Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cry, Beloved Country!

Israel Harel's 'take' on the State of the Country. So true, so true, so tragically true:

Bewitched nation
By Israel Harel

In the midst of the Jewish holiday of heroics, Hanukkah, we were once again warned of the Iranian bomb. One gets a creeping suspicion that sounding the bomb alert was meant to hide the government's shortcomings in view of the Qassam rockets and Katyushas.There is no doubt Iran would be happy if we disappeared from the face of the earth. But why should it mess with the Western world by dropping a nuclear bomb when the Jews are withdrawing from the Palestinians, who are attacking them at home, and displaying helplessness in face of Hezbollah, in Lebanon. When the Jews lose the will to fight, it's better to continue the war of attrition than use the bomb.

OC Northern Command Major General Udi Adam clearly expressed, on Tuesday, Israel's lack of desire to fight to win, which has become a national behavioral pattern in recent decades, especially against the terror organizations at home. Asked what needs to be done about the Katyusha fire, he responded: The Lebanese government must impose its authority. When Qassam rockets are simultaneously fired toward a training base in Zikim, a kindergarten in Kibbutz Sa'ad and strategic facilities on the outskirts of Ashkelon, one does not know whether to laugh or cry because we have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Here is a commander in the Israel Defense Forces saying it is the enemy's responsibility, not his own, to prevent fire in the region whose security he is in charge of.

The empty warnings Shaul Mofaz is making regarding the Qassam fire also prove Israel's decision makers, both civilian and military, have blinded themselves. When they don't utter a single true phrase about the severity of the situation - and about the reasons for it - we should be worried about another thing. How have the politicians, as well as some military men, managed to deceive a considerable part of the nation into giving up the right to think? These people have put the independence of their decisions in the hands of gamblers, who are willing to bet with the nation's fate, sometimes for merely personal reasons, such as the decision on the disengagement.

In Oslo the IDF was involved in the political debate when it knowingly helped advance the very controversial political moves. Recently, when the IDF hitched itself to Ariel Sharon's political wagon and applied force against Israeli civilians in Gush Katif, the borders separating army and politics were blurred even further. No wonder Major General Adam, instead of speaking in the only language the Katyusha launchers understand - the language of force - explained that there are "many reasons" for firing Katyushas. He analyzed the situation in Syria, Lebanon and the terror organizations. And, of course, he did not mention the single and main reason the rocket fire continues, despite Israel's "great capabilities": Israel's inaction has eroded its ability to deter Palestinian militants from firing missiles at its settlements.In the conformist Israeli discourse, in which the IDF heads play a major role, this reason does not exist at all.

The nocturnal flight from Lebanon, and even more so the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif after more than four years of terror war, caused inestimable damage to Israel's deterrence power. Even previously, in the intifada, this ability was revealed to be limited and hesitant, and this is exactly the point. Israel does have "great capabilities," but the systemic weakness - due to loss of confidence in the rightness of its way - leaves these paralyzed.

At the beginning of the week one of the commanders of the Islamic Jihad was interviewed by Shlomi Eldar of Channel 10 News. He analyzed, with sharp clarity, the process of Israeli deterioration. First, he said, we fought with stones, and you said with stones you can't beat an army. After you were worn out and did not respond to stones, we started shooting. Then you said you'd stop it within a few days. So apparently you couldn't, or didn't want to. Afterward we started the suicide bombings and you said they were not strategically dangerous. Then we began shooting the Qassams, and you said, what can Qassams do. And now, with improved Qassams we are already firing on Ashkelon.

There were Israelis who warned, at each of those stages, that fleeing from terror will lead to increased terror, that Oslo was not a peace initiative but derived from the army's and civilians' moral erosion in the stone war. So was the fence building, which was a surrender to frightened public opinion, manipulated by politicians and economic interest parties, and of course the unilateral pullout from Gush Katif.But an entire state has fallen under the spell of pullouts and defensive measures and does not want to listen to the voice of sanity. And now too, as the acceptance of the absurd reactions to the Qassams and Katyushas proves, the spell has not worn off.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sometimes, There's Good News....

Drum Roll, Please....

Jewish Agency: Immigration from West hits all-time record level
By Amiram Barkat

The number of immigrants from Western countries has hit a record high this year, although overall immigration is stabilizing, according to statistics for 2005 released Monday by the Jewish Agency.Some 23,000 people have moved to Israel this year, 4 percent more than in 2004. By contrast, immigration from North America has risen by 15 percent since last year and immigration from France has risen by 23 percent in the same period.

The number of immigrants has remained relatively stable, however, due to a 10-percent decrease in immigration from the former Soviet Union. The increase in immigration from the West is attributed to the activity of organizations in France and North America that provide grants to Jews who move to Israel.

