, is cited sixteen times in his Exodus commentary! Yet Shadal could also be caustic and dismissive of other Jewish scholars’ interpretations, as he was with Moses Mendelsohn’s commentary (p. 37 on Exodus 1:9 (p. 88).

Commenting on Exodus 4:9, Shadal cites a well-known popular view that Moses was a chronic stutterer (Ibn Ezra), but Rashbam thinks this is a baseless and that, “This idea is not contained in the words of the Tannaim, and one need not mind the irreligious books.” Actually, this view is found in the Peshitta and some of the early midrashim.[1] Shadal added further, “Moses was not fluent in the Egyptian language, but this, too, is truly unlikely since Moses had been raised in Egypt and in the king’s house.” (p. 73). Ibn Ezra notes that “God would help him annunciate words that he had difficulty articulating.” Shadal scoffs at Ibn Ezra’s remark:

If so, let Ibn Ezra show us which letters are not found in the passages that Moses spoke to the entire people—apart from the fact that it is blasphemous to say that God would choose as His messenger, who would give the Torah to his people, a man who would have to choose the words that he could pronounce (p. 74). [2]

Shadal offers a different explanation, namely, he lacked eloquence and was unskilled in public speaking. While this is a plausible reading, Shadal did not consider the possibility that the problem was not that he was not fluent in the Egyptian tongue (which is very unlikely considering he was raised there since he was an infant). Rather, the problem was his lack of fluency in the Hebrew language! He spoke with a very heavy accent, which might have been difficult for native-born Israelites to understand!

Concerning the identity of the Hebrew midwives (Exod. 1:15), Shadal mentions a debate among ancient and modern commentators as to the identities of the midwives; some think they were Egyptian or alternatively, Hebrew. The former think that it is unlikely that the Hebrew midwives would contribute toward the genocide of their own people by deliberately murdering their male offspring. Shadal suggests a third view, namely, the midwives were not Egyptian, but were another Semitic people who lived in Goshen who assisted Pharaoh. Among modern biblical scholars, W.H.C Propp concurs with Shadal.[3] (This reviewer finds the contrarian interpretation more contextually convincing.)

I was curious to see how Shadal would answer the famous question as to how many Israelites left Egypt. Here is a brief quotation how he handles that conundrum:

The Sages said the Israelite women bore six at a time (Exodus Rabbah 1:7) , and ancient writers attest that the Nile waters increased fertility and that the Egyptian women usually bore twins or even more than two at a time. Aristotle wrote, “Frequently and in many lands, women bear twins as for instance in Egypt especially (History of Animals, Book 7:4).

Shadal attempts to show other examples from Pliny and others to prove there were approximately 2 million people or more who left Egypt. It was here I referred back to Shadal’s own commentary on Genesis 36:43, where he makes the point of stating that word אֶלֶף (ʾelep) can also mean “clan,” family, or “military unit” (cf. 1 Sam. 10:19). This could suggest that the number that left Egypt was not 600,000 men of military age, but 600 military units—a far smaller number! Alternatively, the number may be more symbolic (Cassuto) or pertain to a later time when a census was taken from the entire nation once it had settled; in such a scenario, future generations may have felt that they—literally—had emblematically participated in the Exodus from Egypt.

When considering the naturalistic attitude Shadal has concerning miracles, imagining an army of 600,000 people dissipates once we render elep as clan—especially when the Egyptian army that took on the Hittites in the battle of Kadesh was only 20,000 soldiers! Nobody at that time in history had a standing army of 600,000 except for possibly the ancient Chinese. This interpretation seems more plausible than Shadal’s. It makes biblical text more understandable without wondering how the Sinai Peninsula could possibly hold 2.5 million people without becoming a bio-hazard from the human waste products alone! In addition, 2.5 million people could never have crossed the Sea of Reeds in merely one night.

In any event, despite Shadal’s criticism of Maimonides, the two thinkers share a similar world-view regarding natural religion and the divine unfoldment of the miraculous. In his examination of the plague of blood (Exod. 7:19), Shadal reluctantly approves of Eichorn’s opinion noting that all of the ten plagues were:

. . .natural phenomena that commonly occurred in Egypt ever year, but that Moses’ intention was to make Pharaoh understand that it is the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, Who activated these phenomena, and that He was the Ruler of all the earth” (p. 103).

But Shadal adds that the effects of the river’s bloody appearance was more onerous:

. . . novel in its ill-effects, to the extent that all the fish within it died. . .This is proof that water’s foul odor and quality were more intense than in other years and departed from the course of nature, as if the water had actually turned to blood” (p. 104).

