Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Intolerant of Intolerance

El Al, the airline of the Jewish people, recently announced an initiative to create a line of "kosher" flights. Apparently mixed seating on airplanes is a sin (presumably based on a gemara somehwere) and many in the Chareidi community want to avoid commiting such a neshama-damaging activity on flights to and from Israel.
I'm not going to debate the merits of such an idea. As a non-Chareidi, I don't think such extreme precautions are necessary and have no trouble sitting on a regular El Al flight or receiving a package of peanuts from a dour stewardness who usually reminds me of a childhood Hebrew school teacher. But clearly for many Chareidim this is important, and clearly there are enough of them to make it a worthwhile business option for El Al.
Remember that El Al is a private company. Its job is not simply to provide travellers to Israel with tiny cups of water or packaged dinners that have more scent than actual food. Its job is to make money by providing services people will buy. A defined group, the Chareidi community, has asked for a specific service to be provided so that they can buy it. They are not demanding that all El Al flights adhere to the so-called "mehadrin standard". El Al is not a government company run by the State like Egged buses. So do I see a problem with this? Absolutely not. Why shouldn't El Al run specific "Chareidi" flights if it'll sell them more tickets? If they continue to run all the rest of their regular flights so the non-Chareidi traveller can still get to and from Israel without (the usual) difficulties, who cares if the Chareidim have their own flights? They're paying for them, after all.
Well it turns out someone does care. IRAC, the Reform movement in Israel, is scandalized by the idea:
According to the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), IMPJ's legal branch, the move represents "an illegitimate policy that violates Israeli law."
In a letter to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and El Al CEO Haim Romano, IRAC Attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski wrote that "flights that institute separation between men and women should not be approved offhandedly."
According to Erez-Likhovski, the law in Israel prohibits any form of segregation based on gender, and therefore any agreement that infringes on this principle should be grounded on a solid rationale and adhere to the law.

Ah yes, all the usual paeans of modern secular liberal tolerance: "illegitimate", "violates Israeli law", "principle", "infringe". Bottom line, this is what IRAC is saying to El Al: we don't care if you're a private company making a voluntary business decision. We think it's wrong and therefore it is wrong.
It is the intellectual and political left that fancies itself the bastion of freedom in the Western world. By fighting against discrimination it believes it is creating a world free of hatred and racism. The popular media especially plays along with this. When was the last time you saw a movie about a dystopic future in which the government was leftist?
Yet the truth about the left is that they are far more controlling and intolerant than the right they accuse of such sins. Where is personal freedom more inhibited? The United Kingdom under the Labour party or the United States under the Republicans? The left is so desirous of creating a hate-free utopia that it sees no contraindication in forcing people to have specific views and act in specific ways since those views and ways are "the right ones".
El Al has made a business decision that will hopefully increase its profits. It has done so without infringing on anyone's rights. Why does IRAC have a problem with this? Because it is the source of intolerance, far more than the Chareidim in this case.

Competing Realities

There is a philosophical theory called the "5 minutes ago" theory or something like that. Basically, it postulates that the world and everything in it was created 5 minutes ago. People were created just as they are now, complete with false memories of a life never lived. The world was came into being with hundreds of millions of years of fake fossils and geological records. Everything you think you remember or know about your life is all an illusion because you were created 5 minutes ago with those memories so you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
Sounds bizarre and I don't believe it for a second but here's the rebuttal: I can't prove it's wrong because any proof I try to bring gets shot down by the "prefabricated" argument.
If that's true, then it is also possible the universe was created 10 minutes, or 1 hour, or 5769 years ago. Indeed, this is what many Jewish creationists argue:
The solution to the contradiction between the age of the earth and the universe according to science and the Jewish date of 5755 years since Creation is this: the real age of the universe is 5755 years, but it has misleading evidence of greater age. The bones, artifacts, partially decayed radium, potassium-argon, uranium, the red-shifted light from space, etc. - all of it points to a greater age which nevertheless is not true. G-d put these things in the universe and they lead many to the false conclusion of a much greater age.
I said the evidence is misleading. Does that mean that G-d is tricking us? Not at all: He told us the truth! Only someone who [perversely] decides to ignore the statement of the Creator and rely only on what he can investigate will be lead to a false conclusion. Only to such a person is the evidence misleading. And note that this policy of creating the world looking different from its true nature is an inescapable Jewish idea. For, we recite twice every morning that G-d constantly recreates the universe, even though this is not observable.