There has also been an increase in the number of Israelis who had moved abroad but returned to Israel this year.Some 5,700 Israelis moved back here in 2005, an increase of about 13 percent since last year, according to statistics released Monday by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. The reason is thought to be linked to an improvement in the Israeli economy and a decrease in terror.Ministry officials say they think the number of returning Israelis is actually double what the official statistics show, because only about half report their return. The ministry is planning to expand its activities in areas in the United States where many Israelis live, and is to open a branch in Philadelphia.

This year has also seen a 37 percent increase in the amount of Jewish students from abroad who study in Israel under the Masa program. Some 5,500 students participated in the program in 2005, the Jewish Agency said.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hag Urim Sameach

Looking over my ;postings for Hanukkah from last year (here, here and here), I realized that there was one more point to be made. The revolt that erupted in 167 BCE was not (initially) political in character. It was religious and cultural. The question was whether Judaism had (or should have) a future in the brave, new world of Hellenistic humanism and universalism. The war was a kulturkampf among the Jews, themselves.

Most Jews, it appears, thought that such a future was possible, so long as the religious integrity of Traditional Judaism was maintained. They were, so to speak, a silent majority.

The upper classes, the power brokers and opinion makers, disagreed. They were devoted to the idea that Jewish parochialism was a disaster and that it should be replaced by Hellenistic, anthropocentric, progressive enlightenment. It is a principled position that the author of First Maccabees reports (1,11): "Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us." The Hellenists worked hard to advance and proselytize among their fellow Jews in order to rescue them from obscurantism.The price was not that high, in their opinion. All one had to do was to discard the Torah, in order to step into a wider world.

The Hassidim, on the other hand, agreed with the Hellenists that the encounter of Athens (or Antioch) and Jerusalem was a zero sum game. They, however, totally rejected Athens.

What tipped the scales toward the Hassidim? The extreme dedication of the Hellenists to dragging Judea into the new age. When they started to attack the Torah, and when political circumstances directly involved Antiochus in their plans, the overwhelming majority of Jews moved their support to the Hassidim. This was followed by the infamous edicts described in First Maccabees (1, 44-63), which led directly to Mattathias' call to revolt (Ibid. 2, -28).

Not a year goes by, that I don't think about how History repeats itself.

I'm Shocked....

Since so many others are doing it, I thought I"d take the Orthodoxy Test. The results? User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.
What a shock......I think I'll go compare the Nicomachaen Ethics with Shmoneh Peraqim.

Monday, December 19, 2005

This and That

I've removed the Visitor's map due to lack of response.

I've added the Headlines from Yoav Yitzhak's News First Class. He's one of the best investigative journalists in Israel.

Welcome to an exciting new blog, The Augean Stables, named after one of the feats of Hercules (Herakles, for the purists). It takes on the media and the world of the cognoscenti on its own terms.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Recquiescat in Pacem

I can't resist. The Times Literary Supplement has a great essay, and book review, on the subject of.....the Obituary!

(And I thought I"d hit Nirvanna when I found Anthony Grafton's history of the Footnote!)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

For Parshat VaYishlach

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
-Alexander Pope,An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

In this week's parsha, וישלח, Jacob returns home to face his inner and outer demons. He confronts both. In a nightly encounter, he finally subdues the Esau within him (as implied by the Rambam) and emerges with the victorious and majestic new name, Israel. He confronts the real Esau, the progenitor of his ultimate enemy (Rome), and manages to neutralize him through a combination, as Rashi says, of prayer, diplomacy (bribes) and a show of force.

What gives him the capacity to stand up to, and conquer, both?

The Torah says that Jacob was afraid. Obviously, though, he was facing two different types of fear.
The first, I believe, related to his anxiety about returning home, realizing his blessing, taking responsibility for his past actions and assuming responsibility for his role as the heir (both politically and spiritually) of Abraham and Isaac. In this context, I think of a comment I once heard in the name of Rav Kook (pere). He noted that in order to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Israelites had to first kill Og, the king of Heshbon. 'Heshbon,' aside from being the name of Og's capital city, also means a 'calculated consideration.' Rav Kook observed, that if one wishes to live here in Eretz Yisrael, one must overcome one's 'heshbonot,' which (Hamlet-like) can paralyze you. Living a life of Torah, no matter whether on is a BT or an FFB, requires a leap of faith. It also requires an inner struggle, in order to subdue the 'King of Heshbon.'

Like the real-life Esau, however, doing things 'in one's head' (as it were) is not sufficient. One really does have to confront the very real challenges presented by a Jewish Life, and a fortiori, one lived where Jews are supposed to live, here. Following Jacob's example, that requires reliance upon God, readiness to sacrifice economically and a willingness to fight.