Modern biblical scholars subscribing to religious naturalism take a somewhat different approach, pointing out that it is the intensity and the synchronicity of the plague that the Torah teaches is miraculous. Regarding the Nile River turning into blood, it is important to differentiate between Upper Egypt (the southern portion that is mountainous) and Lower Egypt (the northern portion that is flat). A heavy inundation from the Ethiopian plateau’s earth produced the reddish color in the Nile, whose soil was full of reddish-colored microorganisms called flagellates, turned the Nile blood red, undrinkable and foul smelling.

The smiting of the firstborn in Egypt is of special interest. Shadal dismisses the view of Eichorn who conjectured that a pestilence affecting young men was responsible for killing the Egyptian males. Shadal agrees with the converted Ernst Rosenmuller’s view that such a pestilence would not single out the Egyptian firstborn in particular (p. 146). Shadal’s citations of other commentators—Jewish and Christian—sometimes suggest a more interesting alternative to the view Shadal proposes. Some modern biblical scholars think the firstborn of Egypt might have died from contaminated produce reserved for the firstborn.

Shadal did not consider the possibility that bekhor can sometimes also mean “excellent” (par. to ʿelyon, “highest,” Ps. 89:28[27]), and denoting the superlative (elative), hence with respect to Exodus 12:29, it could denote the “flower of Egypt.”

It is a shame Shadal did not consider a more daring but naturalistic interpretation. Citing Rashi, the Russian iconoclastic thinker V. Velikovsky makes the canny observation, “Thus at midnight, the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 12:29) must be read “all the select of Egypt,” as one would say, ‘all the flower of Egypt’ or “all the strength of Egypt.’ “Israel is my chosen: I shall let fall all the chosen of Egypt.” Natural death would usually choose the weak, the sick, the old. The earthquake is different; the walls fall upon the strong and the weak alike. Actually the Midrashim say that “as many as nine tenths of the inhabitants have perished.”[4]

Proof for the scriptural basis in my opinion for Velikovsky’s novel reading can be found in Psalm 114, which could be read as an intrabiblical interpretation of the events leading to the Exodus—one which involved considerable seismic activity:

When Israel came forth from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from an alien people,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel, God’s domain.
The sea saw and fled;
the Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams;
the hills, like lambs.

Why was it, sea, that you fled?
Jordan, that you turned back?
Mountains, that you skipped like rams?
You hills, like lambs?

Tremble, earth, before the Lord,
before the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into pools of water,
flint into a flowing spring.

(Ps 114:1–8)

In short, I would highly recommend to any reader Daniel Klein’s wonderful new translation of Shadal. This scholar was a very original exegete, but what makes him so compelling and fascinating is the fact that he encouraged all of his students to think for themselves and not merely accept something because of tradition. This approach certainly applies to anyone reading Shadal’s works as well. Creating exciting dialectical discussion with the commentaries is really what Torah study ought to be all about. Shadal’s commentary is full of many original interpretations that will stimulate the mind and heart. Students of Torah everywhere will enjoy Shadal’s Torah commentary, as we look forward to the publication of future volumes. Klein’s introduction is quite informative, but for the purpose of this review, we have only examined a few of the noteworthy comments regarding the Exodus.

[1] L. Ginzberg cites Midrash Yashar Shemot 131b–132b, and, in abridged form, Dibre ha-Yamim 3–4. In ShR 1.26 it is Jethro who advised the test with the burning coal (Legends of the Jews, pp. 482-483)

[2] Shadal’s exposition begs a more subtle question, namely, why does he handle Ibn Ezra so sarcastically? The answer is because that is how Ibn Ezra sometimes spoke of rabbis who came up with interpretations he viewed as nonsensical. For example, in the Book of Genesis 29:17, we read that Leah’s eyes were “tendered eyed” רַכּוֹת (rakkot) and he cites the view of Rabbanu Ephraim who thought that the word רַכּוֹת is written defectively, and the adjective should have been written, אֲרוּכוֹת (arûkot = “long”). Ibn Ezra mockingly replied, that the name “Efraim minus the letter א in his name spells, “parim” (= bull), i.e., only someone who is bullheaded fool would come up with a ridiculous interpretation like that! For this reason, Shadal decided to give Ibn Ezra a taste of his own medicine!

[3] Propp, W. H. C., Exodus 1–18: a new translation with introduction and commentary (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), Vol. 2., p.137

[4] V. Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952), pp. 33-34.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, California.  He may be contacted viamichael.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 U.S.)

 

Purim Then and Purim Now

 

One of the interesting facets of the Purim story is the tradition of giving a Purim Torah talk during the holiday. “Purim Torah” is a humorous and often satirical way of using biblical and Talmudic narratives in a manner that is creative and imaginative—but always funny, if not carnivalesque. Purim Torah expositions may be simple or elaborate.