Of course, there is one easy way to reject the "5 minutes ago" theory. It is simply not reasonable to believe that an entire universe would spring into being "ready made" and then start to evolve at normal speed under the control of the current rules of physics. Rav Gottleib's argument above is not disprovable, but it also is not reasonable to those who remains convinced that a prefabricated universe that is literally only 5759 years old (he wrote the article 4 years ago) is unreasonable.
If that's so, then one could ask a further question. Rav Gottleib (and I don't mean to pick on him but his essay really exemplifies the point I'm trying to make) is an incredibly educated man, both in philosophy and Torah Judaism. One could not conceive of him trying to hoodwink ordinary people with high-sounding double talk into accepting facts he felt were untrue. In other words, in his essay he is not lying.
But if the universe is, according to our understanding of time, far older than 5759 years ago and we are not living on a prefabricated planet but rather on one which came into being and developed into the state it is now over hundreds of millions of years, then Rav Gottleib is wrong.
I have previously noted that a single question cannot have two contradictory answers that are both right. What colour is this pencil? It's either brown or black. It cannot be both. How old is the universe? Is it literally 5759 years old or literally eight billion? It cannot be both. And I must note that the word literally is important as I'm not discussing my personal reconciliation of the apparent contradiction between Torah and science. I've dealt with that elsewhere.
Let's look at another issue. Chabad, despite its best attempts to hide the issue in public in many places, holds as one of its doctrines of faith that the last Rebbe, a"h, is still alive and has temporarily shaken off his mortal coil to go up to Heaven and it's from there he still directs Lubavitchers everywhere. Not only that, but his apparent death notwithstanding, he is still the Moshiach, just waiting until the best time to return to this world and reveal himself as the redeemer of Israel.
Now when most people learn about that, or when an earnest Chabad shaliach tries to get that point across, there is a generally rolling of the eyes and one common thought goes through most people's brains: he's dead. He ain't the Moshiach. What's the matter with you people?
Finally there's the various kiruv organizations out there that seem to raise the ire of most non-believers. How dare they talk about the spiritual aspects of the universe as if they were real and not imaginary hocus-pocus invented by "the rabbis"? How dare they present the Torah-observant lifestyle as a happy, personally fulfilling one? How dare they insist that the Torah was given by God when we all "know" that's not so?
In short, how dare all these groups and people lie to them?
But are they really doing that? Are each of these groups and people saying to themselves "I know what I'm preaching is full of crap but if it fills the halls and gets me money, who cares if these unwashed masses actually buy it"?
The answer is: no. When Rav Gottlieb says we live in a prefabricated universe, he believes it. He believes he is given over God's own truth to us. It's the same with the Chabad shaliach. In his version of reality, the Rebbe is still alive and holding the title of Moshiach. And the Aish/Ohr rep at the conference really believes he can make your life better by telling you about his version of the principles of Torah observance. We really could be living in a literally 5769 year old universe when a supernatural Rebbe runs the world and where keeping kosher leads to greater personal happiness. You may not think so but as unreasonable as it sounds to you, it just might be right.
In other others, there are multiple realities, each of them personal. I have mine with all its eccentricities and quirks and every other person on the planet has their own. Who's right? Well I am, of course. If someone else's opinion of reality made more sense to me than mine, I'd adopt it because, as a rational person (no really, stop laughing!) I want to have the sanest view of reality I can understand.
But even though I'm darn sure my view on things I also must remain aware that this view of reality is simply mine and that just as I cannot disprove the "5 minutes ago" theory, I cannot disprove anyone else's view of reality. I may find it unreasonable but then, that's because my view of reality is the most reasonable.
So how does one approach this concept of competing realities? One can be egotistic, like many of the non-believers who have seen "the light" and now go around attacking those of us who still bask in the warmth of God's greatness. Howver, I generally see those kinds of folks as insecure. Lacking anything positive in this new reality of theirs, they can only continue to justify their ongoing apostasy by bashing that which they came from. Like the fat, ugly girl who insults all her colleagues so she'll look better to the boys but who can't come up with a single positive thing to say about herself, they continue to flail histrionically at the truth they left behind without ever coming up with a single positive reason for why their view of reality is the correct one, other than the ubiquitous "if you're frum you're living a lie" argument.
There is another approach, however. The simpler, more rational and psychologically satisfying way is to simply accept that there are many realities because reality is defined by a person's view of it. You cannot insist that there is one true reality and that anyone who doesn't accept it is wrong. A person decides what their reality is and his personal right to that should be tolerated. It is only the person whose grip on that personal reality is so strong that he must inflict it on others or else label them guilty of heresy that must be argued with and shown his place. Otherwise, mutual respect and tolerance would go a long way towards reducing the friction in this world.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Gripe and Whinge and Gripe and Whinge and Gripe and Whinge....

