Sunday, October 30, 2005

Protocols Revisited...Mind Recharged...Horizens Widened

As I mentioned in my previous posting, I'm participating in an international conference marking the centennial of the publication of the 'Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.' The conference is bein convened by the Center for Millenial Studies at Boston University and the Center for Judaic Studies at BU.

The idea for the conference was my friend's, Professor Richard Landes, who founded the Center for Millenial Studies. Richard is an extraordinarily gifted, creative and insightful scholar whose range of learning always leaves me stunned. One of the World's leading Jewish historians recently told me that Richard's scholarly corpus will set the agenda and serve as a focal point for medieval studies for the next twenty years. The great thing is that he shares his ideas and I find that I learn more and think more widely after a few days in his company than I do all year long. Talk about interdisciplinary. A case in point was his opening paper about the chronicles, in which he ranged from Plato to Yeats and was able in 30 minutes to distill the problems of language, rhetoric and politics that undergird the protocols and developed a fetching theory as to why they still exert their hold on Muslims, and on the political Right and Left.

A central point, which has been somewhat controversial but whose historical centrality I have come to appreciate is the importance of apocalyptic and millenial expectation as a motive force. It is true that this idea is much debated. However, one should bear in mind that a century ago scholars thought that Jewish mysticism was so much rubbish.

In general, the conference has brought together a very high level, creative group of scholars from all over the world. It's so refreshing to get to think out of the box, on subjects with which I don't often deal. Israel has a long way to go when it comes to inter-disciplinary work and cross-fertilization.

All in all, a good reason for leaving Israel for a week.

Friday, October 21, 2005

And the Poison Keeps on Flowing...

I had wanted to write about the upcoming Edah/Kenes Lavie Conference. Maybe on Monday...

Meanwhile, Nehemiah Strassler is the latest one to weigh in to demonize the 'settlers'. What's ironic is that I'm in the middle of preparing a paper entitled, 'The Devil's Hoofs: The Medieval Roots of the Protocols,' that I'll be delivering next Sunday at a conference at Boston University marking a century since the publication of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. And here comes Strassler and shows that the dynamic behind the Protocols is alive and well, as he blames the New Jew, the 'Settler' for all of Israel and the World's woes.

Now I remember why I decided to give up reading the newspaper on Shabbat.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Modern Orthodoxy for Whom? In Anticipation of Edah/Kenes Lavie

It's Only Jews....

Headline From Haaretz after Yom Tov:

U.S. urges Israel to ease up on Palestinians

While affirming Israel's right to self-defense, the U.S. State Department on Monday chided Israel for imposing travel restrictions in the West Bank in the wake of a terror attack that killed three Israelis. In a message also delivered privately by Lieutenant General William Ward, the U.S. security envoy in the region, the State Department said that it condemned the attacks but continued to ask the Israeli government "to take steps to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people."

I"m speechless. At least they waited for Shiva to end. Oh, I forgot. There was no shiva.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Death at our Windows

Yesterday. three young Jews were brutally murdered for the crime of trying to get a ride home. One was recently married. One was a girl doing her national service. One was a fifteen year old boy. They were murdered by Palestinian 'militants.' They were murdered because, despite the warnings of security forces, the convenience of the Palestinian population trumps the security of Israeli Jews in every situation. You see,.there used to be soldiers at the Gush Etzion Junction. There used to be a restriction on private Palestinian cars on Rte 60. They were removed to support Abu Mazen, the commander of the group that this morning revels in its success, the Al Aksa Brigades of the Fatah. [Fatah means 'struggle' for Jihad in Arabic.]

Yesterday, the army discovered an unexploded Kassam rocket near the grave of Lilli Sharon. That's deep inside Israel. The rocket came from 'liberated' Gaza.

Yet, I am not surprised at all of this. I didn't expect anything different from the Palestinians. This is not because I demonize them. It's because I respect the fact fact that they have clear, principled ideas backed by centuries of Islamic and Arab history and tradition. For us it's a murderous, persecutory tradition. That, however, is beside the point. Long term collective memory works in allowing people to survive and thrive.