On one occasion I received from a friend a Purim Torah written as if it came from a page of the Talmud dealing with the debate Israelis had whether they should leave Gaza or not—replete with all the names of the political leaders written in classic Aramaic script! Like a good old April Fool’s joke, only afterwards do you  do you realize that you have been taken by surprise.

My Purim story began a couple of days ago when I had a conversation with a good friend who runs an electronic Jewish publishing company named Alex. As we were conversing, we started talking about the Purim story and attempted to find parallels to today’s drama concerning Israel and Iran, President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The entire conversation involved considerable tongue-in-cheek humor.

Despite the comical way the Purim story is narrated, its message is deadly serious. The Jewish people have always been a vulnerable minority to immoral leaders—past and present.

My friend Alex began his exposition of Purim with the incident of Mordechai and Haman. When Haman became the viceroy, he insisted that everyone bow down to him, yet as we read in the Book of Esther, that Mordechai refused to pay any kind of homage to Haman (Esther 3:1-9). One reason given by the Midrash suggests that Haman was wearing an idol around his neck and Mordechai refused to bow lest he guilty of idolatry.[1] This might suggest that Mordechai and Haman were enemies long before Haman became the Prime Minister of Persia.

Ibn Ezra raises the obvious question: How could Mordechai endanger himself and the Jewish people for this breach of etiquette? Surely, he could have requested that the Queen transfer him to another part of the King’s Gate so that he would not run into Haman again! Alex deduced that Netanyahu behaved a lot like Mordechai, while Haman behaved much like Obama, whose Administration indicated there could be a serious chilling effect if Netanyahu wins the election that could affect Israel’s security, or the Palestinian quest for Statehood that the State Department might endorse.[2]  According to some Arab and European  newspapers, it was rumored that Obama threatened to shoot down any Israeli planes attempting to bomb Iran[3], a point that the State Department officially denied.[4]

Of course  the analogy breaks down. Obama is not threatening to kill eight million people in Israel. True, his error in judgment could indirectly lead to that result, but the real threat comes from the heirs of ancient Persia—Iran!

Perhaps Netanyahu ought to be compared to Queen Esther, who at one point breaks with the royal protocol to meet with the King in order to save her people’s lives. (I could just imagine Netanyahu dressing up in a Queen Esther Purim costume.) This exposition has some potential validity. Netanyahu also felt that the situation demanded that he go and speak on behalf of his people before the President’s agreement with Iran became a fait accompli.

Some people I have spoken with suggest President Obama might resemble the Persian King Achashverosh. In his naiveté, the king believed everything that Haman had spoken to him about the problematic Jews. This comparison is striking because President Obama appears willing to accept the Iranian claim that “using nukes goes against the teachings of Islam” [5]  despite the fact the Ayatollah Khamenei has threatened “to wipe Israel off the map.”  Former Clinton envoy Dennis Ross candidly said  that the Obama administration needs “to explain why the deal it is trying to conclude actually will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons for the lifetime of the agreement and afterwards.” [6] Yes, Congress has a right to know, as do our Arab allies.[7]

Should we take these threats seriously? If you’re a small country like Israel, whose memory of the Holocaust is still fresh—you must take these threats seriously. One does not need nuclear centrifuges to make peaceful electricity, but one certainly needs it to make a nuclear bomb. This is alone serious enough of a problem for us to have grave doubts—the same kind of doubts that the Arab countries have expressed.

One of the 20th century’s premiere Modern Orthodox thinkers, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, was quoted as once saying  “A madman rose and articulated his intentions to destroy the Jewish people. The miracle was that we didn’t ignore him, we didn’t excuse him, and we didn’t seek to reinterpret him. The miracle was that we actually believed him and sought to do something about it, The Purim story teaches us to recognize that we have been in this situation before. So it was in days of old, so it will be today.”[8]

This exposition resonates with what we need to remember as Jews, we are sometimes oblivious to the world around us. We cannot imagine why the anti-Semites wish to destroy us for being different—whether in the past, or in the present day.

As of today’s writing, Haman’s successor, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was reportedly hospitalized and is listed in critical condition. How intriguing! Stalin also died on Purim in 1953.[9]

A Purim synchronicity? Possibly.

The last custom of the Purim holiday is to imbibe enough wine so we do not know the distinction between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman.” It would seem that for many American Jews, they cannot distinguish between a hero like Netanyahu who is trying to warn the Western world—along with most of the Sunni countries of the Middle East, against signing an inferior agreement with Iran. The political landscape has left many of us confused. We have become so intoxicated with the good life in the United States, we can no longer think what is in our people’s own best interest. The Holocaust seems for most Jews like a distant memory, as are its lessons. We tend to put too much trust in politicians from both parties rather than take responsibility for the situation of our brethren in Israel.

 

[1] Esther Rabba 7:6.

