Commentary From the Mile High City

"Star of the conservative blogosphere" Denver Post

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Joshua Sharf

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April 16, 2009

Central Ave. Pizza Shop After Passover

January 4, 2009

Gathering For Israel

Tomorrow evening at 5:30 PM at the Hebrew Education Alliance, at 3600 S. Ivanhoe St. in Denver, the Jewish community is sponsoring a "Gathering for Israel." It has three sponsoring and 20 co-sponsoring organizations, including synagogues of every denomination and Faith Bible Chapel.

I don't have any more information at the moment about the program, but to paraphrase the old ad, you don't have to be Jewish to come.

December 29, 2008

Stirred, Not Shaken

That's what we ought to be after a molotov cocktail attack on a Chicago synagogue. The AP is reporting that the police are investigating it as a hate crime, but, "Officials say they don't know if there's a link between the incident and increased violence in the Middle East."

No, of course not. Probably no connection whatsoever. Obviously, it could just as easily have been a white supremacist as an Arab, but I'm guessing this wasn't just someone who thought it would be cool to light up a shul on the last night of Channukah.

December 3, 2008

J-Street Suicide

The Israeli journal Azure has emerged as the best center-right English-language Israeli journal out there. Its mission is to provide the intellectual and ideological underpinnings for the revival of Zionism as an active force in Israeli life. (It also carries some religious commentary, tending towards the modern Orthodox)

In the current number, Michael Oren examines the complex relationship between Israeli Jews and American Jews. In one paragraph, he describes the transformative effects of Israel's victory in the Six-Day War:

The victory also accorded American Jewry immense clout in domestic politics, primarily via Congress, which ratified ever-expanding aid packages for Israel. Indeed, though established in 1953, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee--AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby--emerged as an influential force in American foreign policymaking only in the mid-1970s, after Israel became the world's foremost recipient of American largesse. Contrary to the often asserted anti-Zionist charge that Israel owes its strength to American Jewish power, in fact, American Jewish power was forged by Israel.

While Oren overstates the Jewish clout in American poitics (the gigantic aid packages are but a miniscule fraction of the federal budget), this rings true to me. Americans can and do respect those who fight for themselves, especially those who do so successfully. That American Jews would both absorb and benefit from that attitude after 1967 is unsurprising.

It also suggests that in the face of military reverses, Israel's stature, that of American Jews, and the effectiveness of the "Israel Lobby" could all suffer seriously. Likewise, the effectiveness of the Arab Lobby and the arabists in our foreign policy apparatus would increase substantially.

The fact that liberal American Jews don't believe this order of cause-and-effect has both explanatory and predictive power. It goes a long way to explaining why they continue to vote overwhelmingly Democrat in national elections: we don't feel as though we're in exile, therefore don't need Israel to rescue us. We can plausibly deny the link between Israel's fate and our own, and can also persuade ourselves that nothing catastrophic can really happen to Israel, and that should catastrophe appear imminent, we can persuade the US government to prevent it.

That those on the left, such as J-Street, don't understand their own countrymen well enough to understand that, by and large, Americans will only help those who help themselves, is pathetic. That they seek to influence US policy so as to pressure Israel into making concessions that would make catastrophe all but inevitable is suicidal.

November 27, 2008

But Don't Call Them Anti-Semitic, or Anything

It's not just westerners:

From the NYT:

The Chabad-Lubavitch center, the local outpost of a global group that promotes Judaism, is located in Nariman House, one of the buildings that has been attacked in Mumbai.

The whereabouts of Rabbi Gavriel, who runs the center, and his wife, Rivka, remain "unknown," according to the group.

And the Moderate Voice is also following the story.

Just remember, to these barbarians, Jews anywhere, anytime, are fair game.

November 21, 2008

The Oldest Hatred, The Newest Slander

You'd think that after, oh, 3300 years, there wouldn't be much new for the anti-Semites to say.

You'd be wrong.

The meme started by History's Greatest Monster, that Ariel Sharon is Jan Smuts with a kipah, has gotten new traction from a group called, "End the Occupation." You might remember. It was in all the papers. Which is why pretty much everyone Jewish who had even looked at the Carter Center from the parking lot walked out of the place in early 2007.(It's a measure of how poorly the Republicans did in 2006 that even Carter couldn't get them re-elected.)

So now, along comes Diana Buttu, and her presentation, taking the ball and running with it. Bringing her Separate Is Not Equal Travelling Road Show and Snake Oil Pharmacy to Boulder on Monday, she showed how effective an unopposed and disingenuous attorney can be when presenting her case.

If repetition is the soul of propaganda, then her main themes were:

1) The Ideology of Superiority
2) There are no "Israeli Arabs," only "Palestinian Citizens of Israel"
3) We are all "privileged."

These are powerful ideas taken together. She refers repeatedly to, "theological underpinnings" of, "apartheid," which can only mean the concept of chosenness. I have been told, but cannot confirm, that she has made that connection explicitly in previous Tour Stops.

She repeated the phrase, "ideology of superiority" at least 11 times. By repeating that theme over and over, it not only demonizes Israel and Israelis, it also deligitimizes anything that Jews might do to defend themselves.

Her reference to "Palestinian Citizens of Israel" makes it easy to identify where she thinks their loyalty ought to lie. Can you say, "Fifth Column?" I knew you could. Never mind that every time rumors surface about turning over eastern Jerusalem start circulating, Jerusalemite Arabs vote with their resident applications concerning which government they prefer. Again, it's intended to deligitimize Israel's control over the Galil and other Arab-majority areas.

As for 3), "privileges" are a left-wing buzz-word of the first order. Just remember that you can be "privileges" and not even know it. And privileges, unlike rights, can and need to be revoked.