As first detailed on FailedMessiah and elsewhere, the son of famed Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim was recently surprised to discover that although he was converted by a valid Beis Din as a child after being adopted:
The son of the late Jewish theologian and Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim plans to fight a decision by a Jerusalem Rabbinical Court Judge to retroactively annul his conversion of 27 years.
In August of 2008, Yossi Fackenheim, who was converted to Judaism at the age of two by an Orthodox Rabbinical Court in Toronto, had his conversion revoked by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Hagar, a judge on Jerusalem's Rabbinical Court.
Hagar's decision was made during divorce proceedings between Yossi and his former wife Iris, who were married as Jews in Jerusalem by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in 2001.
The two came before Hagar to finalize their divorce. But in the midst of the divorce proceedings Hagar told Yossi that there was no need for a get (divorce writ) since Yossi was not Jewish as his mother was not Jewish at the time of his birth. She later converted to Judaism.
Orthodox Jewish law does not recognize marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
Hagar ignored various documents provided by Yossi including a copy of his conversion certificate, an official recognition of Yossi's conversion by Jerusalem Rabbinate Marriage Registrar Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag issued before the marriage and a document issued by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognizing Ralbag's document.
In response to Hagar's decision, the Rabbinical Court administration said, "during Mr Fackenheim's divorce proceedings it became clear that he converted while still an infant, before he was able to make a conscious decision to convert.
"It also became clear during the proceeding that Mr Fackenheim never adhered to an Orthodox lifestyle. The rabbinic court decided that since Mr. Fackenheim's personal status was unclear, a get would be issued to the wife. However, no official decision was made regarding Fackenheim's status."

Not being an expert in the dinim of geirus, I'm not going to offer an opinion on the halachic validity of childhood conversions. Instead, I want to focus on the reaction to this event.
Like what happened when Rav Sherman invalidated all the Israeli Conversion Authorities candidates in one fell swoop, the responses from the non-Chareidi Torah world have been essentially emotion. Like Rav Riskin's famous crying Torah, they are full of outrage, hurt and shock. However, they are all missing the one thing they need to be meaningful: halachic validity.
As documented on this blog and elsehwere, over the last few decades the Chareidi community has been slowly working to invalidate all other forms of Torah observance and concentrate control over halachah and Torah observant issues amongst their leadership. Whether its refusing to recognize conversions they don't sanction, disqualifying non-Chareidi rabbonim from positions of authority, or simply refusing to acknowledge that the halachah is more multi-dimensional than they care to admit, the community has worked steadily to unify Torah observance under its mantle. And to a large extent they have been very successful.
One major reason for this is a lack of competition to this end goal. For Torah observant Jews looking for leadership, there is really only one place to look: the Chareidi community. Within that camp leadership is clearly defined, an all-encompassing ideology is already in place and structure and identity firmly established. Within the Modern Orthodox community, all these features are missing. As a result, when a Chareidi beis din or gadol releases the latest chumra-of-the-week, there is no credible response from outside their community to dispute its supposed universal validity. In the absence of that response, the chidush becomes universal.
Such would be the case exemplified by Yossi Fackenheim. I won't deny that what happened to him seems to me to be halachically improper but, not being an expert, I may be wrong. There are nuances of the law I'm unfamiliar (hell, there's whole books I've been meaning to read) so it could be that the Rav presiding over the case came to the correct conclusion, as unfair as it seems. A court's job is, after all, not to do what looks right but what it objectively believes to be right. Otherwise, why not institute mob rule?
But I'm also sure there is enough depth to halachah to preclude this opinion from being the only, right opinion in these circumstance. A good lawyer doesn't scream "foul!" He rather gathers precedents and statutes and then presents his case as to why he feels the judge was wrong in his decision. Bringing a crying legal intern into court and saying "Well, this decision really sucked, so it must be wrong!" will not change any secular court's position. Why do the Modern Orthodox think a crying Torah will do any different within the halls of halachah?
In the end, there is only one response that will make a difference and that is one well-ground in halachah and composed by the leading scholars of the Modern Orthodox community. Using the Chareidi style, showing how their reasoning is either not universal or even that it is in error is the only legitimate way to put Rav Hagar's beis din in its place and start to end the ongoing campaign of delegitimization.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Halachic Process: Chareidim vs Modern Orthodoxy