[2] http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.639832

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/03/02/how-a-rumor-about-shooting-down-israeli-jets-caught-fire-in-conservative-media/ cf. http://english.pravda.ru/news/world/04-03-2015/129960-obama_israel_fighters-0/ See also

[4] http://www.timesofisrael.com/white-house-denies-obama-threatened-to-down-israeli-jets/

[5] See the Obama video at http://www.westernjournalism.com/obama-dont-worry-iran-nuke-religion/#vvzO7R2gePAkrv04.97

[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2015/03/05/dennis-ross-worried-arab-leaders-panicky/

[7] http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/26170/Default.aspx

[8] http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/02/25/why-religious-jews-see-a-parallel-between-the-netanyahu-obama-rift-on-iran-and-the-bibles-book-of-esther/

[9] http://unitedwithisrael.org/soviet-jews-saved-from-stalins-genocidal-plans-on-purim/

If Looks Could Kill…

Much has been said about the Netanyahu’s alleged “breach of etiquette” regarding his plans to speak to Congress concerning the Iranian nuclear quest for nuclear weaponry. President Obama is obviously feels that his negotiations may (pardon the pun) “go up in smoke” if the United States imposes greater sanctions on the Iranian mullahcracy. In fact, one senior Obama advisor put it in the blunt terms:

  • “Netanyahu spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” [1]   

Regarding “breach of etiquette,” let me point out that Obama has done this on several occasions with respect to Israel. For example, in March 2013, Israel invited the American President to speak before the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament). Past presidents such as Bill Clinton (in 1994) and George W. Bush (in 2008) politely accepted the offer while they were serving their presidency.

However, President Obama declined and chose to speak to some Israeli students from some of the Israeli universities.  Now, based on the political etiquette civilized nations demonstrate to one another throughout the year, you ought to be asking some simple but direct questions:

  • Why President Obama’s rejection of Israel’s invitation was not considered a breach of etiquette?  Not only did he deliberately slight PM Netanyahu, more importantly—he insulted the entire country of Israel.
  • Why did he choose instead to address the students of Israel?
  • More importantly, does Obama have any respect for Israel’s democratic process?
  • Why are some Jews in this country so willing to overlook Obama’s shabby behavior in Israel but are so willing to heap scorn on Netanyahu for insulting the President by speaking about a topic concerning Israel’s welfare and nuclear?

In President Obama’s speech to the Israeli students, he even made a joke about not speaking to the Knesset on Israeli television:  “Any drama between me and my friend, Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet (an Israeli comedy show”).

Frankly, I am amazed the President went to Israel at all, but while he was there—not only did he insult the chosen democratically elected Israeli leader, he snubbed the entire country.

In my opinion, this is hardly the first time the President has shown a lack of etiquette when it comes to international behavior. His conspicuous absence from the French funeral after the terrorist attack on the  French journalists and the four Jews murdered by Islamic gunmen showed  a complete disinterest in an the world community. Why do Jews in this country accept insulting behavior as if it is perfectly normal when it comes to belittling the Jewish people and Israel?

Then again, at the seventieth year Auschwitz commemoration, not only didn’t the President show up to express the importance of remembering the Holocaust and its legacy—he didn’t send the Vice President or the Secretary of State. When we consider how the Iranian mullahcracy is threatening to wipe Israel off the map in one mighty attack, don’t you think Obama’s presence alone would have sent a powerful message to the Iranians that the United States will not tolerate any threat to destroy Jews living in Israel again?

So, as you can see, I have some very serious problems with the President’s lack of etiquette when it comes to the Jewish people—and the nation state of Israel.[2]

I hope you do too.

Lastly, the President’s official promised there would be a cost exacted if Netanyahu dares to speak to Congress.

Is this how allies speak to one another?

It is time for us to have a reality check.



[1]http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/23/1359691/-U-S-Official-Netanyahu-Spat-In-Our-Face-And-There-Will-Be-A-Price

[2] Beyond Israel, President Obama has frequently broken the rules of etiquette in many international settings. For example, “As Barack Obama appeared in the home of Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon of Burma, the U.S. president planted a platonic, but very affectionate, kiss on her cheek (to which she appeared to slightly recoil in embarrassment). This act has surprisingly elicited little or no comment in the global press thus far – quite unusual since public displays of affection represent a grave breach of custom in virtually all Asian countries”  http://www.ibtimes.com/obama-suu-kyi-forbidden-kiss-889606;  “President Obama was caught committing a funeral faux pas — snapping a selfie during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron,” wrote the New York Daily News. “The threesome smiled as the Scandinavian beauty held her smartphone out to capture the moment but Michelle Obama sat at a distance, as if in disapproval of the digital display.” And the list goes on…

A Contrast in Leadership: King Abdullah and President Obama

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America’s Deflating Foreign Policy (Revised)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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