The Q&A was more distinguished for the questions Ms, Buttu didn't answer than for those she did. Among those:

  • What solutions do you propose?
  • Do you support a 1-state or a 2-state solution?
  • What can Israel do to defend itself? (The good reverend, accompanying Ms. Buttu as her warm-up act, implied that surrender would be a good start.)
  • What about the Egyptian and Jordanian occupations of Palestine-outside-the-Green-Line?

These, of course, are the tough questions, the ones that might prove embarassing to one of her many constituencies.

Interestingly, among those most-targeted constituencies would be American blacks, those for whom a comparison to apartheid might resonate. All of three showed up.

I'm working on uploading the video of her presentation. It's truly chilling, but forewarned is forearmed.

UPDATE: I'm reminded that Bridget Johnson over at the RMN was there was well.

April 24, 2008

The Great Passover Margarine Debacle

World Ends: Religious Minorities Hardest Hit.

OK, not really.

According to the Wall Street Journal, large swaths of cotton fields have been replanted with corn, whose prices have been driven as high as an elephant's eye by subsidies reaching clear up to the sky. Ethanol subsidies, for a product that's fuel-inefficient and which nobody is burning. As a result, kosher for Passover margarine, which is made from cottonseed oil, has run out here in Denver and was being rationed in NY, where angry mobs of Jewish women were threatening to burn down the grocery stores.

Now, just about nothing on Passover beats matzah with margarine. And I finally managed to track down what I have reason to believe is one of three remaining blocks of the stuff here in Denver. (No, I'm not going to share.)

This isn't an example of special pleading. I've thought government-funded corn-based ethanol was a dumb idea for over a year now, which may even make me late to the party as far as that's concerned.

It's just an example of how lousy policy hits home.

April 18, 2008

Chag Kasher v'Sameach

Happy Passover to our Jewish readers, and Chag Kasher v'Sameach.

Tonight, as every week, begins the Jewish Sabbath, but Saturday night begins the holiday of Pesach, commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, and the beginning of their journey to take possession of their homeland.

The blog will be dark for the next three days, but somehow, I suspect the world will go on just fine.

See you Monday evening.

October 11, 2007

Already Perfected

So here, at the end of the day, after the Rockies have won yet another game in impressive fashion, and possibly raising the value of the two spare tickets I have for Monday night's Game 4, I finally have time to deal with Miss Coulter's riff.

First of all, yes, this is the basic Christian line as I understand it. Most Christians have the decency not to bring it up all the time, but we believe that the Torah is complete already, and they think it needed a few appendices. We believe that we have to follow all sorts of rules; they believe that they can get to Heaven a lot faster by just accepting Jesus. For the most part, we agree to disagree, and not to go crying to enlist the government for help in the matter. No harm, no foul.

But Coulter was asking for this. She got asked what the country would look like in her dreams, she said Christian, and Donny Deutsch took exception, as she probably knew he would. She volunteered this. He didn't ask her about her religion. She took it down that road, although he was all over it like white on rice.

Secondly, she has no business assuming anything at all about Deutsch's religiosity, and whether or not that makes any difference as to his suitability as a Christian. Jews may not like implications of Christian eschatology, and we may be pleased when it turns in certain directions. But we have no right to dictate what it should be. In the same way, it's none of Ann Coulter's business what makes a good Jew or practicing Jew, and she's got not business voicing an opinion on the matter.

For some reason the Corner is virtually silent on the matter. Possibly because they fired her for this kind of garbage 6 years ago.

September 6, 2007

Wieseltier Is Right

I like, which, through a combination of reporting and opinion, tries to stay on top of, well, media and advertising. Fern Siegel is one of the writes on the Magazine Rack column, writing this in her review of American Cowboy:

Editor Jesse Mullins, Jr. says the cowboy world “values authority and the carrying on of tradition and revering the ways of our elders and forebears.” He could almost be Jewish — except for the authority part. Many of us revel in recreational arguing, which is a big distraction during a stampede. Still, Kinky Friedman, best-selling mystery writer and former lead singer of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys, once noted a striking similarity: Both wear their hats indoors. Meaning, I suspect, that observant Jews, like serious cowboys, do it 24/7.

I know her heart's in the right place, but all that recreational argument actually comes with great reverence to authority. And we do take on the yarmulke at night. Too many American Jews know so little, they don't even know that they don't know, never might what they don't know.

September 4, 2007

Anti-Semites For Anti-Semitism

California Conservative is reporting that Rep. Keith Ellison (D - CAIR), is joining the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force. Yet another sign that satire has become obsolete.

I can think of at least two non-competing reasons why Ellison might want to join this group, and at least three reasons why he might be allowed to. None of them is very flattering to the participants.

Lantos, et. al., probably see PR benefits themselves, a chance to co-op the opposition. They may also truly believe that inclusion is better than exclusion, or that Ellison deserves a chance to prove his bona-fides. If so, as CC points out, there are better places for him to start.

As for Ellison, the PR benefits are obvious, both for himself and to defang the fact that CAIR and other nationally-prominent Muslim groups are openly anti-Semitic. After all, when he criticizes Israel for defending itself during the next war, or votes against aid or military cooperation, or enters the latest AP or Reuters fauxtograph into the Congressional Record, he will thunder in disdain, "I'm not anti-Semitic. I'm on the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force! How dare you!"

The other, complementary job here, is to make sure that the ongoing Islamist war against Jews doesn't get attention from this group. I'd be surprised if it finds anything other than white supremicist and European Christian anti-Semites abroad. No doubt the armed soldiers at the re-dedication of Berlin's synagogue were there to protect against regnant Nazi groups.