It also requires conviction and recognition of what one does have. In his prayer to God, on the eve of his confrontation with Esau, Jacob says (Gen. 32, 11): 'I am not worthy of all the mercies (חסדים), and of all the truth, which You have shown to Your servant.' R. Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv), in is commentary to the Humash העמק דבר, observes that the gratitude and recognition both of God's gifts and of the absolute truth of the tradition passed on from Abraham, are the keys to being saved from Esau and for realizing one's goal in Eretz Yisrael. Modesty, Humility and Conviction are the keys to success.

Why start with Alexander Pope? Because achieving these requires an ongoing struggle. The demons are not destroyed. They are subdued. Notice what the angel tell Jacob, now Israel (v. 29):
For you have striven with God and with men, ותוכל.' The last word, technically means 'you have prevailed.' It can also mean 'you will prevail.' Life, as the Rov זצ"ל, used to say is a dialectic, dynamic struggle. Ultimate success, however, derives from within; from faith, gratitude, and determination.

Strikingly, it was Jacob, whose life was filled with difficulties, who really founded the Jewish people and set them on their historical path.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Proust Revisited: Recalling Things That Never Were

QED has an excellent post on the nostalgia for pre-67 Israel. He welcomes comments, and I think it's an opportunity to hash this one out.

Ya'ari's Article

Since the article to which I linked is not easily available, I"m placing it here (it's also here). Nothing's changed (except for the relevance of his conclusion).

The Jerusalem Report
19 September 2005
Theory & Practice
by Ehud Ya'ari

A NEW THESIS is spreading through the Arab world, according to which Israel is approaching old age and is battling a long, drawn- out terminal illness. Even if the Jewish state is still healthy enough to be able to suppress the symptoms, the theory goes, there will be no recovery. From being a dynamic society suffused with the ideals of Zionist revival and with the wind of history in its sails, the Israelis have turned into a torn nation, lost, confused and lacking spirit.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal infused this argument with colorful rhetoric during a "victory speech" in Beirut on August 17, the first day of the evacuation of the settlers of Gush Katif. Israel, he explained, a nation that was constantly committed to territorial expansion and the colonization of newly conquered land from the tip of the Sinai peninsula up to the peaks of Mount Lebanon, has sunk into a shrinking process, divesting itself of the assets it seized and erasing its settlements. According to Mashal, it's a one-way, irreversible trend. "It took time," he declared, "but that is now the direction."

Palestinian history professor Isam Adwan is already doing the calculations for the Islamic Jihad. The Soviet Union, he notes, rose and fell within a single lifetime (1917-1990) and he promises the same fate for Israel. Israel's power reached its peak in 1967 and has been on the wane ever since - a deterioration, Adwan believes, that will lead to its total withering no later than 2022, when the state will be 74 years old, more or less the same age as the Communist empire when it expired. Till then, he says, Israel will exist on vitamin supplements and with the help of its American caregivers.

This prediction elaborates the slogans that Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah often repeats about Israel being like a spider's web, which gets ever thinner the more it spreads, and echoes the prophecies of the late Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who forecast the year of Israel's demise as 2025.The implication is that there is no necessity for the Palestinians and their partners to storm Israel. They needn't go for an all-out, decisive confrontation. All they have to do is carry out a stubborn and grinding campaign of attrition.

A new booklet on the "Strategy of Palestinian Resistance," published by the armed faction known as the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, under the leadership of Jamal Abu-Samhadana, describes how this kind of warfare requires constant changes in tactics and pace. And that's exactly what the heads of the terror organizations are now saying: There is nothing wrong with a pause in fighting or periods of cease-fire, so long as the dimensions of the struggle and the friction are preserved, with no promise of a solution. "The flames must keep burning, even when they are not scorching," they say.

This line of thought, which is not, of course, followed by all the Arabs, has nevertheless claimed some supposedly moderate personalities, such as Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), the Palestinian prime minister, who has openly sworn that the Palestinians will never agree to a state in provisional borders, as called for in the U.S.- backed peace plan known as the Road Map, which the Palestinians have ostensibly accepted. As Dr. Mahmud Zahar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, puts it: "Administration - Yes! A state - No!"

No spin master and no amount of words will ever be able to convince our neighbors that the disengagement was not an act of retreat, a sign of weakness, an invitation for more vigorous attack. Whatever we make of the new thesis produced by the problematic environment that surrounds us, it is not only the Israelis who need persuading about the effectiveness of the Gaza withdrawal, but the enemy as well. And in this, Prime Minister Sharon has failed miserably. The conclusion drawn by the other side is that maybe in the short term it will be difficult for them to resume the terror assault, but that is the prescription for the longer run.

