Thursday, November 30, 2006

And the Winner(s) of the First "(As Yet Unnamed) Award ..

for Cognitive Egocentrism are (drumroll, please):

The Owner, Editor and Staff of Haaretz.

It was inevitable, really, that the first Festinger Award should go to the Newspaper for 'Thinking People,' who think alike. Aside from a few tokens, rarely does one find a better exemplar of writers and pundits who will pay any price (if others are paying), bear any burden (as long as they're not carrying), deny any fact, ignore any reality so long as they maintain their absolute conviction that they are absolutely right and that, by definition, the rest of the world must agree with them. Yesterday's editorial only bears this out. The Solons of Schocken Street treated us to this:

This is the time to demonstrate openness and generosity. Israel must give the cease-fire a chance, and not bring about its collapse through unnecessary military operations, as has happened more than once with past cease-fires. The order of the day must now be: Cease the fire, both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Never mind the occasional Kassam in Sederot, or the danger to Jews on either side of the Green Line. Nothing will move Haaretz from its absolute conviction that the Palestinians are not really proud Muslims and irredentist nationalists. They are, if we could only see beyond their own words and behavior, post-National cosmopolitans, such as are the...owner, editor and staff of Haaretz.

Now, consider the definition of Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism:

The projection of good faith and fair-mindedness onto others, the assumption that “other” shares the same human values, that everyone prefers positive sum interactions. In a slightly more redemptive mode, LCE holds that all people are good, and if only we treat them right, they will respond well. This is a form of empathy that, like MOS, aspires to the radical victory of justice, and robs the “other” of his or her own beliefs and attitudes. It projects onto rather than detects what the “other” feels.

In light of the above, Haaretz has been deemed worthy to receive this first "(As Yet Unnamed) Award for Cognitive Egocentrism," and is entitled to all rights and privileges pertaining thereto (et omnis signia et jura quae ad hunc gradem pertinent).

[In fact, there was serious consideration given to awarding them the First Festinger Award but the committee felt that it might go to their heads, אויב זיי האבען געהאט קעפ.]

Well Said, Sarah

Chayyei Sarah has beautifully expressed the one-dimensionality of contemporary Religious Zionism.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Memoir of the Rav זצל

I am proud to say that the newest YU Commentator has published an article in which I recall my first encounter with Rav Soloveitchik. I am grateful to the editors for allowing me to share my memories and insights with a larger audience. The opportunity to do so has been very cathartic for me, as evidenced by the fact that it took me thirty years to find the emotional wherewithal to write them.

Your Patience is Requested,

while I delay the awarding of the CD and CE Awards. There are just far too many 'worthy' candidates lately.

Stay Tuned.

And the Festinger Prize Goes To...

I've decided that it's time to periodically award the 'Leon Festinger Memorial Prize for Cognitive Dissonance' and the "(As Yet Unnamed) Award for Cognitive Egocentrism.' The award, for which I hope to design an appropriate logo, is designed to recognize those people and/or institutions who best embody these respective syndromes, a developed by the late Prof. Leon Festinger (Below)and mutatis mutandis, Prof. Richard Landes (Left), respectively.
For those unfamiliar with the terms, 'Cognitive Dissonance,' is: 'the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions...In other words, it is the uncomfortable tension that comes from
holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.' This, in turn, incorporates a major element of Denial.

Cognitive Egocentrism, on the other hand, is defined by its discoverer, Richard Landes, as:

The projection of one’s own mentality or “way of seeing the world” onto others...In the current situation of globalization, cognitive egocentrism has its greatest impact in the political relationships between people coming from civil societies and those raised in prime divider societies. Since the basic political principle of Prime divider societies is “rule or be ruled,” “do onto others before they do onto you,” political actors from those cultures assume the same zero-sum, domineering intentions in their opponents (the “enemy”). Since the basic political principles of civil societies is “I’ll give up trying to dominate and trust you to give it up as well,” “if I’m nice to you, you will be nice in return,” assume positive-sum attitudes in their opponents (the “other”). The current situation testifies to a dangerous mis-apprehension that works to the distinct disadvantage to civil society. The media, in particular, as the representative of civil society, emphasizes its role as empathizer, often failing to defend civil society, even exposing it to danger.

The first awardees will be announced in the next few hours. Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Lonely Man of Faith: The Life and Legacy of R. Joseph Soloveitchik

I just returned from a premiere screening of The Lonely Man of Faith: The Life and Legacy of R. Joseph Soloveitchik. It was created by a young film maker named Ethan Eisenberg, and is a first rate production.

I know I will have more to say about it anon. In the meantime, I think that anyone who either knew the Rov, or would like to acquire an insight into his legacy, absolutely must see it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pathetic, Absolutely Pathetic

You can say many things about David Ben-Gurion. Chief of these is that he was brave, tough, and that he loved his people, its history and its country. He could be brutally honest. His behavior verged on the tyrannical. He was, however, personally honest. He had no illusions about the Arabs (or the non-Jewish World).

That's why its beyond disgusting, that Ehud Olmert exploited B-G's yahrzeit to whine and plead with Arabs to be nice to us. He openly told them we'll pay an price if they'll only be nice to us. He'll rip people out of their himes, endanger the security of our country, abandon the Negev to Kassam rockets, free as many nice Palestinian patriotic suicide bombers in potentia as they want and let Hamas rearm. Just don't hurt us. Pleassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssse, don't hurt us.

He's pathetic, and so are his whining cohorts, Livni, Peretz, Shitreet and Dichter. As Bernard Lewis notes, weakness is held in contempt in the Arab World, as well it should.

B-G would be disgusted.

I know I am.

Demographic Yisrabluff

So, as Ehud ('We're Tired of Living') Olmert watches Hamas restock the Gaza Strip with missiles and build an underground infrastructure, a la Lebanon, demographer Dr. Yoram Ettinger shoes that the whole demography bogey-man, is just that. [For those who don't know, the two demographers who've been screaming about the Palestinian Population Bomb (PPB) are card carrying Leftists who rely on PA-supplied data. ''I'm shocked, shocked to learn...']