August 24, 2007


I know these people personally:

Susan Rosenfeld's marriage wasn't what you'd call romantic. She was thrown up against a wall, doused with a bucket of cold water in bed, and, toward the end, became her husband's punching bag. "Since I wear long sleeves, no one really knew," she says. Looking back, Ms. Rosenfeld regrets keeping the abuse a secret. But "in the Jewish community, you don't call the police on your husband."

In her mid-30s, Ms. Rosenfeld hopes to remarry and build a new life for herself. But as an Orthodox Jew, a civil divorce is not sufficient. For Ms. Rosenfeld to be officially released from her vows, her husband has to grant her a Jewish bill of divorce, called a get. The document, which certifies the termination of the marriage--the Aramaic text declares "you are hereby permitted to marry any man"--not only allows women to remarry, but ensures that future children will not be deemed mamzerim (bastards able to marry only other mamzerim).

Two years have passed and Ariel HaCohen, Ms. Rosenfeld's husband, has refused to grant her the get. This makes Ms. Rosenfeld an aguna--literally, an anchored woman--trapped in a dead marriage.

Read the whole thing. And get angry. Really angry. Ariel (and I want to word this carefully) is behaving like a jackass. There are no children. There are no assets to which he's entitled. They've been separated for years.

I would venture that 90% of the rabbis in America want a smoothly functioning solution to this problem. But in a system that works by consensus, progress comes at the pace of the most reluctant. Remember, if a significant minority of rabbis don't accept the validity of the divorce, and if those rabbis' opinions carry weight in the orthodox world, then having such a divorce could end up being as useless as not having a divorce at all.

Sometimes the law is impotent, even American law is impotent. But in a system that had to essentially abandon legislative activity 1900 years ago, there ought to be room for some sort of judicial innovation.

August 19, 2007

You're So Vain

Haveil Havalim #130 is up! Full of rich, Judeo-blogging goodness.

April 15, 2007

Yom HaShoah

Tonight marks Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Its full name, though, is actually Yom HaZikaron HaShoan V'Hagvurah - translated as Day of Remembrance the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes. The difference is telling.

In shul on Shabbat, the rabbi's drash focused on Zionism, and tried to bridge the gap between the Zionist and the, ah, less-than-Zionist wings of Orthodoxy. More on that another time. But at the end of the drash, in the course of encouraging us to go to the community Yom HaShoah event this evening, he made reference to the notion of Hitler as a tool of God. Evil beyond measure to be sure, but still a tool of God. (I should point out that this is the younger rabbi, not the head of the school where the minyan meets.)

At the time, I wasn't quite sure how to go about discussing with him the reason this reference didn't work well, to say the least, but I think I've now got a handle on both the personal and the philosophical failings of this approach.

Essentially, what I think he was trying to do was to place Hitler in the Tisha B'Av context. That's the context that says that all the great villains in Jewish histoy were evil to be sure, but were also tools of God, serving His purposes, which we can't fathom, but which generally call for Heshbon ha-Nefesh - literally, an "accounting of the soul." There are two problems with this approach as regards Hitler and Yom HaShoah.

The more obvious problem is that Pharoah, Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, and Torquemada didn't exist within living memory. To put Hitler in the Tisha B'Av context is profoundly disturbing to people who are the close relatives of victims and survivors, because they saw up-close a monster and a pathological people, not the hidden hand of God's will.

The less obvious problem is that the Yom HaShoah context isn't the Tisha B'Av context. The Tisha B'Av context is essentially passive when it comes to the outside world. It comes from millenia without a country, without a homeland, and without power. It comes from accepting a subordinate role in the world and in history, one where the primary actors are not Jewish, or Jews acting on behalf of non-Jewish powers.

Yom HaShoah, in Israel, is actually called Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. It, along with Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut (stay tuned for next week) stress the importance of taking positive action, as a people and as individuals, to prevent evil and promote good. This means prayer and study, but also means picking up a gun and defending your country and your family. It is a message that is compatible with, but different from, the message of Tisha B'Av.

I'm afraid that the fact that Israel focuses on the Heroes and that American Jews tend to focus on the Martyrs says something unsettling about American Jewry - that we haven't really overcome the Galut, or Exile, mentality. That we are more comfortable seeing the world through the lens of victimhood than the lens of self-reliance. Which pretty much condemns us to relive that experience, too.

March 25, 2007

Signs of the Apocalypse

In another quantum leap, allowing the Jews of Denver to eat like everyone else, the King Sooper's bakery near where I live is now completely under the supervision of the Denver Va'ad. Cakes. Cookies. Tortes. Breads! All manner of breads! Since they're open 24 hrs., I can stop in any time I like, even before work, and pick up, say, a loaf of sourdough for the day. Or maybe French bread. Possibly an Italian roll with tomato basil.

I can't begin to tell you how big a deal this is.

Of course, their timing's a little off, given that Passover begins in a week, and we can't eat bread during Passover. But I'm reliably informed that the good folks managing the bakery are aware of this, and aren't going to judge the success of the project by the first month's sales.

January 16, 2007

Eulogy For a Two-Year-Old

The first email came in at a little after 2:00. The funeral would be at 3:30, maybe 4:00 this afternoon.

The parents are a well-liked young couple here in the community. I don't know her very well, but I've taken some classes from him, and his relentless cheerfulness usually infected the whole group pretty quickly. How could I not go?

And so, as the sun set, about 200 men and women stood out in 0-degree weather trying, and failing, to make sense of it. We can't really know what the little girl's soul's mission was, only that it was accomplished. But life is a gift meant to be lived, and her life was decidedly unlived. And the human mind cannot comprehend that.

What on earth can you say about a two-year-old, who never had a chance to live a meaningful life? The father was dignified beyond belief, speaking of the joy she had brought, and of God's mercy in taking her painlessly.

A few prayers reminding us of God's justice - reminders being necessary, and the alternative being too awful to contemplate -, and then we shuffled back to our cars, and back to our own lives.