A couple of years ago, the deputy mayor of Richmond Hill, Ontario attended a Lubavitch menorah lighting and was stunned when the Chabadnik rabbis running the event refused to shake her hand. The initial two reponses to the incident were typical. One group, led by the deputy mayor, played the selective cultural tolerance card, that is: in Canada we're multicultural and tolerant of different ethnic groups... until they break the rules of political correctness. The other group played the non-selective cultural tolerance card, that is: in Canada we're multicultural and tolerant of different ethnic groups, no matter how kooky we think their customs are.
A suprising middle ground was staked by The National Post's Barbara Kay. Despite being a decidedly non-observant Jew who has, on multiple occasions, happily demonstrated a hostile attitude towards Orthodox Jews who have the gall to actually expect to have their rights respected in a secular world, she managed to pull off something I never would have expected. After writing a column based on emotion, she went a step further and found a teshuvah by a bonafide Modern Orthodox posek, Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin, which permits men and women to shake hands in certain limited situations. This, she concluded, shows that the Lubavitchers were not acting in accordance with the Jewish Law they claim to observe so rigorously. If they were, they could have used this teshuva to support their shaking hands with the deputy mayer and avoided the whole confrontation.
It sounds great. It certainly is better than simply shouting insults and accusations. And it misses the point of the halachic process completely.
The principle difference between the Chareidi and Modern Orthodox communities is their approach to halachic consensus.
Within the Chareidi community, the system is simple. If you are a chosid, your Rebbe decides the rules. If you're Litvish, then you have the designated heirarchy starting with Rav Eliashiv, shlita, and moving on down as well as a list of approved poskim whose works are considered authoritative. A teshuvah from a unapproved or non-recognized source, no matter how scholarly, is a non-starter because it comes from outside the approved framework. A Dati Leumi rav could write the perfect teshuvah showing that all religious Jews should undergo compulsory military service in Israel. It'll never be mentioned in Chareidi circles, let along quoted, because it's not part of their system.
The Modern Orthodox system, on the other hand, seems to approach the idea of halachic decision making from the diametrically opposed position. Any teshuvah, any schoarly piece of work, whether by a known posek or a particularily gifted university profressor, carries equal weight when the time comes to make a decision. Rav Eliashiv and Professor Marc Shapiro both get an equal say. As a result, a Modern Orthodox person looking for the answer to an important question has a wider range of sources to choose from and greater flexibility of answers available. Does he want to shake the local female official's hand? Great, we have Rav Henkin's teshuvah. He doesn't want to? Fine, this time he'll hold with the Igros Moshe. As the old saying goes, where there's a halachic will, there seems to be a halachic way.
The problem is that this turns the whole concept of halachic inquiry within Modern Orthodoxy into a joke by removing any standards. It leads to a behaviour that decides that even when a favourable teshuvah can't be found, the desired answer can still be provided because ultimately that answer has been predecided and requires only the thinnest veneer of halachic cover.
Ultimately the cure for this problem is for the religious leadership of Modern Orthodoxy to take a stand and curtail the rampant personal autonomy that is leaving the movement without direction or coherent form. There is nothing wrong with Modern Orthodoxy saying that the teshuvos of Rav Henkin, for example, are authoritative but that means accepting the "bad" with the "good". (For example, Rav Henkin may be realtively liberal about handshaking but he has rejected the newest left-end MO trend, the partnership minyan) It means that if you're going to reject a psak by Rav Eliashiv or one of his successors, it's because you have a psak from an MO authority that you follow, not because Rav Eliashiv is "another one of those crazies from Israel". Until Modern Orthodoxy does this, there's no compelling reason to bandy any teshuvos around. No one really believes they care about that.

JTS Disowns Israeli Branch Because It Holds By the Torah

Once a dynamic force in North American non-Torah Judaism, Conservatism has faded in recent decades to a slightly more traditional version of Reform - all the progressive, leftist attitudes with a little more ceremony thrown in to legitimize the atmosphere. Nothing demonstrated this decline more than the recent decision by the Jewish Theological Seminary to ordain students that were openly gay and approve of homosexual marriages. While many other initiatives spearheaded by the organization in the past have contravened important Rabbinic commandments, this was the first time the Conservatives openly admitted what the Torah-observant community had known about them all along: even the Written Torah has no authority for them. The only rules are those that are dicated by secular liberal morality. The rest is all expendable.
What's interesting to remark on is how the Conservatives have moved forward with their accelerating abandonment of even a pretense of traditionalism. Their strength, so they claim, is their commitment to pluralism but like all good liberal double-speak, they mean no such thing. A few years ago, for example, at the major Conservative convention in Boston where Arnie Eisen was sworn in as their chancellor, there was a brouhaha over whether or not to allow a non-egalitarian group to have a room for their own minyan. The Conservatives are pluralistic, dammit, so those traditionalists had better drop any idea about keeping different values. Pluralism just wouldn't allow it.
The next victim, it seems, is the Israeli branch of Conservatism, Machon Schechter. It seems that more many Conservatives in Israel, the recent leftward lurch by the home movement back in the U.S. is too much, too fast. Leftward drift is okay, but a sudden jump into territory where you have to admit the Torah is no longer your authoritative guide in any form?
In a further sign that the American and international wings of the Conservative movement are moving in different ideological directions, a Los Angeles rabbinical seminary has ended its longstanding residency program with Machon Schechter in Jerusalem, the only institution that ordains Conservative rabbis in Israel.
Beginning this fall, third-year students at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies will spend their Israel year at the Conservative Yeshiva, a co-educational institute for Diaspora Jews housed at the Fuchsberg Center of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, the movement's North American synagogue umbrella. The change was announced last week in a memo to the United Synagogue's staff and board members.
"The Ziegler School and the Conservative Yeshiva share a common pedagogical philosophy -- integrating academic rigor, emotional engagement, and spiritual yearning," Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler's dean, said in a statement appended to the memo.
Both American Conservative seminaries -- Ziegler and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York -- are known to have ideological differences with Schechter's rabbinical school, whose dean, Rabbi Einat Ramon, has been an outspoken critic of the movement's liberalizing attitude towards gays and lesbians.
Ramon has declined to follow the lead of the American schools, both of which changed their policies to admit openly gay and lesbian students following a decision by the movement's Jewish law authorities in late 2006 paving the way for such a move. Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, the movement's seminary in Argentina, also declined to change its policies.