Demographics Working in Israel's Favor
Sunday, November 26, 2006 / 5 Kislev 5767

Demographic analyst Yoram Ettinger says Israel is gaining the lead in the regional demographic race and that "there is no need to retreat from Jewish Geography in order to secure Jewish Demography."Much of the findings are based on research carried out by a Washington D.C.-based think tank led by Bennett Zimmerman, a former Strategy Consultant with the Bain & Company global management consulting firm. Ettinger, a former Congressional liaison at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. and an expert in U.S.-Israeli relations, led the Israeli research team.

In his latest report, Ettinger reports that the Jewish fertility rate in Israel is among the highest in the industrialized world. Forty years ago, Arab families had an average of six children more than Jewish families in Israel, while today, the gap has closed to less than one child.

Jews in Judea and Samaria have an even higher fertility rate. Prof. Dan Meyerstein, President of Ariel College, said recently that fertility in Yesha is "crazily higher than the rest of Israel" - 4.4 children, as opposed to the national average of 2.8. Since 1995, the annual number of Arab births within Israel's Green Line has stabilized around 37,000, while the annual number of Jewish births has increased by 34% (from 80,400 in 1995 to 107,000 in 2006).Other findings by Ettinger:

* The Jewish population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean has grown 164-fold since 1882, while the Arab population has grown six-fold.

* Since 1948, the Jewish population west of the Jordan River has grown 9-fold, from 650,000 to well over 5.5 million, while the Arab population has slightly more than tripled, to 3.8 million. This last number, incidentally, is the total number of Arabs in Israel, including Judea, Samaria and Gaza - and not in Judea, Samaria and Gaza alone, as the Arabs report.

* Jewish immigration into Israel has brought Jews to Israel every year since 1882, while a net average annual emigration of over 10,000 has characterized the Arab population of Judea and Samaria (especially) and Gaza since 1950. "There is no demographic machete over the throat of the Jewish State," Ettinger concludes. "Demography is not an existential threat to the Jewish State. Therefore, there is no need to retreat from Jewish Geography in order to secure Jewish Demography. In fact, a retreat from Jewish Geography would upset the migration balance in the area, facilitating a potential immigration of 1-2 million Palestinians into Judea & Samaria and from there (due to economic pressure) to the Green Line, thus wrecking Jewish Demography."

Ettinger compares the tenuous nature of demography to the permanent nature of geography and topography: "Demography is tenuous, subject to government's policy. On the other hand, the Geography and Topography of the mountain ridges of Judea & Samaria (the "Golan Heights" of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), and the 9-15-mile sliver between the Mediterranean and the 1949 Lines, are fixtures which cannot be tempered by human beings. A retreat from Judea and Samaria could pose an existential threat to the Jewish State."

[My Note: Interestingly, the cutting of state subsidies lowered the Arab birth rate, not the Jewish rate.]

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ben's Right

My friend, Ben Chorin, has eloquently expressed much of what I've been thinking and feeling lately. To save you the click, here are his thoughts:

I have had no interest in blogging lately but not for lack of anything to say. I'm actually bursting with thoughts on a variety of topics. But they all seem inconsequential in the light of a number of not unrelated circumstances.

The Iranians will soon have nuclear warheads pointed in our direction and it's quite clear that nobody is going to do anything about it, including us.The Europeans are awash in nihilism: they have no sense of purpose, no will to fight, no will to have children. They have subordinated their national identities to a soulless mega-bureaucracy that enforces arbitrary standards on the diameter of toilet bowls and such. They want the Jews dead.

And what are the Jews up to? We are descending into barbarism. The gay parade and some of the reactions to it; ugly violence within Satmar, Ponevezh, Lubavitch; the humiliation of the dispossessed of Gush Katif; the abandonment of the city of Sderot to the mercies of Hamas rockets with no reaction; a justice system that gets more brazenly corrupt from day to day; a government run by spinmeisters.

All these phenomena were set into motion long ago. Europe self-destructed in World War II. National identities never recovered. Instead most European countries turned into bland secular welfare states infantilized by their dependence on the United States for security. They are united only by their contempt for any people that has retained any sense of purpose, decency and identity.

And all the problems of the Jews listed above point to one thing: a lack of leadership. This too has its roots in Europe's self-destruction. If you want to know where today's Jewish religious, moral and political leaders are, you need look no further than right here (warning: graphic).

It is taking time but we will recover. Europe won't.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Poor R. Zera

Over the past month, or so, HaZofe has hosted a fascinating debate/polemic centering on the question abolishing the so-called 'חומרא דרבי זירא' that 'The daughters of Israel have undertaken to be so strict with themselves that if they see a drop of blood no bigger than a mustard seed they wait seven [clean] days after it' (Ber. 31a). The argument, posed by a physician and a mikveh lady, is that the extended Niddah restrictions causes 'halakhic infertility.' In other words, women who ovulate within their 'seven clean days' are rendered incapable of conceiving as a result of R. Zera's stricture.

In a careful response, both well-written and well-reasoned, Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau and his wife, Yoetzet Noa Lau, effectively
rebut the arguments for such a move. First, they point out that the stricture of R. Zera is restricted to the type of discharge that engenders the adoption of the seven clean days (i.e. the size of a mustard seed). It is not responsible for the conflation of the status of menstruants and zavah gedolah. That is due to a legislated ordinance enacted by R. Judah the Patriarch. Thus, we are not dealing with a humra in the usual sense (e.g. preparing coffee in a kli shelishi). Second, they aver that most cases of early ovulation can be treated systemically with limted hormone treatments. Hence, there is no reason to globally abolish a law that is, effectively, impossible to abolish because it was legislated by the Bet Din of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, and R. Zera's addition was ratified early in the Talmudic period.

