Archive for March 20th, 2011

Why Purim Matters – Fate and Destiny

Today is Purim, the holiday that celebrates  the victory of the Jews over Haman’s genocidal faction in ancient Persia, during the Babylonian exile.  As always, there are questions.

On most holidays, Jews recite a set of Psalms of praise and thanksgiving collectively known as Hallel.  We do recite it on Chanukah.  We do not recite it on Purim.  Why?

Rav Yosef Soloveitchik argues that the reason is that Chanukah established Jewish independence, and therefore regaining control over our own destiny.  Purim, on the other hand, was a reprieve, but one that left our fate in the hands of a king and a system that had been proven arbitrary.  (The difference between Fate and Destiny is one that Rav Soloveitchik explores in greater depth in an essay, later released as a short book, by that name, Fate and Destiny.)  Purim thus established the “Fiddler on the Roof” scenario, the shtetl paradigm, that would come to dominate and define Jewish existence for most of the next 2500 years, interrupted only by the 2nd Commonwealth.

And arrested again by the establishment of the State of Israel.

While many times Ahashveraus, the Persian king, is depicted as foolish, rather like the king in Aladdin, the rabbinical commentators see him as considerably more malevolent, anywhere from looking for a reason to exterminate the Jews to hostile, and willing to let himself be persuaded in the matter.  They note that it was under his rule that reconstruction on the Temple came to a halt, under obstacles and threats from the throne.

Which brings us to today.

While history doesn’t repeat, President Obama is certainly doing a fine, fine Ahashveraus impersonation when it comes to Israel.  His hostility is manifest, and even if he’s not willing to take positive action himself on the matter, he doesn’t seem very interested in doing anything to impede Israel’s neighborhood enemies.  His recent on-again-off-again veto or not of yet another Security Council resolution on Israel was designed as much to show the Israelis who was in charge, as though Israel really believes it can willingly alienate an American president.  His lecture to American Jewish leaders that they need to “search their souls” on Israel’s (and their) desire for peace, made the implicit threat almost explicit.

Much of the point of Fate and Destiny is the difference between being active in your future, and being passive, at the mercy of other people and forces.  (I’m not sure if the essay, written to provide a theological basis for Orthodox support for Israel, uses the Purim-Chanukah comparison.  Undergoing an Omahavian exile myself, I don’t have access to my copy.)  Unfortunately, then, as now, too many Jews are more comfortable acting under those parameters.  It is too much like a replay, at a national level, of the deals-for-today that Jews had to make for centuries for their communities to survive.

Instead, we should be acting forcefully to shape our own future.  Forcefully doesn’t mean recklessly or insultingly.  But as an Orthodox Jew and a patriotic American, I believe that Israel’s interests & principles, and those of the US coincide far, far more often than they collide, and lucky for me that they do.

Right now, when we have a President who shows himself to be uncertain at best about American interests and principles, the temptation is to try to ride things out.  But such decisions, taken cumulatively, have long-term consequences.  It’s one of the reasons why I supposed Sharon’s disengagement strategy – it was an attempt to seize the initiative and set the terms of the debate, and but for his age and health, it might have succeeded.

We need to remember that we do have another choice.  We are lucky to live in an age when we can choose Chanukah over Purim.

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Why Nobody Takes the Arabs Seriously

This post isn’t about the wisdom of imposing a no-fly zone on Libya.  I’m leery of this in the same way I was a little leery about our involvement in Kosovo: we’re on the right side, I’m just not sure we’re doing the right thing.  But troops are in action, and that calls for support, and prayers for their safety and success.

This post is about Arab fecklessness and manipulativeness, which often go hand-in-hand.  March 12:

The league’s secretary-general, Amr Moussa, was quoted in the German weekly Der Spiegel as advocating a no-fly zone in advance of the meeting, though he conceded it wasn’t clear who would impose it and how.

“I am talking about a humanitarian action,” Moussa said. “It is about standing by the Libyan people with a no-fly zone in their fight for freedom against an increasingly inhumane regime.”

The Arab League does not have the ability to impose the no-fly zone itself, but the decision is seen as an essential first step before the European Union, the United Nations and the United States move forward with official considerations of the proposal. (Emphasis added)


But Arab League chief Amr Moussa said what was happening was not what Arabs had envisaged when they called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” he said.

For some reason, the Arab League’s support was considered a diplomatic necessity before stepping in.  I’m sure there’s a reason this qualifies as “Smart Diplomacy,” but hopefully we’ll at least file this away for future reference.  This group of impotent “leaders,” running militaries incapable of imposing a no-fly zone by themselves, even with the air forces we’ve supplied them over the decades (I’m looking at you, Egypt and Saudi), turn to NATO to do the work, and then turn around and complain about it when, you know, the work gets done.

Don’t tell me they didn’t know what was involved.  There was  no-fly zone over parts of Iraq for over a decade, and its enforcement occasionally involved breaking things and killing people.  These folks have a remarkable capacity for sympathy about human suffering when it’s politically useful, and not too often otherwise.

I’m sure we’ll hear the normal plethora of explanations about this.  They really didn’t want us to go in.  They really wanted us to go in, but to do more.  They really want us to go in and do more, but they have secret reasons of their own.  They really don’t want us to go in, but they said so to placate their people, and now, they’re doing the same thing once the shooting started.  They really want to be able to blame whatever happens on Israel, so they can distract people.  They’re telling us one thing behind closed doors, and saying something different in public because they think they have to, or want to, or have some other agenda.  They’re using this to bargain for something else.

The fact that Arabs do this sort of thing all the time – saying one thing, then saying something else, then doing a third thing – doesn’t make it normal.

And it certainly isn’t any reason to take them seriously.


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