In the end, Conservatism is not about pluralism. It is not about openess and tolerance. It is about a new religion that vaguely resembles Torah Judaism but constains all the intolerances that it criticizes Orthodoxy for having. The only difference is: we admit that we're that way and don't pretend to be "enlightened".

Friday, 16 January 2009

On the Documentary Hypothesis

I'm often suprised with how dogmatic some people can be when it comes to fundamental ideals. Shades of grey are often taken and merged into one consistent strain from which all enemies of the faith are attacked.
Such seems to be applicable to both the theories of Prof. James Kugel and his detractors.
Prof. James Kugel is a professor at Bar Ilan University who has made a career out of "proving" that the Bible is the product of multiple authors. He is extremely educated and well-published on multiple subjects. In this idea, called the "Documentary Hypothesis" he is both right and wrong.
He is right to assert that there are multiple authors to many books of the Bible from Yehoshua on. In many cases, he can even bring support from the text as well as statements by Chazal. How many times does the phrase "until this day" appear in earlier books of the Bible? And how many times does the event described by the phrase cease to be applicable later on as history moves forward and circumstances change? For example:
"But the Yevusi, the inhabitants of Yerushalayim, the children of Yehudah were not able to drive out; and the Yevusi dwelled among the children of Yehudah, in Yerushalaym, until this day." (Yehoshua 15:63)
Clearly this chapter was written by someone who lived before the conquest of Yerushalayim by Dovid HaMelech, a"h. The amount of kri and ksiv portions is far greater than in the Torah. Many more examples are littered throughout the Tanach and there is much debate in certain parts of the gemara (see the beginning of Bava Basra, for example) as to who wrote what and certain characters (eg. Iyov) even existed. In other places, the Gemara will even given further proof to the editing process the Nach portion of Tanach went through by quoting verses that cannot be found in any modern Bible.
Even the authorship of the Tehillim is clearly that of multiple authors. While it is beyond doubt that all were inspired by ruach hakodesh, the title lines of many prove multiple authorship while the content of others (eg. 126, 137) were clearly written by later nevi'im.
But it's quite different when it comes to the Torah. For one thing, it is not a principle of faith to believe in Divine authorship of the Navi and Kesuvim parts of the Tanach. These were clearly the works of human beings inspired by ruach hakodesh but not the direction, unfiltered dictation of God to Man like the Torah was. Chazal allude to this by noting that the difference between Moshe's prophecy and later ones was that Moshe saw things through a clear lens while the later nevi'im saw them through a distorted one.
The Torah is intrinsically different from the rest of the Tanach for this reason. It is the clear, pure word of Hashem Himself, a result of dictation from the Master of the Universe to Moshe Rabeinu, a"h. The version we have in our hands today, with only minor exceptions, is the same text that was handed to Moshe at Har Sinai so many millenia ago.
Ah, but the Documentary types will point out contradictions, typos and other "mistakes" that they say prove the Torah was also written by multiple people and not by God. Like rumours of Elvis being alive, the existence of the sasquatch, and Ponzi schemes, biblical criticism raises its ugly, scholarly head every so often to regurgitate yet another set of "proofs" to show that the Torah is not Divine, chas v'shalom.
This form of academic kefira has been going on since the 19th century and has been repeatedly shot down by talmidei chachamim with equivalent training in scholarly methods. From Rav J.H. Hertz to Rav Dovid Tzi Hoffmann, flaws in the Documentary Hypothesis have been exposed through which a Mac truck could be driven.
Naturally, this hasn't stopped these dedicated "scholars". The primary gain from proving the Torah is just a human document, and a shoddily written one at that, is too great to let facts get in the way. For most, it is a chance to remove the burden of objective morality, of an external understanding of right and wrong, from their lives so they can justify their personal lusts and amibitions. For others, like Professor Kugel, there is probably a sense of intellectual honesty. He cannot, having read so much, believe the Torah is true and does not want to lie about it to himself or others.
What does distinguish Prof. Kugel, however, is his insistence that the main difference between the Torah and other contemporary documents is its insistence on morality. He is able to bring many examples of stories in the Bible that are similar to the myths of other people but also points out that the Jewish version of the story is meant not to simply relate history but also impart a moral lesson.
The problem with this approach comes from something Chazal says - one who breaches a fence will be bitten by a snake. The authority of our holy Torah comes from its Divine origin. As God's revealed will written down faithfully by Moshe Rabeinu, the Torah carries the authority to guide our lives and affect our behaviour. Without that root, as a poorly edited scroll writen by Ezra haSofer, it loses any authority and becomes as meaningful to us in the here and now as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Thus Prof. Kugel's own attempt to maintain his sense of Jewish belief and morality (he calles himself Orthodox, after all) is undermined by his research. Having removed the divinity of the Torah, how can he claim any form of morality exists in the Torah that is applicable to us? Because it sounds nice?
Perhaps the most damning for the Documentary crowd, however, is the existence of the Talmud and the various commentaries on the Chumash down to recent times. Only one who is wilfully blind can miss the fact that Chazal noted all the so-called contradictions in the Torah themselves and struggled mightily to explain them all. More modern commentaries on the Torah, specifically those of Rav SR Hirsch and the Netziv, summarized these efforts to show that these so-called "poor editing jobs" all serve purposes.
For the secular crowd this is considered an exercise in apologetics. But a look at the explanations of Chazal clearly reveals why the secular crowd needs to dismiss them so strongly. The irregularities in the Torah itself serve as hints at the Oral Law which was given to Moshe Rabeinu at Har Sinai along with the Written Law. Missing letters, varying versions of the same event, repeated statements, all these serve to hint towards the corresponding section of the Oral Law which the people were taught.
For the secular crowd, there is no Oral Law. It was all an invention of "the Rabbis" to increase their control over their flocks and make sense of an unreadable Torah. For the believing crowd, however, the so-called mistakes lead to proof of the Oral Law's validity and hints at a superior, Divine morality at work.
Thus it is that an educated Jew who knows his Talmud and these important commentaries need not be seduced by the empty promises of academic truth and intellectual honesty the Documentary Hypothesis crowd proposes. Their agenda is to eliminate objective morality from the world so they can enjoy their hedonistic lives wihtout restraint or guilt. Our agenda is to keep God's presence in this world through the knowledge and practice of His Torah. Ours will endure far longer than theirs.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Of Bullets, Men and other Armaments of War