More to the point, the Laus note (and here they really hit the mark) that the initiative to do away with this rule is a typical example of certain sectors within th observant community to seize on prima facie historical reconstructions of the circumstances that led to the adoption of certain halakhic rulings, in order to call for their abolition. Such an approach is, in my opinion, misplaced and intellectually dishonest. It is misplaced because it displays terrible disrespect to Halakhah. It assumes that Halakhah has no integrity, no autonomy and no life of its own. It is, according to this understanding, purely the result of the external factors that impact upon it. (More on this later.) Such an approach is also intellectually problematic because historical reconstructions are always based upon conjecture. Indeed, that is the nature of the scientific method. One only knows what one knows at the time. Tomorrow, a new datum may well be discovered that will cause today's seemingly unassailable theory to crumble. Does it not seem a bit rash to overturn a law sanctified by the Bet Din HaGadol and two millenia of usage, based upon, in this case, a misreading of the sources? (I.e. Forcing women to distinguish between Niddah and Zivah would be an intolerable burden.)

Following the Laus article, HaZofe published three more responses. Two, that were published last week, were by rabbis and typically rabbinical, in a
defensive sort of way. Friday, we were treated to a new experience. Dr. Ronit Ir-Shai, of Bet Morasha and Bar Ilan, damns Halakha with very faint praise. After a de jure statement of allegiance to Halakha, she proceeds to condemn Hazal, and all the post-Talmudic authorities, for the crime of Patriarchalism. In other words, because all Halakhists to the present day were men, they were (by definition) obtuse and unresponsive to women. (I suppose she figures that Noa Lau has 'gone native.') Now, I am not unaware of the fact that contemporary halakhists (especially Dayyanim) fall far short (to put it mildly) of their predecessors in the areas of Iggun, Mesoravot Get, Conversion and many other areas. That failing, however, is not inherent to the system. It is a function of the often dysfunctional way that Orthodoxy has confronted modernity. It is eminently rectifiable without irresponsible, disrespectful branding of חכמי המסורה all the way back to Moses.

There is, however, more to it than that. The type of stance bemoaned by the Laus and expressed by Dr. Ir-Shai and others reflects a readiness to sit in judgment on the Torah that I find highly problematic. Don't R. Zera, Rashi, R. Tam, Rambam, R. Yosef Karo, R. Moses Isserles, the GRA, R. Ovadia Yosef, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R. Moshe Feinstein and מו"ר the Rav deserve something of the benefit of the doubt?

Finally, the entire debate underlines the quandry of Jewish Law in the (dis)information age. These kind of discussions are simply not for the papers. Consider the following. Drs. Rosenak and Ir-Shai were both worked up over 'Halakhic infertility.' The latter was especially incensed by the nonchalant way in which the Laus advocated the use of hormone treatments to allow for delayed ovulation for women who found themselves in this situation. Such treatments, she correctly avers, can sometimes be dangerous for women. She sees here, incorrectly, insensitivity to the plight of women. It is, as if to say, that men will wreak havoc with a woman's body in order to preserve R. Zera's halakhic hegemony. This is a cheap shot, at best.

First, we are speaking of short term hormone use which is not at all comparable to the use of long term hormone treatments for birth control or post-menopausal developments.

Second, there are legitimate halakhic remedies for the type of problem raised by Dr. Rosenak. However, they are not for discussion in the paper!!! Halakha works on a case by case basis. Indeed, exactly in this context I have been privy to legal remedies that have left me stunned both by their extent and by the rabbis who proposed them. They were, though, ad hominem (so to speak), and so they should remain.

On so very many occasions, I heard the Rav זצ"ל say (both in private and in public) that Talmud Torah and Psak Halakhah require both extreme courage and heroism, on the one hand, and humility and surrender to God's Will on the other. I leave it to all sides in such discussions to reach the appropriate conclusions.

A Word from my Rebbetzin:

After I finished the above, my wife observed that in the Information Age rabbis have an obligation to intelligently and respectfully present halkhic options (though not global or specific rulings) on pressing issues. In the present case, for example, it is important to show women that there are remedies for which they can press. In many cases, uninformed and/or insensitive sources can lead to self-imposed humros or worse. Cogently, as always, she urged development of a via media between avoiding discussion and the irresponsible democratization of Halakha.

Louise Arbour: They Can Follow Orders

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting, my friend and neighbor Dr. Efraim Zuroff told me that Louise Arbour was a member of the only Canadian Court to ever aquit a Nazi War Criminal on the grounds that he was only following orders.

'Nuff said.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Louise Arbour: Unwanted Nobody

One of my more vociferous neighbors distributes bumper stickers that are aimed at local United Nations personell. The stickers read: 'Unwanted Nobodies, Go Home. ' I thought it was a bit much. Even when the Secretary General proved to be an outright flunky for Arab terrorism, I thought, "Why waste a perfectly good bumper?"

I've changed my mind. I have Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to thank.

According to today's Post:

Israel could be considered deserving of more blame for its actions in the Lebanon war than Hizbullah, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

Asked by the Post if there was a distinction under human rights law between missile attacks aimed at killing civilians and military strikes in which civilians are unintentionally killed, Arbour said the two could not be equated.

Guess who's invited to die? Die Juden, mein herr, die juden. Varum? Weil die Juden sind nicht menschen. Die Juden untermenschen sind. Haben sie deshalb keine lebens-recht.

So, you know what Ms. Arbour? Go home and protect the human rights of the hump backed whale.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Peace Now Revelatus

The full story of Peace Now's latest Yisrabluff, in which Mr.Michael, oops, Yariv Oppenheimer will do anything to advance the dismantling of the State of Israel.

Peace Now’s Report on Settlement Land: Less than Meets the Eye
A Preliminary Assessment

Peace Now, the Israeli advocacy group, has issued a new report, Breaking the Law – One Violation Leads to Another, claiming that “a large proportion of the settlements built on the West Bank are built on privately owned Palestinian land,” including 86.4% of Ma’ale Adumim’s land and 35.1% of Ariel’s. Overall, the report claims, “Palestinians privately own nearly 40% of the land on which settlements have been built.” This is in direct contradiction to often repeated claims by numerous Israeli governments that settlements are built only on state (that is, public) land and not on private land.