January 12, 2007


ISIME has just sent an email announcing that their planned January 23 showing of Obsession has been canceled, but not giving a reason. Details as they become available.

January 9, 2007

The Syndicate

Then again, what do I know? I'm just here representing the New York Money People:

Clark is talking about the possibility of military action against Iran:

"How can you talk about bombing a country when you won't even talk to them?" said Clark. "It's outrageous. We're the United States of America; we don't do that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the military option is off the table - but diplomacy is not what Jim Baker says it is. It's not, 'what will it take for you boys to support us on Iraq?' It's sitting down for a couple of days and talking about our families and our hopes, and building relationships."

When we asked him what made him so sure the Bush administration was headed in this direction, he replied: "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."

Best of the Web was all over this on Friday.

So the three questions bear repeating:
1 - Why don't the Democrats seem to care?
2 - Why doesn't the MSM seem to care?
3 - Why doesn't the MSM seem to care at least that the Democrats don't care?

November 29, 2006

Wednesday Morning

Snow. Cold. When they gang up on you, the roads turn into skating rinks. For the first time, I had to use the 4WD just tooling around town. Of course, the Jeep is rear-wheel drive normally, not front-wheel as I'm used to, but even 4WD doesn't help your braking all that much. It just means that you slide straight. The snow's still coming down even now, but tomorrow's supposed to be sunny, so perhaps there will be photo-ops anew.

So having finished the NASD licensing steeplechase, and not yet having renewed the Quest for the CFA, I've got a little time on my hands in the evenings, and I've decided that at least one of the adult ed classes at the shul must be for me. Last night I tried out the beginning Talmud class - the nth beginning Talmud class I've tried - and it went pretty well.

Business-halachah-legal geekery follows immediately.

We're learning Tractate Makkot, and it deals in part with the penalties for perjury in civil cases. The basic rule is that if you lie under oath as a witness, and if that lie would have cost someone money, you owe that person damages equal to what you tried to cost them. So if you falsely claim that someone stole $1000, and that lie is uncovered and the claim denied, you owe the accused $1000, since that's what you tried to do him out of.

Apply this to a loan. You claim that Bob borrowed $1000 for 30 days and now needs to pay it back. Bob claims the loan was for 10 years. What would your lie have cost him? Not $1000, since everyone agrees that he needs to pay that back anyway.

In fact, you'd owe Bob what he would have been willing to pay to have the money for 10 years, minus what he'd be willing to pay to have it for 30 days. I'm not sure how they would have calculated this back in 200 CE, but nowadays, you'd just apply the short-term and long-term interest rates to determine the value of having the money on hand. (There are halachic issues with charging interest, but set those aside for the moment.) In short, the raabis understood, at least at some level, the notion of opportunity cost and the time value of money.

Pretty neat, huh?

Less neat is this week-old piece from the Denver Post about minority enrollment at CU. Since this is a report about a report (a Boorstinian pseudo-event of the first order), objections to the diagnosis and prescriptions are anticipated and dismissed:

The study accused flagship universities of blaming their low diversity on inadequate state funding and the K-12 system.

Instead, they should direct more financial aid to low-income students, recruit minority students more aggressively and focus on helping minority students succeed in college, the report said.

Unasked by the reporter or by the CU administration: of the Colorado high school graduates who qualify as "minorities" under their definition, how many can actually read at 12-grade levels, and why is it CU's job to remediate this problem?

November 22, 2006

The Return of Holger Jensen?

Longtime Denver newspaper readers - of whom there seem to be fewer and fewer every year - will remember someone called, "Holger Jensen" who used to edit the Rocky's foreign coverage. Jensen had a thing about Israel. He didn't much like it. Eventually, his bias got the better of him when he allowed it to overwhelm his journalistic ethics and he printed an easily-fact-checkable-and-yet-un-fact-checked slander against Ariel Sharon. The Rocky had no choice but to can him, and he was last seen writing fishing articles.

This morning, the Rocky has printed what is easily one of the most dishonest pieces of Islamist propaganda ever to disgrace its pages. Then again, "dishonest" and "Islamist propaganda" are quite reundant.

Rima Barakat accuses Israel of deliberately murdering a random, innocent, Palestinian family for the crime of practicing for the 4th of July. She then calls on the world to hold the Jewish community here in the US accountable for this. Really.

Barakat begins with a bill of particulars against the IDF. Here's how it starts:

The latest massacre in Gaza of 18 members of the Athamna family, including eight children, who were sleeping in their beds, is another example of the level of contempt with which the Israel government views Palestinian lives. The regular use of disproportionate firepower against a trapped population not only violates international law but also contradicts the basic civilized conduct of any responsible government.

One might well think that the "basic civilized condust of any responsible government" would include preventing its citizens from launching armed missiles into schools, homes, cars, ice cream stands, and whatever other "soft targets" are in their way. One might be forgiven for thinking they include not launching cross-border raids to capture and murder soldiers. But such strictures apparently don't apply to the Hamas government of the Palestinian territories.

Of course, I suppose it's possible that the IDF troops, seeing a group of small children picking strawberries, just decided to pick up and machine-gun them all, although if they wanted the strawberries, they probably could have just taken them after the kids were finished.

No, this tragedy, like so many others, is a result of deliberate cynical Palestinian strategy - the placement of Qassam rocket launchers in civilian areas, in order to maximize the deaths of their own people for propaganda purposes. People like Ms. Barakat are mouthpieces for this sort of calculating blood libel, making hay on the deaths of the very people they purport to support. People like Ms. Barakat ought to be ashamed of themselves, yet apparently are beyond shame.