Ironically, though, the spreading theory of Israel's "aging" could yet turn out to serve as a tool of restraint on the Palestinian side. After all, if Israel is getting weaker and its epitaph is already written on the wall, then the Arabs' advantage of patience comes into play. All they have to do, they may believe, is to wait; to act as a constant annoyance, to create a kind of siege - but there is no reason to invest valuable resources in an effort to shorten the "Zionist entity's" life. The "resistance" organizations, such as Hamas, could then feel no more obligation than to let nature take its course. And so, paradoxically, the belief the Palestinians are trying to instill in themselves, about their great "victory" in Gaza and the "routing" and "flight" of the Israelis, could yet serve as a justification for a time out.

In the final analysis, what matters is not what they want to believe or how they aspire to present things, but how they will actually behave. The rest is just words.

A Posting in Time...

Just as I finished the previous posting, I received this article by Daniel Pipes. It speaks for itself. What interests me is the reference he makes to a very incisive observation by Dr. Yoram Hazony, the founder of the Shalem Center. As Pipes cites his book, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul:
Since 1993, Israelis have shown themselves, in the words of the philosopher Yoram Hazony, to be "an exhausted people, confused and without direction," willing and even eager to be duped by their enemies. All they need are some overtures, however unconvincing, that they will be freed from war, and they barely can restrain themselves from making concessions to mortal enemies.
That, Dave, is why people are flocking to Kadima. Caveat Emptor, Viri Kadimae.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (Sorry, Hunter)

The comments on my last post have been very thought-provoking, so I thought I'd upgrade my response to here.

One person

MK's are flocking to Kadima because it represents a broad emerging centrist consensus among the populace. Put differently, the country does not want what you want. This is not to sweep under the rug any abuses of democracy that have occurred under Sharon's watch. But it does mean, and this is something that you have to start to be able to hear, my friend - that the large majority of Israelis fear religious Zionists a lot more than they fear Sharon. And it also means that beyond a certain point there is a falseness to all the cries about crimes against democracy. It is one thing to demand that civil rights and minority rights be respected (a cause, by the way, which Religious Zionism utterly ignored until things started to not go its way, which is part of why many of its spokespeople sound so hypocritical now.) But to live in a democracy means to acknowledge that the majority rules. And the majority does not want to send its children to defend small yishuvim in the midst of a million Arabs. It does not want to fight wars for Eretz Yisrael haShlemah, and it does not want to be held hostage to policies which mean that neither we or our descendants will ever see peace unless all the Arabs miraculously disappear.

So, let's see:

1) I agree that democracy is the rule of the majority, which must be upheld. That's why I opposed disobeying orders during the so-called 'Disengagement.'

2) The civil rights abuses that have built up over the past few months are eloquently laid out
here and here. [The swipe at Religious Zionist ignoring of prior Civil Rights abuses is gratuitous.]

3) I am sure he is right that 'the large majority of Israelis fear religious Zionists a lot more than they fear Sharon. ...the majority does not want to send its children to defend small yishuvim in the midst of a million Arabs. It does not want to fight wars for Eretz Yisrael haShlemah, and it does not want to be held hostage to policies which mean that neither we or our descendants will ever see peace unless all the Arabs miraculously disappear.'


The majority fear Religious Zionists, because we have been diabolized in a way that is truly incredible. The media and politicians have taken a page out of Trachtenberg's
The Devil and the Jews, and applied it to every knitted kippah in the world, and everything for which it stands. In this, they had the help of our lunatic element. But, hey, if a few coin clippers can get the entire Jewish community thrown out of England (1291), think of what a larger group can do for the rest of us.

For everyone's information, Eretz Yisrael ha-Shlema stopped being a real program in 1993. So, I don't really understand why it keeps getting thrown up in the faces of the Right. The question now is, will Israel undertake a terrtorial realignment or will it run a liquidation sale. Every time this comes up, it's liquidation sale hands down. Furthermore, since most Israelis don't know the difference between an outpost and a city of 12,000 like Betar Illit, they really don't want their sons to protect anything. (Difficult situation for those of us in Yosh who have children defending the Northern or Southern borders.)

This is a recipe for disaster, because (and how many times do I need to say this?) the Arabs are playing a zero-sum game. You can't play compromise when the other side says all or nothing. This is the principled position of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Period. Anything less is blasphemy against the Divinely ordained order of things, as set by the Qur'an, the Hadith and the Shari'ah. So let's deal with it. There will be, can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs (or any other Arabs) until an alternative Muslim conception develops. [Please, don't retort that we have peace with Egypt and Jordan. Yes, the governments are in a state of non-active belligerancy. However, states that you can't visit lest you be killed because you're Israeli or a Jew are not states where peace reigns.] Furthermore, as Bernard Lewis and Ehud Yaari keep pointing out, the Arabs see ANY concession as a sign of weakness and imminent implosion of the Zionist entity.