The Peace Now report harshly concludes in its Executive Summary that: addition to ignoring international laws and agreements, Israel has violated even its own norms and laws in the West Bank, through the confiscation of private Palestinian property and the building of settlements upon them...

Peace Now condemns the violation of Israeli law carried out over the past forty years by the State of Israel. We condemn the efforts of politicians and bureaucrats to launder the land grab, which deprived thousands of Palestinians of the basic human right of possession, on the individual and collective levels. We demand that the present Israeli Government rectify the situation, which means returning the private land to its owners. (emphasis in original)

Are these rather strong, if not hyperbolic, conclusions justified by the evidence that Peace Now cites in its report? The answer would seem to be no. The database (probably a simple spreadsheet) at the heart of Peace Now’s assertions came to them through a leak from a third party, and they are not even certain how current the information is. As the report puts it, the data is “updated to the best of our knowledge through 2004.”

But if they don’t know the currency of the data, what else don’t they know about the data? How, for example, do they know that the data hasn’t been tampered with? After all, with widely available software anyone can insert any data they want into a spreadsheet. Even if the spreadsheet was at one time accurate, how can Peace Now be certain that the version they relied upon was accurate? How can they be certain that their maps are accurate?

In addition, Peace Now's interpretation of the data seems tendentious at best, and they seem not to understand the relevant land laws, many of which date to the Ottoman empire. Thus it is not surprising that others who looked at the same data cited by Peace Now seemed to reach very different conclusions. As Peace Now explained in its report, the data the organization received:...served as a reference for attorney Talia Sasson when she prepared her government-mandated report on the outposts – a report which has been widely publicized and discussed.

Now, Ms. Sasson was asked by the Israeli government to look into so-called unauthorized outposts, essentially small settlements apparently built without the necessary permissions from the proper authorities. But contrary to Peace Now’s charges, Ms. Sasson found that use of private Palestinian land for outposts was due not to some nefarious land grab but to errors in marking state land on maps. According to her report, Summary of the Opinion Concerning Unauthorized Outposts:

I found that some of the lands allotted by the Civil Administration to the Settlement Division were survey lands [ie, of unknown ownership], and some were private Palestinian property. Apparently this was a result of errors in marking State lands on maps. This is one of the reasons that some of the unauthorized outposts were established not on State lands.

So was it occassional errors , as Ms. Sasson seems to believe on the basis of her data, or was it a knowing massive attempt to “launder a land grab,” as Peace Now charges on the basis of supposedly exactly the same data?

There are further serious problems with Peace Now’s allegations as well. Absolutely key to the questions they raise, for example, is the legal definition of what is public, or state, land, and what is private land. Unfortunately, the section of Peace Now’s report dealing with land law in the West Bank is extremely misleading, and in quite a few places simply incorrect. For example, according to the report:

Since 1967, Israel has made use of Ottoman legislation dating back to the middle of the 19th century in order to declare land to be “State land.” According to that law, all lands are considered "State Land" unless proven otherwise. To formally register land as private property, one must cultivate it for at least ten years. If the land is not registered, one would be considered the owner as long as he cultivates it and pays taxes on it. If the land is not cultivated for three successive years, it may become the property of the Ottoman State, i.e. "State Land".

First of all, Israel was and is obligated under international law, in particular the Hague Regulations of 1907, to maintain the legal system in the territories, and to respect, "unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." Thus it was not, as Peace Now clearly implies, an Israeli subterfuge ("Israel has made use of Ottoman legislation") to apply the pre-existing Ottoman – as well as British and Jordanian – laws in the West Bank.

In addition, Peace Now is also incorrect that to be recognized as private property land must be cultivated for at least ten years. Indeed, there is under the Ottoman land code a category of land known as mulk which is allodial, or private land, for which ownership is not at all related to cultivation. (A Survey of Palestine, Vol. 1, p225; British Mandate) Such land would revert to state ownership only if the owner died intestate. In other words, contrary to Peace Now, it is private property as would be understood in the United States; there is no need to cultivate it to maintain ownership rights.

Further, and this is the crucial point, what Peace Now refers to as “private property” in the above quoted paragraph, state land which has been cultivated for 10 years, is not at all private. For the rights in such land, whether or not it is registered, are in no way equivalent to what would be commonly called private property. Rather, it is more a form of feudal tenancy, as explained by the previously mentioned Survey:

The land tenures of Ottoman law consist of various modes of user the features of which are set out in the Ottoman Land Code... Most of the land [in Palestine] is held under two distinct tenures commonly referred to as mulk and miri. Mulk means “property.” The tenure called mulk is a private ownership tenure. Land so owned may be called “allodial” land. It is held in absolute ownership. The holder has almost unfettered freedom in regard to its use and disposition. Miri is a conditional usufruct tenure of land held by grant from the state. The holder or possessor is a usufructury whose tenure resembles a leasehold, subject to certain limitations on the use and disposition of the land and to the payment of certain fees. (p225-226)
That is, what Peace Now is calling “private Palestine land” is under the Ottoman Code at best miri land, and it is therefore not privately owned. It is rather land in which a person is granted by the state a limited right of use (whence the term usufruct). And contrary to Peace Now, the land remains the property of the state, and therefore in no way does it revert to the state only if there is a failure to cultivate. Miri land – the land of the Emir, or equivalently, of the sovereign – is state land, period.