In fact, the Palestinians in question make use of the very humanity of the Israeli soldiers - which they then seek to deny. The Jerusalem Post reported the other day that masses of people flocked to the home of a targeted Hamas murderer, in order to prevent him from being killed or arrested by Israeli troops. I know Gaza has turned into a large school for martyrs, but my guess is that most of those people were there knowing they were safe from the depradations of the IDF.

Israel justifies these attacks as military responses to a simple homemade device called the Qassam "firecracker" rocket. But Israeli politicians do not believe that the Qassam creates a threat to Israeli security. In fact, Shimon Peres, has commented that "This hysteria over the Qassams must end."

Well, when you're quoting Shimon Peres, you know you've run out of options. I'm surprised she just didn't go all the way and quote Jimmy Carter. Let's make a deal - when the Qassams stop killing people in Sderot, and turning that and other border settlements into ghost towns, Israel will stop trying to uproot them. Until then, it's not really up to a government whose charter foresees the complete destruction of Israel in every paragraph to decide what constitutes a security threat.

Brutality has never brought peace to any country or people. Slavery, apartheid and Nazi concentration camps have eventually brought ruin and disgrace upon the perpetrators. All acts of mass slaughter of innocent civilians must be condemned by people of all faiths.

A special responsibility sits with people belonging to the Jewish tradition. After all, these atrocities continue to be committed in their names. It is time that they stand up and defend the Jewish faith from being associated with acts of heartlessness. We have yet to hear even a whisper of disapproval coming out of the American Jewish leadership. This silence from the Jewish community about Israeli atrocities is unconscionable.

One might well conclude that yes, in fact, Palestinian brutality, from Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, hasn't really gotten the Palestinians very much, and that they might want to take a different tack.

As for the call for American Jews to stop defending Israel, Barakat knows perfectly well that's not going to happen. Certainly not as long as Israel remains under existential threat from its Muslim neighbors. In fact, given Barakat's recent hosting of the Mufti of Jerusalem and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, such a call could be construed as a thinly veiled threat to bring that existential threat Stateside.

Ms. Barakat is apparently beyond shame. But the Rocky ought to know better.

November 13, 2006

All Fundamentalisms Are Not Created Equal

Bookworm Room wonders what happens when you have the left’s favorite oppressed groups at each others’ throats.

The Left likes underdogs. Gays are underdogs. Palestinians are underdogs. Muslims are underdogs. What happens when you throw all three into the mix? This:
A group of gay Palestinian Americans canceled a planned pride march in East Jerusalem on Friday after one of them was beaten unconscious by a local man who said he was from the Waqf Muslim religious authority.

The beating incident occurred on the same day an Israeli gay pride rally went ahead as scheduled, though without a planned march through city streets. The march had been called off after threats by religious and right-wing opponents to mount huge counterdemonstrations. Only minor violence marred the event.


In the East Jerusalem beating, two men — one wielding a knife — came looking for the group of gay Palestinian Americans who were staying at the Faisal Hostel near the Damascus Gate of the Old City. One of the assailants identified himself as being from the Waqf, the clerical trust that administers Muslim religious sites in the city.

“I’m pretty terrified right now,” said Daoud, an MBA student from Detroit who declined to give his full name. “We left the hostel immediately, but when my friend went back to collect some things, they were waiting for him. They asked if he was with ‘the homos’ and then started beating him.”

I'm sure someone is citing this as evidence of the intolerance of both Orthodox Judaism and Islam. Note, however, that the rabbis aren't actually going around turning their yeshivas into training sites for anti-gay street gangs.

(Hat tip: American Thinker)

November 2, 2006

Carrying Costs

Guy asks whether Jews can carry just anything on Shabbat in side the eruv.

Yes. Sort of.

The short answer is that we can carry anything that we can carry. The longer answer is that there are some things that we just have no business carrying on Shabbat.

There's a category of object called Muktzeh, and these are objects that have no purpose on Shabbat. Remember, you can carry, but you still can't drive. Just because there's an eruv doesn't mean you can push the button to turn the crossing light into the little white walking guy. There are still forbidden activities, and objects whose only purpose is those forbidden activities are still forbidden. So. Since you can't write, you can't carry a pen. Since you can't drive, you can't carry your car keys. You can't cut, so put down those scissors now, young man. Make sense?

Hopefully, Guy now understands a little more. Most you are probably just more confused than ever.

October 30, 2006

Eruv Rav

Today's Rocky features an article by religion editor Jean Torkelson about Jim Watkins, Eruv-meister and my former landlord, and his prominent role in constructing eruvs - communal boundaries that permit carrying on Shabbat - here in Denver, and now, in Boulder.

October 24, 2006

Vanity of Vanities

Haveil Havelim #90 has arrived. Thanks to Soccer Dad once again for spending way too much time reading and evaluating blogs.

October 23, 2006

Fate and Destiny

Over Shabbat, I finished reading Rav Joseph Soloveitchik's Fate and Destiny, his defense of and definition of religious Zionism. In short, the Rav equates Fate with the isolation that happens to the Jewish people, represented by the Covenant with Abraham. He equates Destiny with the moral role of the Jewish people that they have a hand in creating, defined by the Covenant at Sinai.

The Rav uses as his base text the line, "Kol Dodi Dofek," from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs). At that point in the story, the maiden hears her lover knocking at her tent and she responds - tragically, too late. Fate and Destiny hears God knocking at the Jewish people's tent, and calls for us to respond by rallying around and helping to build Israel before it's too late. It's brilliant, accessable, and required reading for anyone whose Zionism is rooted in religious faith.

The book is a translation of one of the Rav's Israeli Independence Day lectures, and contains this astonishing line:

The State of Israel today is isolated in precisely the same manner that the Jewish people has been isolated during the thousands of years of its history. If anything, the isolation of the State today is even more striking than the isolation of the Jewish people in the past, for the present-day isolation manifests itself in the international arena.