I am sick at the abject stupidity of the leadership of my country. I am sick of the ignorant panderings of the uneducated communisants (to steal phrase from Raymond Aron) of the so-called elites of my country. I am hurt and dismayed at the detached 'those poor people' attitude of too many bloggers (religious and non-religious) who live within the 1967 borders. I am no less hurt by the extremists who insist of reviving their credentials as messianic visionaries on the blood of these kids.

Tme to go out to the Sukkah and place ourselves in God's protection. (Provided, that is, that it doesn't rain.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

סליחה ומחילה

Blogging is, by definition, a somewhat 'no holds barred' enterprise. True, some people comment. Most don't. Hence, one never knows how one's readers react to what you've written.

In that light, and as the day winds down and the qedusha of Yom Kippur descends upon Eretz Yisrael, I'd like to ask forgiveness from anyone whom I've offended in any way, just as I freely forgive anyone who I feel offended me.

May HaQadosh Barukh, hu accept our prayers and seal us in the Book of Life for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

גמר חתימה טובה לכל בית ישראל בכל מקום שהם

Monday, October 10, 2005

'To Confuse Satan"

In a sort of ironic way, this year's study of the Laws of Blowing the Shofar ended up having an oddly contemporary resonance. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a-16b) says that we blow the Shofar both sitting and standing (actually we always stand, but that's another discussion) in order to confuse Satan (כדי לערבב השטן). Why do that? In order to prevent him from prosecuting Israel before the Divine Tribunal on the Day of Judgement.

Now the best known explanation is provided by Tosafot (s.v. כדי, quoting the eleventh century work, the Arukh by R. Nathan of Rome). According to this, the extra Shofar blasts are meant to lure Satan into thinking that the Messiah is coming and the he's about to be put out of business (as Prosecutor and Angel of Death). This, concludes Tosafot, will prevent him from making his case against Israel. (The entire issue is discussed by B. M. Lewin in and appendix to Otzar HaGeonim on Rosh Hashanah.)

Anyway, this past Yom Tov I noticed Rashi's comment, which made me sit up with a start. Rashi (ad loc.) writes: כשישמע ישראל מחבבין את המצוות-מסתתמין דבריו. 'When he hears that Israel so love the mitzvot- his words are blocked.' No eschatology. No End of Days. Simply the power of sincere devotion to mitzvot, will stop Satan (whoever he is) in his tracks.

There is tremendous power and empowerment in modest, sincere observance of mitzvot. There are those whom it warms and alot of people whom it terrifies. It's almost Yom kippur, so suffice it to say that they know who they are. The important point, though, is that in order to have ths effect the observant community cannot, must not withdraw from the larger society. We specifically blow the second set of blasts on the Shofar so that they may be heard as widely as possible.

The most important lesson for the coming year, after the traumas of the last, is to go about our lives and our businesses, living Torah in the world. Is that a pitch for Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. Absolutely. More than that, it's a cry for keeping up the process of making Israel Jewish.

More Good News

The awarding of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics to Prof. Yisrael (Robert) Aumann is a source of great nahas to Israelis generally, and those of us of the Dati-Leumi/Modern Orthodox variety. Ben Chorin (who knows him), describes him as 'a heimishe yid originally from New York and a brother-in-law of Rav Shlesinger from Shaalvim. He is a talmid chakham who has written some very nice game-theory-related chiddushim on various sugyas..'

As to certain quarters who think that Dati'im don't contribute anything to Israel...

Good News!!!

Not an hour passed since I posted my remarks about the Lulav situation and Ma'ariv reported that the 'rabbis' (a blessing on their heads) are urging communities to but one Lulav and are considering an outright ban on extortionately priced Palm Fronds.

ברוך שכיוונתי לגדולים

Where Are You Rabban Gamliel?