In addition, regarding the West Bank, there is under the Ottoman Code another very important category of land known as mewat, or “dead land,” which was deceptively unmentioned by Peace Now. Mewat land, according to the Survey is:

... unallocated or waste areas situated beyond the confines of inhabited regions which can only be rendered cultivable by special effort... Nowadays, the development of “waste” land without prior leave from the State is legally a trespass. The conclusion is that mewat should have no significance and should be deemed undeveloped “vacant land” proper which cannot be possessed except by allocation from the State. (p 233)

This category is important, since, as pointed out by a different British Mandate source:
Practically all the unoccupied land of Palestine is mewat and cannot be occupied without the permission of the Government. (Palestine and Transjordan, p 210; Great Britain, Naval Intelligence Division, 1943)

The same source offers a further definition of mewat land:

Mewat is ownerless land, at a minimum distance of a mile and a half from the nearest inhabited town or village. Another system of measurement is, sufficiently distant from such a town of village that the voice of a man shouting there cannot be heard. (p 210)

That is, much of what Peace Now is terming “private Palestinian land” is in fact state land because it is mewat, and has been considered so for generations. The land on which Ma’ale Adumim was built, for example, was more than a mile and a half from the built up area of the closest Arab village, Al ‘Ayzariyah; the land was also rocky and on a ridge, and had therefore never been inhabited or cultivated. It was therefore clearly mewat land which belonged to the state and not to any private owners.

In light of these facts about land tenure in the West Bank, the flaws in the following key statement in Peace Now’s report should be obvious:

The “privately owned land” to which this report refers is:

A. Land that was registered and recognized as private property before 1968, at a time when the process of land registration was still open and available to Palestinians, or

B. Cultivated land which is recognized by Israel as private land according to the Ottoman law.
Land that was “registered ... as private property” before 1968 was not so registered unless it was mulk land, as we have seen. The land Peace Now refers to, if it was registered at all, was registered as miri land, state land on which a certain party or parties had limited rights, and no more. To repeat, this is not private land – it is state land to which private individuals have been granted the equivalent of a leasehold.

In addition, in many cases land which had once been registered as miri had later fallen into disuse, and therefore even the limited rights had been extinguished. But it seems from the above that Peace Now considers all this land, if it was ever registered before 1968, still to be private Palestinian land.

There can be no doubt, however, that the majority of land that Peace Now calls “private Palestinian land” is in fact mewat, or waste land, and therefore permanently in the public domain, with not even rights to cultivate.

Finally, Peace Now’s claim above that since 1968 Palestinians have been unable to register land is simply nonsense. There are many examples of Israeli authorities registering miri land to Palestinians on the basis of use. One case the present author is familiar with involved a Palestinian farmer from the village of Beit Iksa who, according to a Israeli Supreme Court case was able to register more than 24 dunams (around six acres) of land on the basis of use:
... the appeals board reached a final conclusion, which it also displayed visually in a sketch that it attached to the decision, according to which 24 dunams and another 200 meters from the territory in dispute are territory that must be recognized as in the ownership of the petitioner. (Sabri Mahmoud Gharib v. 1. Board of Appeals and 2. The Authority over Abandoned and Government Property, High Court of Justice (277/84) 24 March 1986)

The bottom line is that even if Peace Now’s very questionable leaked data is correct, its other “facts,” its analysis, and its conclusions are faulty, and therefore deserve little credibility.

The Truth Hurts

Hayu Yamim

This used to be the sign that stood on Rte. 2 (North) near Herzliya.

Pleased to Announce

The publication of:
קווים לדרכו ולתרומתו המחקרית של י' תא-שמע ז"ל יוסף (ג'פרי) וולף
appearing in:
כתב-עת לחקר ספרות התורה שבעל-פה
כרך כא
עורך: פרופ' דוד הנשקה
סידרא, כתב-עת היוצא לאור על ידי המחלקה לתלמוד באוניברסיטת בר-אילן, מהווה במה לפרסום מחקרים מקוריים בנושאים הקשורים לתורה שבעל-פה, מפרי עטם של מיטב החוקרים בתחום היהדות. המאמרים שהתפרסמו עד עתה מגוונים ועוסקים בקשת רחבה של נושאים: אגדה והלכה, ספרות התנאים וספרות האמוראים, ריאליה ותולדות המנהגים.
כתב-העת מיועד הן לאנשי מחקר ותלמידים והן לציבור הרחב המתעניין במורשת היהודית לתולדותיה.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Peace Now Redux

The ever vigilent Yisrael Medad has provided a reasoned response to the Peace Now claims about the alleged theft of Arab Land. Not surprisingly, Seymour Reich of IPF (who hasn't met a Jewish organization of which he wouldn't like to be President) and the ever, intellectually-challenged MJ Rosenberg (who never met a Palestinian he didn't like, or a religious/settler he didn't loathe) are up in arms.

The whole story reminds me of the land grab the Bethlehem Arabs tried to pull a couple of years ago (and got away with, partially). The started woking JNF land in Gush Etzion and claimed it had been sold to them. They even had Civil Administration documents to prove it. The problemwas that the certifying officer had died before the date on the deeds. In addition, it turns out that the date on the deeds was....Yom Kippur.

Nevertheless, those olive trees that the Arabs had succeeded in planting, stayed.

All in the Family

The awards scene is, without a doubt, one of the more amusing aspects of Israeli society. Since many, if not most, of the various cultural enterprises are wo/manned by closed guilds, the result is that homogenous groups award prizes to each other in order to affirm their loyalty to the ideals of the guild.

A classic example of this phenomenon is the annual Nachum Sokolow award for journalism, which aspires to be the Israeli Pulitzer. Year in, year out, the unabashedly leftist, avowedly Post-Zionist/Post-Jewish clique that comprises most of the Israeli media grants awards for excellence to itself. Thus, we have been treated to the sight of Uri Avneri, the leading spokesman of the Palestinian Right, awarded a lifetime achievement award. Thus, it comes as no surprise that this year, Uzi Benziman, whose poison-pen invectives against Settlers, Judaism, Haredim, Conservatives (and anyone else who doesn't live near Schocken Street) has been awarded this year's prize for journalistic excellence. If you look at the list of impartial professionals on the panel (with one token closet rightist), you won't rub your eyes in amazement.