Did you ever wonder why there are refugee camps in Yehudah, Shomron and 'Aza?

Oh yes, I know the easy answer: they're "Palestinian" refugees who have been uprooted from their homes and they're waiting to return to them. But the real answer isn't so easy.

A quick and inconvenient history lesson: In November, 1947 the United Nations voted to partition the land that is today Israel including Yehudah, Shomron and 'Aza into two states, a Jewish one and an Arab one. Names weren't chosen but it was clear the two populations would be decided by ethnicity. (In fact, at one point Judah was actually under serious consideration by the Zionist leadership)

As is well known, the Arab leadership of the community in Israel as well as the Arab League rejected the partition plan outright. With all the grace of a spoiled teenager, they shouted that it was to be everything or nothing: either the Arabs get the entire land as their own by an act of the international community or they would just march in and slaughter the Jews and take it for themselves, but under no circumstances would they recognize the right of the hated Jews to create an independent country in their midst.

Thus it was that the day after the vote the Arabs in Israel began attacking the Jewish community with open force and when the British finally withdrew six Arab states immediately joined them in an attempt to add 600 000 Jews to the tally of the Holocaust.

With the help of God, they failed and Israel was born. Unfortunately, the international community acted to prevent our fathers from completing the task of conquering all of Israel and as a result, armistice lines were imposed that gave 'Aza to the Egyptians and Yehudah and Shomron to Jordan.

During the war, it is also well known that 600 000 Arabs fled from Israel. Yes, yes, the revisionist self-hating Jewish historians would like us to believe, from their selective interpretation of history and vivid imaginations, that the "evil Zionist imperialists" drove them out but there are still too many living witnesses who recall the Arab radio broadcasts demanding that the Arabs run so they wouldn't get in the way of the victorious Muslim armies that would be arriving to slaughter the Jews. There are too many photos of Jewish soldiers posting notes in Arab village imploring the locals to stay. Regardless, the Arabs, many of whom had no real tie to the land anyway, ran and wound up in Yehudah, Shomron, 'Aza and the surrounding Arab countries.

And now the Arab world had a dilemma. They had a displaced population to deal with, ethnic brethren who had given up their homes at their urging and now were in refugee camps because they had lost the war. And a decision was made that continues to haunt the Middle East until this day.

One must remember that the Arab world, with the temporary exception of Iraq, lacks the concept of democracy. It also lacks, including Iraq, the concept of the value of human life. The number of Arabs killed by other Arabs on a monthly basis through the Middle East is in the hundreds, if not higher. Suicide bombers, terrorist attacks not covered by the Western media, persection of one tribal group by another, Sunnis vs Shiites, in the Arab world life is cheap.

And for their leaders it's even cheaper. Remember that all Arab states except Iraq (for now) are despotic dictatorships. In a handful (Jordan, Syria) the rule is dynastic even if the leader is called "the president" and in the rest the rulers all received their positions after the murder of their predecessor. They rule by terror, power and fear, not love and public acceptance.

This is doubly the case in 'Aza, Yehudah and Shomron where the leaders are acknowledged terrorists who don't even try to cover their evil acts with a veneer of respectability.

