Thursday, April 22, 2010

Censorship, Islam and South Park

Yael at Oleh Girl has just posted this video. It is self-explanatory and is a must see.

(Yael's blog is a must read, on its own merits, and it has been that from her pre-Aliyah life. She is, without a doubt, one of the best Aliyah success stories ever.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Unholy Trinity that Undermine's Israel's Existence

Martin Sherman has laid out the Orwellian circumstance in which Israel finds itself. Entrenched, self-destructive and ideologically Leftist elites in the Judiciary, the media and academia undermine and thwart Israel's Democracy and, ultimately, its very existence. I wish this were a crazy nightmare, but it's all too real.

Who really runs Israel?

Martin Sherman explains why Israeli election results are often meaningless
Martin Sherman

Consider the following remarkable facts regarding Israel’s parliamentary history:

(a) For 20 of the 28 years between 1977- when the Likud first won the elections on a platform of "Greater Israel - and 2005 - when a Likud government withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in stark contradiction to its electoral pledges - the Israeli government was headed by a prime minister from the Likud.

(b) When the Likud came to power, the entire Sinai Peninsula was under Israeli control, any suggestion that Israel might evacuate the Jordan Valley was virtually unthinkable, any thought of dividing Jerusalem was tantamount to blasphemy, and any hint of withdrawal from the Golan was almost akin to treason.

(c) Yet today, over a third of a century since Menachem Begin’s dramatic electoral victory, all the above are either already faits accomplis or are widely considered inevitable in the not-to-distant future.

This clearly demonstrates that although the "right-wing" consistently wins elections, it never really gets into power. It is a phenomenon that can only be explained by the existence of some influence extraneous to the political system that imposes policy outcomes that diverge radically from those that should be expected from regular operation of political routine.

As such it is a phenomenon that has virtually emptied the Israeli democratic process of any significance.

Thus, Yitzhak Rabin who in1992 was elected on the basis a series of hawkish "nays," radically switched his policy mid-term, transforming them all to dovish "yeas" which begot the Oslowian fiasco. Even more dramatically, Ariel Sharon, elected on a platform opposing any notion of unilateral withdrawal, adopted precisely such policy, advocated by his Labor party rival and rejected by the electorate.

Far-sighted wisdom?

Two claims not infrequently espoused to account for these cases of flagrant disregard for electoral pledges must be summarily repudiated.

The first is that they were the result of international - particularly US - pressure. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of Oslo, the entire unfortunate process was covertly conceived exclusively by Israelis and Palestinians in remote Scandinavia without any international coercion. In fact, the PLO, cosignatory to the accords that emerged from this ill-considered initiative, was still listed a terror organization by the US governments at the time of their conclusion. Likewise, the disastrous disengagement was not a product of American pressure. Quite the reverse, Washington initially opposed unilateral initiatives and had to be convinced by Sharon as to the merits of the idea.

The second claim that needs to be dispelled is that these mid-term policy reversals reflect some far-sighted wisdom in dovish policies of territorial concessions and political appeasement that made the post-election abandonment of more hawkish political platforms inevitable.

Indeed, one of the most astonishing aspects of the Israeli political system is of ostensibly "hawkish" politicians adopting, once in power, "dovish" policies they previously repudiated. After all, these policies have consistently and continuously proved disastrous failures.

So if the most dramatic political initiatives over the last two decades cannot be attributed to international pressure, or to the far-sighted wisdom of Israeli leaders, or the preferences of the Israeli electorate, what can it be ascribed to?

Trinity of influence

The answer is to be found more in Israel's sociological structure than its political mechanisms. More specifically, it lies in composition of its civil society elites who control the legal establishment, dominate the mainstream media, and hold the sway in academia (specifically in the social sciences and humanities faculties - where the politically-correct dominates.) These groups comprise an interactive trinity of influence that in effect dominates the socio-political process in Israel, sets the direction of the national agenda at the strategic level and imposes, with great effectiveness, its views on elected politicians and the general public.

Thus, for example, the legal elite can impede any assertive initiative that the elected polity may wish to implement. Similarly, the media elite can promote any concessionary initiative that the elected polity may be loath to implement. And when the stamp of professional approval is required for either, the amenable academic elite is ever-ready to provide it.

It requires little analytical acumen to identify that these were the mechanisms that generated most of the major political processes over the last two decades. Accordingly, the ability to understand the political realities in Israel is contingent on understanding the worldview and the cost-benefit analysis of these powerful and influential elites.

For them, the approval of peer groups abroad is far more important in determining their agenda than the approval of Israeli citizens at home. Invitations to deliver keynote speeches at high-profile conventions, sought-after appointments as visiting scholars at prestigious institutes, lucrative grants for research projects are far more forthcoming if one in identified as empathetic to the Palestinian narrative than as committed to the Zionist one.