Maybe the dress code will be yellow.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What can One Say?

I know they don't read my blog. They probably don't read any blogs. Hell, they probably don't read books that are not approved by the Ministry of Truth. Nevertheless, in light of yesterday's posting, today's event are unsettling, to say the least.

1. The Supreme Court voted overwhelmingly to recognize same-sex marriages (with Justice Elyakim Rubenstein, representing the sad minority of one). It brings to mind the R. Yitzhak Arama's observation, as mediated in the Introduction to the Shev Shematsa, that what made Sodom more despicable than the Benjaminites (Cf. Jud. 19-21), was the fact that they were not simply sinners, they institutionalized, and thereby sought to 'regularize,' rank immorality.

2. With rockets raining down on Sederot, with Hizbullah preparing for the next war and Iran, well, you know....Shalom Achshav could find no better time to claim that 40% (down from 90%) of the towns in Judaea and Samaria are built on privately owned Palestinian lands. These messianic hallucinators, led by head fantasiast Yariv Oppenheimer, are more concerned with destroying other Jews than with defeating their enemies.
First, much of the documentation upon which they base their findings is either faulty or forged. How do I know?I know because the city of Ma'aleh Adumim is on their list and I know for a fact that before 1948, my late uncle, Captain Yehiel Langer purchased the area with a group of investors. The investment was lost when Jordan conquered the area (yes, Arabs conquer. Imagine!). So the last legal owner was definitely a Jew.
Second, how short-sighted can these guys be? Do they really want to open this can of worms? Are they ready to hand all land that was taken by eminent domain over the past 60 years? Are they ready to hand over the Knesset, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Israel Museum, all of Ashdod and who knows what else?
On the other hand, are they willing champion Jewish title to Hader (JNF), Naharayim (Privately owned), Dahaishe (JNF), the Syrian Side of the Golan (Rothschild Family), the Hebron Market (owners slaughtered in 1929), Abu Dis (Sephardic Kollel Klali), Silwan (Yemenite Owners from before 1929), and the list keeps going?
One thing I know. Yariv Oppenheimer (is he related to Mr. Michael Oppenheimer from Z100?) is continuing a long tradition. In May, 1948 Judah Magnes, the president of Hebrew University, went to Washington in order to block the declaration of the State of Israel and/or to prevent American recognition thereof. More recently, R. Y. D. Weiss joined with Iranian President Ahmedinejad to advance the cause of Israel's disappearance.

Ironically, all this just leaves me bemused. It's so outrageous that you can't really get angry.

Monday, November 20, 2006

In the Mushroom's Shadow

My youth was spent in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. I still remember nuclear war drills, air raid shelters, tests of the emergency brodcasting system, and the Friday Noon test of the Newton MA air raid siren. Perhaps because I was a kid, I did not give much conscious thought to the possibility of nuclear holocaust (although we were swamped with info-mercials about nuclear fall out). It was just too far-fetched a scenario.

Or, was it?

Recently, I've been haunted by a recurrent day/nightmare that I had in the late fifties and early sixties. The US and USSR face off and the world is on the brink of Mutually Assured Destruction. Just as Kennedy and Kruschev go for the button, a shofar goes off and God intervenes, sending the Messiah. The idea that man could blow himself up was just too horrible to even imagine (before The Planet of the Apes, that is).

Or, is it?

Haman's vicar on earth, Mahmud Ahmedinijad, evidently means to hit us with a nuclear bomb, at first opportunity. (Remember this?) Every day that passes he comes closer to his goal, while Europe cries negotiate (and drools at the idea of another 6,000,000+ Jews cremated). The idiots in the Democratic Party of the United States, funded by the Shalom Aleikhemesque George ('when you're rich they think you really know') Soros, also think they can reason with Iran. Even Israelis suffer from such cognitive egocentrism, as if giving the Golan sine conditiones to Syria will stop Iran, which expects the imminent arrival of the Twelfth Imam.

Ah, but they cry, Ahmedinijad wouldn't hurt Palestinians by nuking Israel!

To which I reply, why not? He'll be sending them to heaven (maybe, since Palestinians are overwhelmingly Sunni 'heretics'). After all, as Nasrallah has said, '"We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death." [And lest you think that this is uniquely Nasrallah or Shiite bluster, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, is reported as saying: According to the Islamic practice, Khalid addressed the following letter to Hurmuz, the Iranian Commander (in 636 CE): "Accept Islam and you will be safe. If not, agree to pay the jizya or you will have to repent. I am bringing against you a people who love death as you love life."

It is not too late. We Jews must take control of our own destiny. First, we need to do and encourage Teshuva, widespread Teshuva, in light of God's clear warning. Second, we need to change governments and elect new leaders. Third, we need to strike Iran with whatever it takes. Let them curse us in Paris, in London, in Madrid and in New York. In a zero sum game, Israel will not be the zero.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Lost Opportunity

I've decided that Abba Eban's witticism about the Palestinians, that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, applies even more to Jews. Don't believe me? Watch this.

No Words....No Words...Isa. 1, 9-10

I just happened upon this. And they ask why we are in mortal danger from our enemies, near and far.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

After the Parade...

Only Israeli spelunkers and astronauts (of various varieties) were unaware of the fact that the so-called Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade was to have been held last Friday, or that it elicited widespread opposition (some of it, unhappily, violent). In the end, the parade was transformed into a 'Happening' at the Hebrew University Amphitheatre at the Givat Ram campus, ושלום על ישראל (sort of).

The events leading up to the parade's cancellation produced so much verbiage, and stirred such strong reactions, that I resisted writing about the issue medias in rem. Now that a week has passed, and public attention is (justifiably) rivetted upon Sederot (while Olmert and the moral midgets concentrate on political survival), I would like to venture three observations on the events surrounding the parade.