This lecture was delivered in 1956.

The notion of Israel as the Jew among the nations has gained some currency among thoughtful commentators in the last year or so. Just a f ew weeks ago, Mark Steyn wrote in MacLeans:

The energy expended by the world in denying this particular regional crisis the traditional settlement is unique and perverse, except insofar as by ensuring that the "Palestinian question" is never resolved one is also ensuring that Israel's sovereignty is also never really settled: it, too, is conditional -- and, to judge from recent columns in the Washington Post and the Times of London, it's increasingly seen that way in influential circles -- tolerated as a current leaseholder but, like Anthony Hope's Jew, it can never truly own the land. The Jews are once again rootless transients, though, in one of history's blacker jests, they're now bemoaned in the salons of London and Paris as an outrageous imposition of an alien European population on the Middle East. Which would have given Aaron Lazarus a laugh. The Jews spent millennia on the Continent without ever being accepted as European. But no sooner are the Continent's Jewry all but extinct than suddenly every Jew left on the planet is a European.

The Rav saw it coming 50 years ago.

September 22, 2006

Shanah Tovah

Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It's a holiday commemorating the enthronement of God as the ruler not only of the Jewish people, but of the world.

One of the key insights of the holiday is that Rosh Hashanah also commemorates the creation of the world, but that the day itself is actually the 6th day of Creation, the day when Man was created. Therefore, God's kingship is meaningless without mankind, the only creature with a moral sense, and the only creature capable of being God's partner in creation.

Shanah Tovah, and we'll see you on Monday.

August 4, 2006

Jews a Race?

UPDATE: In response to one reader who seems to have taken broad offense, I would suggest that perhaps Rosen's impressions come from the preponderance of New Yorkers in the Jewish population of the US. Had he grown up in the South, for instance, he might have come to a different conclusion. In any event, nobody's claiming that Jews are genetically abrasive. I leave it to the rest of the readership to determine whether that reader's comment is evidence for or against Rosen's proposition.

Colorado Media Matters continues to provide jobs for those who could be better employed building an extra lane onto I-70 West. Now, they've put Mike Rosen's comments about the stereotypical Jewish personality being "abrasive" under their "Race Issues" category.

After fasting all day yesterday, I was in a mood to send them an abrasive email myself, since truth is a complete defense against slander. Rosen's comments are 1) substantively true, 2) proportionately trivial, and 3) not a matter of race. As David Harsanyi has pointed out, a trip to Israel will reveal Jews of all complexions. You tell me that Ethiopian Jews are the same race as Natan Scharansky.

In the past, I have been guilty of claiming that there was a racial component to Judaism. In effect, there's a genetic component to the people we call "Jews," because the number of converts and descendents of converts is so tiny compared to the total number of Jews.

However, it would be more accurate to claim that, aside from conversion, one's Jewishness is inhereted. Judaism is a religion, and the Jews are a people or a nation, but not a race.

While I've managed to clarify my thinking on this matter over time, apparently such sutbleties are too much for Media Matters.

July 13, 2006

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Blames the Jews

The Iraqi Parliament speaker has decided that the US and "the Jews," are conspiring to keep Iraq under US control:

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani hinted that the Americans and Israelis did not want to see officials of Sunni and Shi'ite parties running the country because "this is not their agenda."

"They will say that we brought you in a democratic way to the government but you are sectarian people. One of you is killing the other and you don't deserve to become leaders because you are war lords," al-Mashhadani told reporters after a parliament meeting.

Al-Mashhadani is a member of the Sunni Muslim Iraqi Accordance Front while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member of the Shi'ite Dawa party.

"Some people say 'we saw you beheading, kidnappings and killing. In the end we even started kidnapping women who are our honor,"' al-Mashhadani said. "These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew."

"I can tell you about these Jewish, Israelis and Zionists who are using Iraqi money and oil to frustrate the Islamic movement in Iraq and come with the agent and cheap project."

"No one deserves to rule Iraq other than Islamists," he said.

Emphasis added, of course.

Some were hoping that the Sunni decision to join the political process meant that they were committed to that process. Apparently they, like Mookie al-Sadr on the other side, joined it in order to hijack it for their own ends. (This is also the logical conclusion of not insisting that Iraq be Israel-friendly from the beginning.)

The notion that Islamists - Sunni or Shiite - were going to join the government, and then, having gotten comfortable with "the process," were going to abandon religious fanatacism in favor of budget earmarks was naive beyond belief. Now, the wolf is in the fold. We can't leave, because we can't let the Islamists run the country. We can't throw this monster and his whole party in Abu Ghraib, because they part of the Legitimately-Elected-Government-Of-Iraq.

This isn't some backbencher looking for a headline. This is the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, people.

June 1, 2006


For those of you who missed the link, buried in one of the posts below, here's the OU's page of Shavuot resources.

April 12, 2006

Chag Kasher V'Sameach

I'm not a big fan of the current trend in some quarters to universalize Jewish holidays, calling Passover the "Festival of Freedom," for instance, and then trying to apply its lessons to, say, gays suffering under the yoke of modern academia. (Put a purple ribbon on your office doorframe, so the liberating protestors will know not to molest you.)

Passover is, in fact, the most Jewish-centric of our holidays. It's the holiday that commemorates when, under the pressure-cooker of a midnight escape, we became a people, a nation, rather than a rabble of slaves. It's a holiday where we leave tyranny for the - as yet undefined - servitude to God.

Part of the Haggadah - the script for the Passover Seder - I believe emphasizes this particularism:

It is told of Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon, who were reclining at the Seder in B'nei Brak, and had spent the whole night telling the story of the Exodus...