In the Summer of 1974, the Rov learned Massekhet Keritot during his six week Summer shi'ur.
As my havrusa and I reached the end of the first pereq, he started getting all excited and announced (not a little sarcastically): 'This is the Jewish Studies Mishnah!' At the time I was not really into academic Jewish Studies (or the polemics it engendered, especially at YU), so I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. So, for better or for worse I put down my Brigham's Ice Cream Soda and asked him what he meant.

The cognoscenti will no doubt realize that he was referring to the Mishnah (1, 7) that describes how Rabban Gamliel managed to knock the bottom out of the price of bird-sacrifices when the price had gotten outrageous. This Mishnah has been cited (both appropriately and inappropriately) to show that Hazal were sensitive to the economic needs of the times. (IOW, he was sort of a modern day,
previous Gerrer Rebbe).

Anyway, I've been thinking about this while the papers have been reporting the imminent lack of Lulavim, which may be partially alleviated as of this morning (This is thanks to our charming Egyptian friends. Why can't we grow these ourselves and the hell with El Arish?)

So what's my point? People can't afford NIS160 x child for a basic set of Arba'ah Minim (never mind the Hiddur people. Of course, I always like to quote an Essrog merchant who told me, in all candor, that 'there is no such thing as a $200 Essrog, only a $200 customer). Why haven't our feckless rabbinical leaders come out and a) announced that no one should buy more than one set per family or b) shuls should pool their resources and buy for the community (like we did in the Old Country- atopic I think I'd like to write about someday)? While I support the need of merchants to make a living, there is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with trading in ritual items. Certainly Rabban Gamliel would have been very upset to learn about the 'single importer, who has managed to corner the local market, is set to charge five times the normal wholesale price for the palm fronds used on Succot.'

Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?


In all modesty (uhum), I want to thank Karen Miller aka Modern Orthodox Woman (who recently provided much needed reinforcement to the ranks of MO/Anglos here in the Holy Land) for her kind review.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A (Partial) Response to Rich Brownstein

Richard Brownstein has just posted a long, thoughtful, passionate and (I assume) personally cathartic rumination on the Disengagement. He has properly, and respectfully, highlighted some of the abuses that the process generated (though he's totally ignored the less than shabby way that the refugees have been treated). He has also, I must admit, cogently presented the case in favor of the withdrawal from Gaza. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly that the continued rule over Palestinians is a key issue in quieting down the conflict.

He does not, however, do such a good job with the arguments against.

Allow me to react to these very briefly:

1) Politically, there is no question that internationally Israel has benefited from disengagement.... We have seen a significant post-disengagement dividend: a new and hopeful dialogue with Pakistan, Indonesia, etc., as well as the Red Cross. The habitually hostile European Union is now pressuring the Palestinian Authority to rein in terrorism, secure their streets, and show that they have the ability to be a sovereign nation. Indisputably, disengagement has dramatically improved the efforts of Israeli Foreign Ministry. It may be temporary, but Israel's international position has improved dramatically.

In the world of realpolitik, words are worthless unless backed up by both territory and self-interest. Neither the US (and a fortiori the European Union) can be trusted to maintain their pro-Israel posture. The latter will certainly fold first, as it gives in to a powerful trend of 'Eurabization.' Even the US, though, will only do what its electorate and/or its interests dictate. Let me just invoke the solemn promise of President Eisenhower that if Egypt should ever block the straits of Tiran, that would be viewed as a legitimate causus belli by the United States. As Michael Oren carefully documents, the exact opposite occurred. The World loves Israel when it concedes. [In this connection, it might be well to revisit Chesnoff's book, If Israel Lost the War.]

2) According to former player Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, disengagement has sent the message to the Palestinians that terror works. Netanyahu’s "terror works" theory has some popular support, but didn’t even manage to persuade his own party. Most, like me, think it’s a red herring.