I. Dialogue of the Deaf

I think it is apparent that the attempt by homosexuals and their supporters to regularize their presence in Israeli public space through a bid for total acceptance, validation and legitimization is a natural flash-point for conflict with the Religious and Traditional communities (and not merely the Haredim). So-called Gay Rights (as distinguished from general human rights, to which all are entitled), are an expression of a fundamentally, and exclusively, anthropocentric outlook which cannot find common language with those who believe that the Torah is the Word of God. The conflict between the two, on the level of principle, is irresoluble. With all of the importance that the Torah gives to Human dignity and Human Life, there are moments and circumstances that require submission to God's Will, despite our inability to understand it.

No amount of legal casuistry or post-modern babble can explain away the fact that there are issues where the chasm between Judaism and contemporary mores is unbridgeable. That does not mean, God Forbid, that violence should be the result. It is self-evident that there is absolutely no halakhic justification or capacity for such action. Neither is anyone checking into someone's private actions. Things that are done in private are answerable to God alone. No one is God's accountant, or has the right to appoint himself to that position. However, at the same time, it is the height of arrogance, paternalism, and obtuseness to expect the Religious and Traditional communities to accept, much less validate activities that it believes will lead to the driving of Jews from their God-given patrimony.

I, once again, refer to the Rav's famous remarks on the Nature of Torah Study and Accepting the Yoke of Heaven.

II. All's Well in Geulah

A week ago Tuesday, I had to go to Geulah to buy a few things (e.g. Egg Kichel at the Brooklyn בייקערי). I was totally absorbed in a conversation about some academic issue, with son number one, and forgot that driving up to Kikar Shabbat might be, errrr, problematic. (It's a Haredi stronghold). Well, true to form, all of Rehov Yehezqel was ablaze with burning garbage, in protest of the impending parade. That was not such a surprise. It was in all the media. So I turned left, drove around and entered Geulah from the other direction. What I saw was a revelation. The street was teeming with....shoppers, families out for Pizza, you name it. There was no sign of demonstrations or rocks or what not. 'What's going on (0r, not going on),' I asked the proprietor of a household appliances store. 'Only the lunatics (משוגעים) from Toldos Aharon are carrying on,' he explained. 'The rest of us disagree with the parade, but reject their violence, also.'

III. A Parade to Har HaBayit
The only reason that the full scale parade did not take place was because the police were forced to respond to the terror threats after the incident in Beit Hanun. Obviously, the fear of violence is not a reason to deny someone his/her freedom of speech and self-expression. Hence, the Police have lost any valence in preventing Jews from praying on Har HaBayit. There is serious talk of erecting a shul outside of the Temple precincts. במהרה בימינו. אמן

Rabbi Soloveitchik and the Hindu Elephant Problem

I just sent back the galleys of a very long article entitled 'In Search of the Rav," that is slated to appear in the next issue of the journal BaDaD. The article, which is cast as a review essay of a series of books by and about Rabbi Soloveitchik, attempts to highlight places where I believe the regnant understanding of the Rav, his life and his teachings have been stuck, or insufficiently understood. Instead of carping, as many do, I suggest additional avenues of investigation and frameworks of interpretation. When the book from the Van Leer Conference on the Rav's teachings is published, I'll have more to say on the matter, as well. (For those with patience, the substance of the article is declaimed here.)

I mention this, because lately I've become more aware of the fact that not only is there a far-flung controversy concerning the Rav's life and teachings (hence the reference to the Blind Men and the Elephant), but something of a closed shop seems to have developed a canon around the right to express an opinion on the matter. Discussions of Rav Soloveitchik invariably involve the same coterie of individuals, who have created an exclusive de facto 'Rav Soloveitchik Gild.'

Rav Soloveitchik had many disciples, and interacted with many people. It seems to me unfortunate that relatively few of these have recorded, much less published, their thoughts and/or reminiscences. Ironically, many who were closer to the Rav and more attuned to the nuances of his teachings have not written, while others have. This is especially true of the members of the Boston Jewish Community who new the Rav most intinmately. Important efforts have been made in this direction (e.g. Seth Farber's book on the Maimonides School and the booklet published by Maimonides.) I am firmly of the opinion that such people have an abiding moral responsibility to stand up, record and be included in the creation of the record of our amazing teacher, our Rav Muvhaq.

[In that connection, I have to applaud the efforts of the YU Commentator to solicit and publish reminiscences of the Rav, both in the YUdaica project (of the indefatigable Menachem Butler) and the Legacy series presently under way, under the aegis of Eitan Kastner.]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wisdom from Naomi

As promised, Naomi Ragen's reflection on the present situation:

The Gathering Storm
By Naomi Ragen

Friends, Some of you have commented that I'm sending out much lessmaterial of late. This is not your imagination. As I sit in my little study in Jerusalem, overlooking the rolling hills where David once fought Goliath, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness as day after day the news gets worse and worse.

There is a line from I, Claudius, the mini-series on ancient Rome based on Robert Graves wonderful book that keeps going through my head. It is spoken by Claudius, the reluctant emperor who wishes to bring back the Republic and end the corrupt monarchy. He says: "Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out."

What Claudius means, is let the horrors brought about by perversions and lies and corruption come to fruition so that people will clearly see what a state their world is in, and work for change.

We are definitely in the mud. Israeli leadership is the most incompetent and corrupt in her history. Everyone from our Prime Minister to our President is under investigation from everything from bribe-taking to rape. After all the bitter lessons of the fake Oslo Accords, that had our children dying in the streets, we have learned nothing, as Olmert goes once again to the Americans with yet another deadly plan to give our enemies more land, and with it, more opportunity, to kill us.

It's not that Israelis don't know what is going on. They do. But people are overwhelmed by the sheer pace of events that unfold with frightening speed from month to month. Still reeling from the rocket attacks on the North, we must deal with daily rocket attacks on our South and the huge weapons influx from the Philadelphi Corridor, once closely guarded by the IDF, which is now open to endless weapons imports from Egypt, thanks to a decision made by people like Mofaz and Halutz to withdraw. Every day, some other suicide bomber is apprehended. You don't hear about it, because we don't die, but that doesn't mean our enemies have stopped trying to kill us.