So, yes it's true that the Israeli majority doesn't want what some things that I want. OTOH, maybe it does.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Democracy in Israel

Independent f my opinion of Ariel Sharon and his new party, I am concerned by something deeper. I am really concerned by the sight of so many polticisns handing their mandates to Sharon, in violation of their obligations to their voters. Where is accountability? There isn't any. Moreover, the polls show (as the press cheers) an ever growing number of seats in the Knesset for the new conglomeration.

Of course, other parties have swept elections before and sent the opposition into the single digits. I happened in Britain and Canada. The difference is that here, as
Maariv reports, Sharon is trying to destroy all of the other parties. With no opposition, with a one party system, there will be no demcracy and no checks and balances on Sharon's power. The Knesset will be in his thrall and the Supreme Court is tailoring its decisions to his new political agenda, anyway. [My son, Avi, pointed out that Freedom House only declared Israel a democracy in 1977, when Begin defeated labor. Previously, it had termed Israel a one party system.]

Gotta go read 1984 again. Orwell was too perspiciacious.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Rabbis in Blue

The latest scandal to involve the Chief Rabbinate (and rabbis in general) broke in yesteday's Haaretz (of course). Just when you think things couldn't look worse, just when we need to rehabilitate the beating that Judaism's image has taken (both self imposed and otherwise), this happens.

I'm not going to waste time agonizing, whoever did this deserves to be defrocked. Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, the Army Chief Rabbi, deserves a medal for integrity.

However, I have one thought that I posted here.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Life on Campus

QED has a few salient points about life at Israeli universities, from the student's point of view. And yes, they're all too too true.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Confessio Pro Vita Sua: Modern Orthodoxy

Gil Student has a very nuanced, and moving post about importance of Modern Orthodoxy (and the absolute necessity for a broad education) as part of an integrated Orthodox worldview. His remarks has made me reconsider my position that the major challenge to Tradition comes from the relativism of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The (so-called) Exact Sciences are still no less of a challenge, thanks to the people of the type who crucify Slifkin.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Orwell, Finkielkraut and Haaretz

For those of you following crucifixion of Alain Finkielkraut in the French and Israeli Press, here is anaccount of how he was bushwacked by two Israeli 'journalists' and their agents du mal. Once again, Haaretz shows that it is 99% ideological organ, 1% newspaper.

It reminds me of something my wife's mother, who attended Stalin's Talmud Torah (as she puts it), once commented. There were two newspapers of record in Soviet Russia: Izvestia ('The News') and Pravda ('The Truth').

The joke in Stalin's Talmud Torah was: There's no Izvestia in Pravda and no Pravda in Isvestia.

I Agree

As happens not infrequently, Rivqa Yaffa says it as it is:
רוצה מדינה יהודית
רבקה יפה שחר דורשת מאותן המפלגות שרוצות במדינה יהודית להתאחד ולהכריז על מפלגה אחת

הם נערכים לבחירות, נלחמים על כיסאות, תרים אחר כותרות, מנסים לנחש מה רוצה הבוחר. אני הבוחר, ואני רוצה מדינה יהודית. זו גזענות? אז זהו, שאני רוצה להצביע למפלגה שאין לה בעיה עם המילה יהודי ועם זכויותיהם וערכיהם של יהודים. מפלגה שחבריה מתרשמים מהמוסר היהודי יותר מאשר מהתרבות הפוסט-המערבית, וזוכרים למה מדינת ישראל הוקמה, ולמי. יש כמה מפלגות כאלה? על זה אני מדברת, שהגיע הזמן שיתאחדו וינהיגו את המדינה.
יהדות התורה, ש"ס, המפד"ל, מימד, האיחוד הלאומי וחלק מהליכוד צריכים להתאחד למפלגה אחת גדולה, שחבריה עונים על שאלת זכותנו על הארץ במילה אחת: ככה. בלי הסברים, בלי התנצלויות ובלי קשקושי נרטיב. מפלגה שתדאג לחינוך יהודי כזה, שילדים ישראלים יהיו גאים בשייכותם לעם הכי משכיל, הכי תרבותי והכי הומני בעולם, ושיזכרו מה זו אנטישמיות. מפלגה שתגיד בקול רם, שתרבות יהודית אינה גחמה מגזרית, ושתרבות זה לא רק ספורט ותיאטרון, אלא גם לימוד תורה, מצדי תקראו לזה תנ"ך. תשומת הלב שלנו מוסטת היום לביטחון, לגבולות ולדמוגרפיה, אבל על הפרק עומדת בחירה בין יהודי לישראלי, בין חופה יהודית לברית הזוגיות, בין חברון לתל-אביב. ויתרנו על חבל קטיף, מחר מערת המכפלה והר הבית, ושאיש לא יעז לשוב ולדקלם בשאננות: "היה לא תהיה". אני רואה את המריבות הקטנוניות בין ליצמן לרביץ, בין המפד"ל לאיחוד הלאומי, בין ש"ס לאריה דרעי, ותוהה האם אינם רואים שבלב מדינת ישראל כבר רוחשת האש, שעומדת לאכל את הערכים הכי בסיסיים של העם
היהודי: חינוך, משפט עברי, שבת, גיור, כשרות ונישואין.
הרוב רוצים מדינה בעלת צביון יהודי