When a civilized country goes to war, it checks over its inventory of arms. It counts bullets, tanks, planes, artillery shells, etc. In the Arab world, one more item is added to the inventory: human beings. For the leaders of the Arab world, the average "man on the street" is not a human being with a family, aspirations and fears. He is a "human shield", a potential target to be used for PR purposes, simply another piece of inventory in the military arsenal.

Thus is was that in 1949 the Arab League decided that all 600 000 displaced Arabs from the Israeli war of independence would become weapons of war. They were given a new label: Palestinian, and a new fiction, that their country called Palestine had been stolen from them by the rapacious Jews, was created. And they were condemned by the Arab leadership to remain in their refugee camps because only a return to the exact property they had before the war would be acceptable.

Imagine how large the Arab world is. Imagine how many trillions of petro-dollars they have. Yet not one square inch would be set aside to resettle the so-called Palestinians. Not one dollar would be spent to make their lives better. They were to remain in squalor and misery as a part of the propaganda war against Israel and their children were to raised to become terrorists and suicide bombers in the active war against the Jews. Not that they had any say in this, mind you. The decision was made by their leaders and continues to be.

So back to the original question: why are there refugee camps in Yehudah, Shomron and 'Aza? If one listens to the Arab propaganda on CNN, BBC, and other sympathetic media outlets, one very quickly gets the following impression: historic "Palestine" is essentially what they call Gaza and the West Bank. If Israel would only remove all Jews from those areas (funny that Israel isn't allowed to kick out its Arabs as well because that would be racist) then they would declare independence, build a viable country and peace would break out all over the world!!!

Except for one forgotten fact: between 1949 and 1969 it was the Arab world that controlled these areas. For twenty years Jordan ruled over Yehudah and Shomron, including part of Yerushalayim. At the same time Egypt ruled over 'Aza. yet at no time in those twenty years was any attempt made by any Arab leader to help the so-called Palestinians build their own state. What's more, those Arabs who had fled from Israel were not allowed out of their refugee camps even though they were living on what the Arabs today say is Palestine!

At that time pre-1967 Israel was Palestine. Jordan and Egypt owned Yehudah, Shomron and 'Aza and had no intention of allowed the Arabs there to create their own country.

This tragedy is now playing itself out in 'Aza as the world watches. A normal leadership, faced with overwhelming odds and the liklikhood of high civilian casualities, would sue for peace against their dominant opponent. This would be especially true when the dominant opponent has no territorial aspirations against them. Yet Hamas is doing the opposite. Despite the mounting civilian death toll, despite the clear knowledge that given enough time the brave soldiers of Tzahal will rout them to the last, they continue to be defiant. They continue to position their people in places of danger, arrange for schools full of children to be attacked by placing rocket pads in them, and then shout about how their people are suffering when that happens. And why?

Because Hamas is not interested in protecting its people. It's not interested in building a viable state in 'Aza. It's not interested in the future of its children. When Hamas' leaders look around they see armaments, not human beings. And until these murderers are destroyed, their people will continue to suffer the consequences of this sick ideology.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A Follower Does Good!

Congratulations to blog follower and (too) infrequent (a) commenter Baruch Pelta on his getting published by the presitigious HaKirah, a journal of Modern Orthodox thought out of Flatbush. The link to his article is here. Way to go Baruch!

Believers and Non-Believers

There is no question in my mind as to the rightness of what Israel is doing in 'Aza right now or as to the wickedness of those who claim that Israel is committing a crime or doing something wrong. One need only glances at pictures from demonstrations around the world to see the virulent hatred that our enemies now feel comfortable to unleash in our time of trouble. Whereas before such disdain was hidden under an ostensibly civilized veneer, now the velvet glove has come off and their true feelings have been unleashed. If these are our enemies, then I know we are in the right.
What's more interesting for me to notice is the reaction within the Jewish community. Generally, there has been a positive and supportive response from most segements of our people, both observant and non-observant. Like any big biosterous family, there is no end to
the number of internal squabbles we seems to have to endure but when an external threat shows itself, the impulse to "rally around the flag" cannot be ignored. A non-observant Jew that I otherwise have almost nothing in common with can stand shoulder to shoulder with me in support of our State and our brethren.
Even within the frum world, Jews who normally look at Israel and even other fellow observant Jews who are not Chareidi askance or with a patronizing attitude because of its non-halachic setup are doing their best to contribute to the achus that we need at this time.
But not everyone is joining the cause, as it were.
No, I'm not talking about those barely human slugs that love to run around pretending that they are "Orthodox Jews". I'm talking about the other ones. We all know who they are. They've "found God", or more specifically, have found that there is no God, chas v'shalom. They are the atheists, the fakers, and the losers. They state that they're enlightened, that they have found the truth and that we who still believe in God Allmighty who created the universe and gave us His Torah are the fools. And it seems they have one other thing in common: having ditched God, they've also ditched His people.
Yes, yes, they hide their loss of connection in high falutin' essays, stating the usual plaudits of moral relativism, that there is no high ground, that killing Arabs is not an acceptable way to protect Jews, that Israel is wrong no matter what, and all the other lies they've ingrained themselves with, courtery of the Arab world's extensive propaganda machine. So worried are they about their amoral principles that they cannot even see what is good and right in front of their faces. A real value judgement is beyond them because it involves making a moral choice and morals, after all the huffing and puffing of the non-believing crowd is dispensed with, requires real morality, not secular relativism.
It is most fascinating is that they can't rally to the flag, that they must stand alone because it makes them feel superior even as their brethren fight and die to protect us as a people. They've become so estranged that they can't overcome their hatred for what they were or what we continue to be. What a pathetic and lonely way to live.