Some people - the reserve officers whose lives were risked in the last debacle in Lebanon- have had the gumption to rally to bring down the corrupt government, but most of us are mired in confusion and simple fatigue. We get sidetracked by foolishness, like the decision to turn Jerusalem into a world-wide venue for gay rights activism, an idea that backfired, exposing fanaticism and hatred on all sides. No, I didn't think the parade was a good idea, but I was equally appalled by the violence and destruction wreaked on Jerusalem by the parade's opponents.

I also found the activism against gay rights by the Chief Rabbinate to be the height of hypocrisy. So concerned are they with Jewish law and the holiness of the Jewish people that Chief Rabbi Amar (whose own family was arrested not long ago for assault and battery on his daughter's suitor) cancelled the much anticipated Agunah Conference. The Conference would have brought together Orthodox rabbis from all over the world in a historic effort to come up with halachic solutions to Jewish laws that encourage the blackmail and extortion of Jewish women seeking a divorce, laws which have turned the Jewish marriage ceremony into a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

And while we focus all our time and energy on these ridiculous little tempests in teapots, Iran goes on building her atom bomb unimpeded, a bomb with our name on it. Olmert smiles at us from the front page of newspapers as he shakes the hand of a smiling lame duck president, confident that the U.S. is going to stop Iran and save us. His own sons already live in America, so I guess he isn't very worried. But mine live here in Israel, and I am. The world seems mired in the same kind of lethargy and Jew-hatred which preceded the Holocaust.

Open any news channel, read any newspaper, and the story line continues to be the poor Palestinians, even though they continue to support the most corrupt, violent and dysfunctional regime on earth. The lies covering up Islamic extremism and its agenda worldwide continue to be flaunted by trendy films, TV shows, Hollywood"stars", once-respectable newspapers, public-funded radio shows.

The victory of the Democrats over the Republicans while certainly in response to the Bush administration's many failures, also no doubt shows a weakening of the resolve to face the terrorist threat head-on, and a desire to believe that there is another, easier way to secure our freedoms, the way of negotiation, of easing the "grievances"that the Muslims have against the West. As Brigitte Gabriel writes in her amazing book, Because They Hate: "Theirgrievance is our freedom of religion. Their grievance is our democratic process.''

The Jews of America, who could do so much to strengthentheir sisters and brothers in Israel, continue to be influenced by the anti-Israel propaganda. That a large portion of funds raised for the Israeli victims of the war in Lebanon by the UJC were earmarked for Israeli Arabs, who openly sided with Nasrallah, is one symptom. The complete abandonment of the Jews of Gush Katif by American Jewry, so eager to help Arabs, is another. The government is supposedly helping them, you'll hear these people say. It's their own fault for not signing on the dotted line in time, for resisting government policy. The fact that everyone, even those who did sign, remain jobless, homeless and poverty-stricken because of their crime of living in an area that defended Israel's south from terrorist bombardment for many years, is unforgivable.

It's as if we Jews have adopted the "hate the settler" philosophy of our enemies, and wish to join the forces that want them punished for their crime of being Zionists, and patriots,and self-sacrificing, and loyal.

Jonathan Pollard, the spy who did not harm anyone, or anyAmerican interest, remains behind bars because he is a Jew who helped Israel, having long ago paid for any wrong doing, serving more time than spies who gave information to America's worst enemies and caused irreparable damage to her security. And Jews are afraid to stand up for him. That is another sign.

The rockets continue to fall on Sderot and the Negev from Gaza. Each time we try to stop it, the world press gathers like jackals to condemn us. Misinformation, outright propaganda abounds. I'm sick of it.It's like emptying a flooded cruise liner with a teaspoon.

In his book "The Gathering Storm," Churchill wrote: "How easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented: how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of democratic States.... lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to humblemasses; how, even, in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued for even ten or fifteen years at a time. We shall see how the counsel of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life maybe found to lead direct to the bull's-eye of disaster." Perhaps we have passed the point of no return. Perhaps our accumulated mistakes and crimes have created a downhill momentum that can no longer be stopped by human effort, but only Godly intervention, i.e. a miracle.

Churchill wrotethat he gained comfort from the fact that when Nazi Germany finally showed her true face, in a way that even the most naive could not ignore, "my warnings over the last six years had been so numerous, so detailed and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me....I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams."

I doubt that the storm that is gathering, threatening all we love, and cherish and believe in, will allow us even that scant comfort. I do not want to be "terribly vindicated." I want to live out my life, and die in a good old age, my children and grandchildren safe and healthy around me, free citizens in the land of their forefathers.

This is my dream. May God help us.

Back in the Saddle...

Those of you who have been so kind as to notice my extended absence, and inquire after my well-being can be reassured. I am, Barukh HaShem, fine (as are the other members of the family). My lack of posting is a combination of practical and existential factors.

Practically, I’ve been incredibly busy with good things. First, I finally received tenure here and, at the same time, pushed hard to finish my book to be published here, which will allow me to start a promotion procedure for Associate Professor. Second, and no less exciting, is my new position as Senior Staff Editor, here. In addition, my better half finished her training as an Art Therapist, here. Son #1 finished his BA, here and the next day (literally) was accepted to a Masters Program in Contemporary Jewry. Son #2 came back from his צו 8 and is back learning here. Daughter #1 finished National Service here and is learning full time, here. Daughter #2 is learning in the best Girl’s Art Yeshiva in the world, here. Daughter #3 is 8 going on 40 (and in 3rd grade here).

Existentially, events have moved too swiftly to absorb, much less post about (though I intend to discuss a few over the next few days). My feelings about the state of Israel are eloquently put by Ari Shavit and Naomi Ragen (I’ll post her’s later).

Meanwhile, though, I want to focus on the good stuff. This week is my birthday. וד' בירך אותי בכל. (You figure it out).