אני מסתכלת בקנאה ביכולת של המפלגות החילוניות הגדולות להושיב יחד אנשים בעלי מגוון דעות, להניח בצד ניואנסים
ולהילחם על הנהגת המדינה. המפה הפוליטית בישראל משתנה ונערכת מחדש, החילוניות האידיאולוגית מתפשטת לפריפריה, ורק הדתיים תקועים בקבוצות אנכרוניסטיות קטנות וקטנוניות, במקום להתעלות ולהתאחד למען המשותף לרובנו: יהודיותנו. אישה חרדית צעירה שגרה מספר שנים באמסטרדם, סיפרה לי איך מהר מאוד למדה לוותר על הלוקסוס הישראלי לקטלג חברים לפי פרמטרים פוליטיים ודתיים, ולהבין שכל יהודייה ששולחת את בנה לבית הספר היהודי, היא חברה שלה. "רק כאן הבנתי מהי תחושת שותפות יהודית, ומה חשוב באמת". היא למדה את השיעור שחברי הכנסת שלנו טרם למדו. רוב הישראלים רוצים מדינה בעלת צביון יהודי, ובגלל זה "ביבי טוב ליהודים" הביס את פרס, ובגלל זה ש"ס קיבלה 17 מנדטים. להיות יהודי זה לא קשור לדתי, תשאלו את עוזי לנדאו, וגם לא לימני, תשאלו את הרב אלישיב. ועוד משהו, מפלגות דתיות חייבות להיגמל מרגשי הנחיתות שלהן, ולשאוף להנהגה. גם חרדים יכולים לעמוד בראש פירמידה ממלכתית. עובדה שאורי לופליאנסקי מצליח כראש עיריית ירושלים, ועוד מעט הרב לאו כנשיא המדינה.

Experientially Challenged

For a very long time, I've been fascinated by the ways that medievals and moderns have perceived time and space. The way that medievals organized the way that they viewed their chronological and geographic existence was, in my opinion, incredibly rich a subtle. They were able to live on several levels of reality-perception at once, without losing their grounding in the here and now. A Jewish case and point is the Pesach Seder. The operative statement there is 'In every generation, one is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.' This is not pablum. It is an existential directive, aimed at the celebrant, to transcend the limits of time and space and to transform himself into a liberated slave on the morning of the 15th of Nisan c.1200 BCE.
Furthermore, it was an eminently doable charge, because of this multi-level type of time-awareness that is endemic to traditional societies in general, and to Judaism in particular. [There is, I am well aware, an irony in the fact that this represents a point of agreement between Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל and mutatis mutandis Mircea Eliade. Perhaps that makes it all the more credible.] The ability to connect so intimately to the past was critical to Jewish continuity in general and to the success of the Zionist message, in particular.

Post-modernity, together with the so-called 'Information Highway,' have seriously wounded (and in some cases destroyed) this rich, nuanced human capacity. A life based upon sound-bites and instant images cannot sustain critical thought and leads, inevitably, to far-reaching, all-encompassing, superficiality. Such superficiality, which is the hallmark of contemporary culture, retards the capacity of the individual to think 'out of the box' and to feel 'out of the box.'

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that contemporary Israel (and Diaspora) Jews, find it extremely difficult to 'connect' (the widespread Hebrew word is להתחבר) to the same vital experiences that sustained their forefathers for two millenia. The thirst for just this type of deeper awareness is the challenge of the contemporary Jewish Leadership, which too often denies its existence.

[The above is, in a sense, a continuation of this posting.]

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Realistic Religious Zionism

I will admit that I don't know very much about this group (though I do know a number of its members). However, if the very problematic musings of Haggai Efrati are any indication, I think I'll pass. Too much anger. Too much rage. Too many slogans. Too much pyrotechnics and no light or warmth.

Until they emancipate themselves from their frustrations, there won't be anything to discuss. It's too bad. We've got enough dialogues of the deaf cooking in this country, especially within the religious community (geselleschaft or gemeinschaft, that is the question). There really is no need for even one more.

On Tekhelet, Massoret and Autonomy

Mayvin Yavin has a series of very thoughtful postings concerning the wearing of Tekhelet. His most recent post prompted me to weigh in on the subject.