The irony is that of the rabbis in the discussion, all but one are either converts or descended from converts. The other is a Levi, and tradition holds that the tribe of Levi didn't suffer under slavery the way that the rest of Israel did.

This means that of the rabbis discussing the law, about none of them actually had ancestors who were slaves. The fact that we read this story on Passover in significant, because it implies that it's the Passover Story that defines us as a people. By accepting this story, the Passover story, as their own, they became a part of the people. Not simply an act of faith, or a belief in the universality of God, but an act of identification with the Jewish people was necessary for them to be accepted. Once they were accepted, they became some of our greatest rabbis. (The similarity between conversion to Judaism and immigration to America is striking, but a topic for another day.)

The question here isn't one of conversion per se, something better dealt with in Ruth,/I>, but one of applicability. Outside of Judaism, the Passover Story is someone else's, not applicable at all. Inside of Judaism, the Passover Story is their own. So much so, that it's their discussion that we study Seder night.

Happy Passover!

April 2, 2006

...And When You Don't Have the Facts Or the Law...

If she's not careful, young Rima Barakhat is going to acquire quite a name for herself. Probalby one she wants, but that the rest of us could do without.

A little while back, I mentioned the visit of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to Denver, and Ms. Barakhat's somewhat, er, defensive reaction to the AJC and the ADL's calling an anti-Semite an anti-Semite. Since Ms. Barakhat lives in America, and not the Islamic state envisioned by the Mufti, papers like the Rocky often offer space for alternative viewpoints, and she took her chance to, well, change the subject.

Instead of defending the indefensible, she decided to attack the Indispensible MEMRI, supposed source of all the confusion about the Mufti's gentle nature and kind-hearted spirit. Fine. We all make mistakes; MEMRI is included in, "we all." Then, this:

Today, the standards of Israeli-Palestinian political and religious discussions have been redefined by pro-Israeli organizations that are working amongst us.

"Working amongst us." Ah, yes, those shadowy cabals, meeting in dark alleys and at Bingo Night down at Rodef Shalom. No doubt many of the Men's Clubs and all of the Ladies' Auxiliaries - not to mention most editorial boards - have been infiltrated, even compromised, by those "working amonst us." Soon, she'll be accusing doctors at Rose Hospital of infecting Muslim youths with AIDS.

She goes after a translation here, a missed word there, not because MEMRI is wrong, but because they perform a valuable service. The imams and muftis they translate say one thing on Friday morning and another thing Sunday morning, and here, she perceives a threat.

Of course, this is a diversion. The real issue, that being what in God's name a "moderate" group in the middle of the United States is doing inviting a bigot to come speak, is too embarassing to deal with. Ah, you want non-MEMRI proof. Fair enough:

"It is shocking to hear a mufti say that there was never a temple there," Palazzi said. He was referring to recent comments by Jerusalem Mufti Sheikh Ekrima El Sabri in which he said "there is not even the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city (of Jerusalem) there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history." (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

Sabri, addressing this week's Friday congregation in the Aqsa Mosque, said that all Zionist governments ever since occupation of the eastern sector of Jerusalem in 1967 were indulging in a series of excavations underneath the holy site in a desperate attempt to find whatever could prove their illusions (on presence of the remains of the first and/or second Jewish temples). (Palestine Info.)

Speak ing at a press conference at his office on the Temple Mount, Sabri said the Western Wall and the plaza in front of it are part of the holy Mount and are also Waqf property. He stressed there were no political overtones in the timing or content of the fatwa , but that the fatwa compelled a billion Muslims around the world to act accordingly. (Haaretz)

Sheikh Sabri, in his weekly sermon at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque on September 12, 1997, declared: "Oh Allah, destroy America, her agents, and her allies! Cast them into their own traps, and cover the White House with black!"
The speech was broadcast on the PLO's Voice of Palestine Radio, immediately after it broadcast a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. (Likud)

The figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust is exaggerated and used by Israel to gain international
"It's true, the number was less than 6 million and Israel is using this issue to get sympathy worldwide," Sabri said in an inter

He repeated his accusations to other media outlets.

"Six million? It was a lot less," Sabri told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "It's not my fault if Hitler hated the Jews. Anyway, they hate them just about everywhere. The Jewish people has found a formidable means of winning solidarity from the world."

He told Reuters that he does not deny the Holocaust, but "I think the figures have been exaggerated. We denounce all massacres, but I don't see why a certain massacre should be used for political gain and blackmail." (JPS)

The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Akrameh Sabri, says that suicide bombings are justified and should be encouraged, according to a report published on Friday in the international Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. (Haaretz)

Wow, no wonder MEMRI thought he said all those terrible things. Jews have no right to Israel. Jews have to reason to be in Israel. Jews were lucky enough to have to the Holocaust to so they could get to Israel. These are not criticisms of Zionism; they're barely criticisms of Judaism; they're attacks on Jews. If Barakat wants to pretend that they're not, she'll have to perform contortions that I'd pay to see.

Americans like tending to their own gardens, and I can't begin to tell you how much I hate having to write these pieces. I would rather be writing about baseball, design, business, or finance. I'd rather be photoblogging my latest roadtrip. I'd much rather be hanging out someplace warm trying to keep my attention on a good book in the face of delightedly un-burkha-ed babes. The fact that we have to spend time engaged in intellectual combat with people whose intellect stopped creating around the year 700, and who have a conveniently post-modern idea of truth, isn't just annoying, it's stealing my life, and yours.

And next time, if they're as interested in getting along with Jews and Israel as they pretend, they could invite this guy instead. They might actually learn something.

March 17, 2006

Vacating the Field

Take a look ah the Issue groups focused on the Middle East that Project Vote-Smart tracks:

  • Council on American-Islamic Relations
  • Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA)
  • American Muslims for Jerusalem
  • Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel
  • U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

    See a pattern? Yes, I thought so.