This reality has far reaching effects. For example, it prevents the adherents and all those under their considerable influence from portraying the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular, in their true light. After all, such an assertive portrayal would make the dominant elites' worldview look outrageously irresponsible. They are thus compelled to depict the Arab/Palestinian side in a far more favorable light than reality warrants while portraying the Israeli side in a far more negative one - otherwise there would be no justification in handing over areas of vital strategic importance to Arab/Palestinian control.

Grave consequences

After all, to acknowledge Arab brutality and backwardness, to focus on the repression of women, the suppression of dissidents, oppression of homosexuals, to draw attention to the harassing of critical journalists and the hounding of political opponents would gravely undermine the prudence of any policy advocating establishment of a Palestinian entity barely a mile from the national parliament, overlooking Ben-Gurion airport, adjacent to the Trans-Israel highway and atop crucial water resources.

It is difficult to overstate the gravity of the consequences that the imposition of elite political preferences on Israeli policy has - for both the preservation of Israeli security and Israel democracy.

Firstly, with regard to security, the aversion to drawing attention to the real nature of the Arab world prevents Israel from persuasively presenting its case and creating international understanding for the dire dangers that it faces in contending with such adversaries.

Secondly, with regard to democracy, the dramatic elite-induced policy reversals since the early 90s constitute a powerful disincentive for partaking in the electoral. For what is the point of voting any party or person into power if they end up implementing precisely what was rejected by the voters?

Contending with this phenomenon is no easy matter within the constraints of democratic norms, and the operational details of a strategy to address it are beyond the scope of this article. However, whatever form such strategy may take, its point of departure would need to be an accurate articulation of the problem and its overriding objective to publicly expose those responsible for the dangerous distortions they impose on the nations political mechanisms, unveil their myopia and/or their malice, undermine their standing, and erode their status. This is the only way to neutralize their influence and contain enormous damage that they inflict on the nation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Shiur for Yom ha-Zikkaron and Yom ha-Atzma'ut

This is the link to a shiur I gave this evening, during the transition from Yom Ha-Zikkaron to Yom ha-Atzma'ut in our shul, Congregation Lev Efrat. (The shiur was in Hebrew)

The topic was: האם יש קדושה בדגל?

You can access the sources, here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Yom ha-Zikkaron 5770

---Natan Alterman (1910-1970)

העולם, כולל יהודי הגולה, לעולם לא יבין ולא יעריך את המחיר ששילמנו עבור עצמאותנו ועבור היותנו ערבים זה לזה לעתיד עמנו. הוא לא יבין את פגישת העיניים המבינה בין שני ישראלים בשדה הקרב, או למשמע בשורת על פיגוע. הוא לא יבין את עוצמת נחישותו של העם הזה להיאחז לנצח על אדמת המולדת, בעזרת ה' יתברך. אולם, אנחנו מבינים. ואלקים מבין. ויותר מזה, אנו לא צריכים

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ahavat ha-Torah

(Hattip: Talmud Blog)

Kollel 'Culture' II

The comments that were posted to my previous remarks are so important, that I decided to respond to them in a post of their own.

1) Malnutrition etc.- It is an open secret among welfare workers and therapists that 'holy poverty' leads to hunger, malnutrition, spousal and child abuse, abandonment, divorce, and sarvanut. These phenomena are not confined to the Baal Teshuvah population (as many FFB Haredim would like to believe). The tip of the iceberg has been addressed by Haredi columnist, Tali Farkas, on YNET.
(It's also not irrelevant to mention that the fantasy that everyone should be a Gadol ba-Torah and only learn Gemara is a central factor in the ever increasing phenomenon of Juvenile Delinquency, crime, abuse and abandonment of Judaism by Haredi men and women.)

2) At the same time, Haredim have perfected the art of exploiting the system (not, per se, contemnable). In the process, the community has developed an attitude of entitlement that is absolutely contemnable. The attitude is: You owe me a living and have to work to provide it.

3) It was observed that the statistics are questionable, because many Arabs and Haredim work 'off the books.' The statistics are easily available here. (Thanks to Religion and State for the link.) Not a few Haredim work off the books. However, I fail to see how that helps. They don't declare the income and they do absolutely nothing to contribute to the country. On the contrary, they both work off the books and take government and Kollel stipends. In brief, they're guilty of theft. Such people are halakhically רשעים and disqualified to serve as witnesses.

What should be done? I'm afraid that, given the doctrinal inflexibility of the Haredi leadership, the only thing to do is to drastically limit support of Kollelim, and largely stop that support after a certain age. Further support can be provided promising students, and those who commit to enter education (with education degrees). At the same time, the government will have to create the scenarios to train Kollel students in whatever field they want.