I waited a long time, and spent a lot of time learning, investigating and mulling over this issue, before I finally decided to add murex dyed tzitzit to my Tallitot. My quandry was

Monday, December 05, 2005

Of Homesteads and Home

In 1881, Yisrael and Rebecca Lappin gathered their family and trekked by wagon, foot, and boat from Volkovisk, Poland to Eretz Yisrael. Part of the First Aliyah, they settled first in Petach Tikva. After a number of years, during which they tried to succeed in agriculture (and Yisrael lost a thumb, as a result of the lack of proper tools), they moved to Jerusalem where the Lappins opened a dry good store. In order to house his family (two sons and a daughter), he erected a grand house at 91 Me’ah She’arim Street, the (relatively) new, upscale neighborhood standing outside the walls of the Old City. The house contained four apartments and stood above three street level stores. It was, by all accounts, a very impressive edifice.
     For me the house always had special significance. It had significance because I am a great-great-grandson of Yisrael and Rebecca Lappin. I  am also (to the best of my knowledge) the only one of their descendants to return to live in Eretz Yisrael, together with my wife and children. I used to feel that this edifice of stones was the binding tie between them and me. Whenever I would pass by it, I would pause and just stare at it, trying to visualize what life was like for them. I used to feel very intensely a special sense of loss at not having known them. Having made the trip here, I would have liked to compare notes on what drove us to come to this most difficult and rivetting place.
I would also speculate about their reaction to the fate that befell their family. True, they left Europe before Hitler’s minions murdered their extended families. However, once they were forced to leave Palestine by the Ottoman authorities, assimilation and intermarriage exacted a bitter toll from among those children and grandchildren whose physical future their foresight guaranteed, but whose spiritual survival was nigh on obliterated. What would have happened, even historians ask, if they had stayed with their children? It’s a bitter-sweet act of speculation.
Recently, it became academic. The building, long ago donated to the Hevron Yeshiva by their pious daughter who had little faith in the capacity of the Torah to resettle in the hearts of her progeny, was torn down to make way for a large dormitory complex for the radical, anti-Zionist Reb Aryele Hassidim. Ironic that this homestead of one of the earliest Religious Zionist pioneers should be levelled by a group that despises all they stood for.
My first reaction was a mixture of loss and melancholy. My wife, who is much wiser than I, pointed out that (like the Bet ha-Miqdash, according to Hazal in Eika Rabba, parsha 4 s.v. va-yatzet ) the building was really nothing more than ‘sticks and stones.’ What made it special was the spirit it embodied and the vision it represented. The building may be demolished (right now it’s a big hole in the ground). The spirit it embodied has (hopefully) been transferred and dwells in our (more modest) home in the Hills of Hebron. That same spirit, that deeply rooted attraction to qedushah, moved Yisrael and Rebecca to defy reason and move to a place that did not approach the word civilized. The inner strength that they manifested is stunning to contemplate.
It is something to pray for, to cultivate, to hang on to dear life for; especially on days like today.  

And Now for Something Completely Different

I've got two articles, two books and dissertation reviews to work on, but I can't sign off without one of the lighter posts....

This is my (phtoo, phtoo, phtoo) thirteenth year teaching at Bar Ilan University. I thought I knew all about the place. I know about the courses, the politics, the library, the book store, and the food. Everything there is to know. Right?


Saturday Night, on the weekly dosi program on Channel I, I caught a ten minute report by Ravital Vitelson-Jacobs about the mating, sorry, dating geography at (you guessed it) Bar Ilan. [Actually, Maariv had a sneak peak on this.]

Go know that the Hilonim sit on the Hill in the center of the campus. The MO's congregate in the triangle formed by Katz-Nagel-DeHahn. The frummier types hang out in the sector between the Midrasha and the Koylel (aka 'the window of opportunity', because the central window of the Bet Midrash overlooks the area. More Orthodox sexism, I guess). So now I know why certain of my students hang out in one place, and not the other. (At least I know my MA and PhD students hang out in the library.)

What else do I know? My wife and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary. After a quarter century and five kids, Thank God I know that I can file this information away under 'interesting but irrelevant.'

I Wonder...

I keep wanting to post something light, but life keeps getting in the way....

Haaretz reports that the proposed closing of the Gaza Crossings will constitute a violation of our recently signed accords with the PA, the ones that were brokered by Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleeza Rice. In other words, Dr. Rice will be very ticked if we do that.

I wonder...

I wonder if Dr. Rice ever had to start off a class the way that I had to today, twice. Quietly, I asked if anyone lived in the Netanya area. If so, they should know that there was
a homicide bombing at the Sharon Mall and that if they wish, they are welcome to leave class to call home to make sure everyone is alright.