Breaking! The Terms of the French-Egyptian Cease Fire Deal

In short:

1) Both sides agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities... by the Israelis.
2) Both sides agree that Israel immediately withdraw all its forces from 'Aza but that Hamas gets to continue to claim there's a humanitarian crisis and that Israel is occupying its territory.
3) Israel agrees to stop mentioning that unfortunate incident with Gilad... Gilad... what was his last name again? Israel also agrees to ban all reporting of any rockets that Hamas promises to continue firing into as much of Israel as it can, and to prosecute any Israelis who tell the rest of the world the Arabs in 'Aza are still attacking Israel.
4) Hamas agrees to endorse Tzipi Livni and Kadima in the coming elections while Tzipi and her gang get to claim "victory" over Hamas.

(Well, if the French are involved, it has to involve a surrender, doesn't it?)

Still Stupid After All These Years

Syd Ryan, the Ontario president of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) has never been known for his intellectual might. Like most union thugs he relies on verbal intimidation, a loud voice and a willingness to shout down his opponents to get his weak arguments across.
In the early 1990's he advised the silver sppon spcoalist premier of Ontario, Bob Rae, to deal with the province's high levels of debt and dropping levels of productivity by simply declaring bankruptcy and then paying back its debt at pennies on the dollar. At the time, Bob Rae notes he was floored by the stupidity of the idea. It's one thing for the corner grocery store to go out of business but Syd apparently didn't see the difference when it came to an entire province.
Over time Syd may have aged but he hasn't mellowed or smartened up. Now you might wonder: what does CUPE have to do with Israel? After all, shouldn't its mandate be to ensure the best possible working conditions and salaries for its members? Well, apparently that doesn't keep Syd busy enough and he's decided to take an interest in international affairs (no telling if he can spell the word "international" or not though).
Being a good leftist, he's come out squarely against Israel in its ongoing justified defensive action against Hamas in 'Aza. Being a simplistic thinker, he has not clued in that his opposition to Israel's attempts to protect its citizens is simple Jew hatred.
Oh he'll deny that charge, no doubt, and in fact he has in print. He doesn't hate Jews, just Israel. Yet as other commentators have noted, he arguments are particularily weak, especially the one where he notes he has lots of common company so how bad can villifying Israel be?
In his letter, Mr. Ryan defends himself by declaring that he is not the only one seeking to boycott Israel. UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, the president of the UN General Assembly, and a group of British academics, Mr. Ryan notes, have all done likewise.
Apparently, Mr. Ryan is too ignorant to understand that the authorities he cites only confirm our description of him. The UN General Assembly is a notorious printing press for shrill anti-Israel resolutions, most of them pro forma propaganda proposed by Muslim nations and their rogue-state allies.

Mr. Falk, in particular, is an unhinged hysteric who believes Israel harbours “genocidal tendencies,” and who compares Israel’s Jewish leaders to Nazis. As for that corps of left-wing British professors who can be depended on to slander Israel year after year, they have been denounced by academics in many countries — including both Canada and the U.K. itself — for their hateful, one-sided take on the Middle East conflict.
It is appalling to think that these are the people to whom Sid Ryan looks for moral direction. As we said yesterday: What a disgrace.

But isn't it okay to criticize Israel? It's not a perfect country so why do Israel defenders always equate criticism of Israel with Jew hatred?
The answer is so simple but so easily ignored as well. When Russia invaded Georgia last year in an obvious land grab and attempt at military intimidation, Syd and CUPE didn't seem to care. For decades Indonesia terrorized East Timor until the UN allowed them to set up a small failed state so the world could forget about them. No record of any outrage from Syd and CUPE. There is currently a major cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe goes about the task of systematically exterminating his own people. And the response from Syd and CUPE? Well... um... can he even find Africa on a map?
It is obvious to all except the most intellectually limited that Syd and CUPE have only one interest: bashing Israel. Not all Israelis, mind you. Just the Jewish ones who happen to be supportive of their country's right to survive and defend itself against terrorists. And that's Jew hatred. We should call Syd what he is.