In his recent series of articles and books, Prof. Bernard Lewis has pointed out that Arab-Islamic culture reacts to perceived weakness with contempt for the weak. Hence, they have sincerely declared the withdrawal from Gaza to be a victory. I know this could be taken as racist. The truth is, however, that the real racism is found among those who dismiss the powerful, self-sufficient world-view of Islam (and there is such a thing, despite the wide variation that obtains in the Muslim World), thinking that Arabs must think like other westerners.
The frustration of the Palestinians at not being able to kill more Jews is due to the GSS and the Army.

As for the Likud Central Committee, the only thing they proved was that their jobs and Pork Barrels are more important to them than their beliefs. Recall, Zeev Jabotinsky supported Netanyahu.

3) On the issues of Democracy and its abuse, I defer to Ben Chorin (here and here). Josh Ragen's article is also relevant.

4) Holocaust Imagery

Some of the damage done by the Shoah has been less than obvious. For example, the Holocaust forever changed the definition of Jewish martyrdom, and turne it upside down. In the present instance, it eviscerated the memory of Jewish Persecution. In other words, the Nazis managed to visit upon the Jews of Europe and North Africa every form of humiliation and persecution that they had previously known. To that they added extermination. The result was to make anything short of Auschwitz pale by comparison. In addition, because these 'lesser' deeds were in the context of Auschwitz, invoking them meant invoking Auschwitz. This, in turn, creates a serious dilemma for protesters. If you don't protest you're in trouble, and f you do you open yourself to inappropriate use of the Holocaust. Now, as an historian I would respond to the expulsion of the Jews from England, Provence, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Navarre, Savoy, the Papal States, Russia, part of the Pale and Kentucky. Unfortunately, most people don't know Jews lived there, much less were expelled.

The Holocaust was not only gaschambers and extermination camps. The Holocaust was also all of the above - the degraded Jew, the evicted Jew, the humiliated Jew, the uprooted Jew. The Jew who believed that in the national home of the Jewish people he would besafe.

5) Peace is a process. I know it sounds Pollyanna-ish. I know it stinks of Oregon leftist. And I know that my opinions are in the minority amongst observant Jews. But I believe peace is a process that started in 1948 and will succeed within 5 years. It will have taken two generations of Arabs to understand that Israel is here to stay. Sooner or later the Palestinians might just realize that, if massive Arab armies supplied with billions of dollars of the most sophisticated Soviet tanks and fighters could not destroy us, Palestinians will not fulfill their anachronistic, genocidal dreams with homemade and smuggled hand rockets. And I believe -- contrary to most -- that the catastrophe of Oslo was necessary in order to reveal the real intentions of the Palestinians and, more importantly, to relieve political pressure on Israel. With or without Oslo, the Arabs would have found another venue to unleash a terror that resulted from Oslo, killing thousands. Without Oslo we probably would not have the de facto final border called the security barrier. Without the spurned opportunities offered to them at Oslo, the Palestinians would still be seen in the world as the underdogs. Oslo changed world opinion revealing the Palestinian leadership to be bloodthirsty terrorists and incompetent political hacks.

I agree with his evaluation of the Oslo War. The rest is wishful thinking. The Muslim world cannot, I repeat, cannot make peace with a kafir state ruling over waqf (loosely defined). Period. Such a thing is nothing less than blasphemy against Allah. Does Islam have to teach that? I happen to think so. Even if there are other voices, they are insignificant. The West, however, prefers to believe that pressuring the Jews will take pressure off of it. Do we need to live on our sword? I'm afraid so. The alternative, in this world, is worse.

7) Rich Bornstein is a religious Jew. He is an obviously intelligent and perceptive person. How he was able to write his essay without any mention of the Kulturkampf that made it possible, is beyond me. I've written enough about it here. I need to get back to writing for Brill, not Blog.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Yet Another Loser

Intellectuals (pseudo and not), can be the most vicious, idiotic, and arrogant creatures on earth. Paul Johnson documented that fact. George Orwell is reputed to have said that 'some ideas so silly that only an intellectual could believe them.'