I wonder if she had to start off a lecture that way (one on Judaism and Christianity and the other on German Pietism) whether she would so blithely reject measures that will save lives, like preventing terrorists from infiltrating from Gaza or stopping the rocket and mortar fire on pre-1967 Israel.

I wonder whether Dr. Rice would reevaluate the sincerity of the Palestinian people, were she to watch
this bit of PA Programming. She's an historian, after all. She knows that the hokhmas spouted by this little tyke reflect mainstream Muslim thinking and established Muslim tradition, not the prattle of some fanatic. Dr. Rice is a noted scholar. She knows that one can't argue beliefs (just as one can't argue with a Christian over Jesus' divinity or humanity).

I wonder if Dr. Rice would sacrifice American lives so blithely. After all, the American Army is in Iraq in order to defend the equivalent lives in the continental US.

I can't help but return to an old refrain.

There's nothing to wonder about. After all, it's only Jews.

[As Tom Gross wrote: Dead Jews Aren't News. Hattip: Maria]

Is All of Gush Etzion on the Chopping Block?

If anything was required to further undermine my faith in the Israeli government, this letter was it. You see, the minute we are cut off from the so-called Green Line, the point is made that we are expendable. In addition, the surrounding of Yishuvim with concrete fences and barbed wire (yes, I'm not making this up) would render us more vulnerable than ever to Arab terror.

To all the residents of Gush Etzion,

A few minutes ago I had a conversation with a senior source from one of the government ministries that is dealing with the "security fence". During the conversation a number of issues came up that I felt concerns all the local residents. Please distribute this letter to all your friends and acquaintances as soon as possible.

1.. The planning authorities in the Ministry of Defense have now concluded their work concerning the fence on the Green Line that will keep Gush Etzion out of the main fence of the state of Israel. So as not to arouse the residents of the Gush it was decided to first implement the eastern fence (around the Gush) and only after the elections to build the fence on the green Line (the direct quote of the source: "The decision to build an additional fence on the Green Line has already been taken with tens of thousands of shekels already invested in the planning and with instructions being not to disclose the actual building of the fence on the Green Line till after the elections."

2.. The actual work on the fence is to begin this week with the actual area chosen being the Abu Suda Forest between Migdal Oz and the Gush Etzion Junction (since the area is a nature preserve there was no fear of an appeal to the Supreme Court). It should be mentioned that this is a blatant violation of the agreement with all the local councils that there would be no work begun on the fence until there is total agreement on the route.

3.. During the situation evaluation that was held in the Ministry of Defense considerable fear was raised of the possibility of opposition to the fence by the residents of the Gush. To this end Danny Terza, the head of the fence authority, was sent to be interviewed for Makor Rishon for the edition published this past Friday (the most comprehensive interview ever conducted with Terza).

4. The Ministry of Defense is fully aware that they do not have a chance of successfully defending then present route of the fence in the Supreme Court so they want the work to be commenced so that afterwards the Supreme Court will rule that the fence should be built as close as possible to the settlements (as the proposed route of Shalom and Bitochon including a fence 500 meters north of Neve Daniel, a fence between Efrat and Neve Daniel, etc.) this way permitting the Ministry of Defense to claim innocently that it is not them but the Supreme Court that decided on the dangerous route.As it seems now the Gush will be surrounded by fences that will be as close as possible to the settlements with an additional fence to be built on the Green Line affectively cutting us off from the State!

To summarize:We have been hoodwinked in broad day light.

Yaron Rosenthal
Kfar Etzion

[Note: The Council for Peace and Security is a Leftist organization that works for a return to the 1967 borders. Imagine! With the great job Sharon did with the people from Gush Qatif (unemployment, depression, suicides, divorces, drug use....), it will now move on to do the same to another quarter of a million. ]

Further thoughts on the matter, here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Diabolization Continues

For the information of those who villified the people of Gush Qatif, cheered as their lives were destroyed, and jeered at these new 'millionaires,' Haaretz Reporter Nadav Shragai provides an insight into their ongoing suffering, as the State ignores them.

So, if Israel can't deal with 8,000 refugees...How does it expect to throw 80,000+ out of their homes with nowhere to go, no employment, no schools, and deep psychological scars?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Finally! A Response to the Diabolization...

Professor Stuart Cohen and Dr. Asher Cohen of Bar Ilan's Political Science Department have published a much needed (and long overdue) reaction to and analysis of the disparity between the realities in the Religious Zionist community and the way it is portrayed in public (especially media) discourse.

I would only add two points:

1) It can't be stressed enough that principled Right Wing politics can be based upon non-messianic considerations.

2) The diabolization of the religious community is part of a wide-ranging, post-Zionist kulturkampf.