There will be incredible upheavals over this. However, if the abject failure of the rabbinic ban on the internet is any indication, the effort will ultimately succeed ויגדיל תורנה ויאדירה.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Existential Danger: Kollel 'Culture'

Who hasn't discussed it innumerable times? Who hasn't asked, wistfully, how long the culture of institutionalized poverty for which Kollel culture is responsible can sustain itself? Who hasn't deeply resented the supercillious attitude of Rashe Yeshivah and their students toward equally religious (and learned) Jews who (together with their spouses) work long hours not only to support their families, but to sustain those who have decided that they 'deserve' to be supported in their studies?
Who, in the non-Hareidi world, doesn't resent the outright Hillul HaShem that Life long Learning on other people's חשבון causes?

And, among those who know, who hasn't been outraged by the price that this 'holy poverty' exacts upon the families subjected to it? Malnutrition, broken families, drugs, juvenile delinquency, and all of the evils illnesses of Egypt accrue to families who subscribe (or are subscribed) to the idiotic idea that everyone should learn Torah full time; that everyone will be the Gadol HaDor and that getting a job and supporting one's family (and, a fortiori, getting the education required to make a living) is a terrible shame and should block the marriages of such a person's children.

For whatever reason, those of us who know better, are silent. We have bought into the idea that we are second class Jews. Our Torah is no Torah. Our mitzvot are of lesser value. Our lives, like those of the Gibeonites, only validated because we are the water-carriers and the wood choppers of the Yeshiva World, whose denizens protect us from our enemies. God, they would have it, prefers their Torah to that of those who work all day and study by night (מיעוט שינה); who defend the lives of six million Jews and learn whenever they can.

Now it appears, that the Kollel Culture is not only a drain, it's a danger. According to a recent study, reported in today's Jerusalem Post, universal Kollel study ad infinitum is an existential danger to the State of Israel:

As the latest “State of the Nation Report: Society, Economy and Policy” by Jerusalem’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies warns, growing segments of our society are ill-equipped to participate in modern economic processes. Being left behind doesn’t just impact them and play havoc with our national statistics. It also costs the productive members of society heavily, forcing a diminishing population segment to support those who don’t pull their weight.

We’re hit by a double whammy. Israel’s economy is denied the contribution of those who remain on its sidelines, and it also must deduct from its GDP what’s shelled out to nonproductive societal components by way of entitlements – money spent on social services. We may be fast approaching a situation in which we pay out more than is coming in. Less will consequently be left to encourage innovation, tempting the more enterprising, upwardly mobile but inordinately burdened among us to pull up stakes and relocate to greener pastures.

ABOUT ONE-THIRD of Israeli households nominally subsist under the poverty line, while almost 20 percent of men between the ages of 35-54 don’t work. The malaise, though, isn’t equally endemic in all social sectors. Its gravest concentrations are among Arabs and haredim. Unemployment figures for Arab men had soared from 15% in 1979 to 27% in 2008.

Among haredi men it spiralled from 21% 30 years ago to a whopping 65%.

Making these numbers more alarming yet are school-enrollment trends. Should these continue, by 2040 78% of Israel’s youngsters would be educated in haredi or Arab schools, the very ones that notoriously ill-prepare their graduates for the modern workforce.

Everyone should have the right to learn Torah. Those who are uniquely gifted, should be fully supported to grow in learning, just as we support young scientists and writers. Anyone else should work like a mensch. If he or she chooses not to work there is absolutely no reason that others should pay for it. Certainly, as R. Israel Salanter used to say, no one, absolutely no one, has the right to do mtzvos at someone else's expense. Enough is enough.

It is time to stop the global support of Kollelim and to enforce the Rambam's unilateral declaration:

רמב"ם הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק ג הלכה י

כל המשים על לבו שיעסוק בתורה ולא יעשה מלאכה ויתפרנס מן הצדקה הרי זה חלל את השם ובזה את התורה וכבה מאור הדת וגרס /וגרם/ רעה לעצמו ונטל חייו מן העולם הבא, לפי שאסור ליהנות מדברי תורה בעולם הזה, אמרו חכמים כל הנהנה מדברי תורה נטל חייו מן העולם, ועוד צוו ואמרו אל תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהן ולא קרדום לחפור בהן, ועוד צוו ואמרו אהוב את המלאכה ושנא את הרבנות וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה סופה בטילה וגוררת עון, וסוף אדם זה שיהא מלסטם את הבריות.

The Torah will only benefit.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Four Sons: My TV Premiere

Yesterday, I had my TV premiere on Channel 10's London et Kirschenbaum. The topic was the 'Four Sons' and I had a great time. The clip is here and pictures are here.