Among ourselves we are 'blessed' with an unending flow of such self-important, self-centered individuals. You know, the type that doesn't argue its point from data. It just calls you names for being too stupid to see the light.

Today's winner of the George Orwell Intellectual Spite Award (and the competition was rough) goes to
Yoel Marcus. (Did it ever strike you that so many objects of Orwell's barbs work at Das Land ?)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Obiter Cogitata

Rosh Hashanah was, Thank God, extraordinarily beautiful and moving. I think I'm going to need a bit of time to reduce the salient thoughts that came tome to writing. In the interim, herwith are some varied items that came across my desk before and after the day. (I'm not going to get involve with the degree to which Rosh Hashanah is a Hag.)

1) Dr. Rivka Teitz Blau has written a thoughtful and moving piece on where american Orthodoxy has been and where it might be going.

2) Professors Avi Sagi and Yedidyah Stern are two of the most prominent religious academicions in Israel. Erev Rosh Hashanah they publish an essay on the dangers, the necessity and the possibility of messianism. I will admit that I agree with a lot of the points that they raise. Nevertheless, there are not a few to which I take exception:

A) The idea that the totality of opposition to the destruction of Gush Qatif came from 'messianic quarters' is not only incorrect, it is a distortion. Yes, there are large numbers of people who are undergoing messianic disappointment due to the events of the last few months. However, it is also true that much of the impetus for the destruction came from an ideological base that is opposed to Jewish residence in the Land of Israel. Period. Opposition to the removal is the contra to that belief. To trivialize it as messianic halucinations is unfair (at best).

B) Following the Rov, I find the idea of messianism very frightening. Jews believe in a Messiah. Candidates for that job can fail (and one will ultimately succeed). Messianism is a secularized, essentially un-Jewish version, of that belief that seems to owe more to Hegel and Marx than it does to Moses and Isaiah. What I mean is that traditional belief in a personal Messiah is not a process. Messianism is a mechanistic process, which verges on the irreversible. As such it breeds arrogance, destruction and is a denial of freedom of will.

C) In the name of 'even-handeness,' the authors cite non-Orthodox thinkers who evince messianic characteristics (Herzl, Ben Gurion and A.B. Yehoshua). It is stunning, absolutely stunning, that they make no mention of the utopian fantasiasts among the Jews, who have (I assume unknowingly) adopted the basic tenets of Sabbatian theology in an attempt to save Jews and the World by de-judaizing both. (I say stunning because that line of argument is eminently characteristic of the paper in which their article was published.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Shanah Tovah 5766

זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החים
למענך א' חיים

לשנה טובה תיכתבו ותיחתמו לחיים טובים ולשלום

ג'פרי, טובי, אבי, אריאל, חנה, אלישבע ומוריה וולף

May you be Inscribed and Sealed for a Happy and Healthy
New Year.

Jeffrey, Toby, Avi, Ariel, Chana, Elisheva and Moriah

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Wall

No, I'm not talking about the Kotel. The official word is now out. The so-called security wall is now slated to cut off the Northern access to Efrat, leave no maneuver room east f Efrat, strangle Route 60, isolate Karme Tzur and expose us to mortar fire from Artas. Moreover, it is possible that all of the Gush has been put on the block (contrary to the government's 'assurances').

Lots to pray for in the next ten days.

On Parents and Teachers: Between Blame and Responsibility

In the midst of the crisis of leadership in which the Religious Zionist Community finds itself, comes Professor Shalom Rosenberg (one of our most original, shining lights) and offers a penetrating comment on the responsibility and the culpability of parents and teachers.

Hopefully, the upcoming Edah/Kenes Lavie Conference will start the ball rolling on creating alternative forms of Religious Leadership, modalities and vision in Israel and the Diaspora.

Ruminations at the Close of 5765

Herewith, some of my feelings as תשס"ה comes to a close.