    I'm fairly sure this isn't a bias Vote-Smart's part; every other section of the site has both sides represented where they exist. Since Israel's security isn't (or shouldn't be) particularly controversial among Jewish groups, why do the ADL, AJC, and AIPAC (AIPAC, of all people!) not publish ratings of their own on this matter?

    The standard answer is that we don't want, and can't afford, for Israel to become a partisan issue. It's not without merit. Since people vote on many issues, you don't want an election to turn on, say, the economy, and find that you've got a Foreign Relations committee taking campaign contributions from Hamas fundraisers. But I'm pretty sure than abandoning the field to the bad guys is having the opposite effect, and may eventually make Israel a bi-partisan issue, the other way. And I'm not even sure it's a completely honest answer.

    By allowing the other side to drive the ratings, you're creating an incentive for one party to seize the issue as soon as they think the bad guys may have some strength. And in a hyper-partisan era, when one party thinks that impeachment is a winning campaign issue, this becomes a real possibility. In the short run, you encourage it to become a partisan issue. In the long run, your friends start to ask why they're supporting you in the first place. That's how politics works.

    I think there's also something else at work here, though. I think there's a reluctance on the part of a traditionally Democratic leadership to admit that that party has become the (still uncomfortable) home of anti-Semitism, a la Cynthia McKinney and Al Sharpton. I think they and their largely Democratic membership don't want to face that fact, and the fact that conservative Republicans are now Israel's most reliable supporters, in part because they've been listening to their own press clippings about "theocracy." In the meantime, the actual theocrats are busily enrolling in Yale where they can take a census of gay and Jewish students to see how large the swinging wall has to be.

    Further, it's too easy to just write off Republican support as "those evangelicals." Maybe, somewhat. (Evangelicals aren't a majority of the party; they aren't even really driving the agenda.) But if you do that, then you have to explain why you can't carry the Democrats anymore, why you can't appeal to them on their terms, and that's profoundly embarassing, as well.

    Either way, the Jewish leadership isn't doing its job here.

    For statistical geekery, continue reading below.

    Continue reading "Vacating the Field" »

  • March 14, 2006

    Happy Purim!

    Today marks Purim, the annual celebration commemorating the Jewish people's escape from annihilation at the hands of a Persian genocial maniac.

    Le plus ca change, plus le meme chose.

    February 14, 2006

    Book Review - Learning to Read Midrash

    Simi Peters of Nishmat has published a fine, fine introduction to reading Midrash. Read the review (below, or here), then, if you're at all interested in rabbinic Biblical interpretation, read the book.

    Continue reading "Book Review - Learning to Read Midrash" »

    February 10, 2006

    Tu B'Shevat

    It occurs to me that Sunday night will be the Tu B'Shevat Show for Backbone Radio. There's absolutely no reason to take up air time talking about this, but that's what blogs are for.

    Tu B'Shevat is, literally, the 15th of Shevat, and it's the New Year for Trees on the Jewish calendar. What on earth does that mean? Trees, they're so important, they get their own calendar? Well, it turns out that, not surprisingly for an agricultural economy, there are a whole lot of rules about produce, especially the kind that grow on trees. You can't actually eat a tree's fruit for its first three years, so Tu B'Shevat is meant to answer the question: when do we start counting the year?

    Plant a tree before Sunday night, and on Sunday night it's one year old. Plant a tree after sundown on Sunday, and you're going to wait an extra year for those delicious peaches. Needless to say, if the weather was good, a lot of trees got planted just before Tu B'Shevat, earning it the nickname "Jewish Arbor Day," although not in Russia. Because of the ecological associations, it's gotten a lot of attention from environmentalist-types, and it's a little in danger of turning into Jewish Earth Day, which would be a shame.

    There are no real rituals associated with the day, but leave it to the mystics and the Chassidic Jews to try. There was a somewhat neglected tradition of the Tu B'Shevat Seder that's come back over the last decade or so. It involves drinking grape juice (or wine) and eating a variety of tree-produce, like fruits and nuts, and it's popular even outside of California. Because it's one of the few areas of the religion that hasn't been tightly scripted, it's also one of the few areas where there's a fair amount of innovation, even among the Orthodox.

    I guess I'll bring some trail mix to the studio, after all.

    January 27, 2006

    Hamas & "Negotiation"

    CNN is reporting that by a margin of 48-43, Israelis want to leave the door open to negotiations with Hamas. The reporter claims that this is because the Israelis "don't want to believe that there's no partner on the other side."

    He's got it completely backwards: such a result is only possible because Israelis have already given up on the Palestinians. It also suggests that public grasps and accepts the logic behind Kadima's platform.

    It's a mark of how effectively Sharon changed the political equation by taking the initiative, promoting disengagement behind the security fence. Israelis don't really believe they'd be negotiating peace with Hamas; they understand they'd be negotiating temporary accomodations, which they'd be doing with Abbas as well. The election of Hamas isn't going to alter the strategic balance between the two sides.

    December 15, 2005

    Cash Bar Mitzvah

    The Washington Post article on bar mitzvahs that only a Congressman could love really struck a nerve. Sure, it's all fun and games to rent out Wings over the Rockies for Yoni Tidi to do his patented recreation of the Entebbe rescue operation. But there's something fundamentally misdirected about celebrating the onset of adult moral responsibility with Peter Pan-like wish-fulfillment.

    In fact, we've been here before. The reason that Jewish funerals use simple pine caskets is to spare the feelings of the poor who could barely scrape together enough for one, while the wealthy were spending money on oak sarcophagi. A similar thing has happened recenly in the Orthodox community, where weddings were turning into family potlatches, with social pressure forcing families to spend more than they had to keep up appearances.

    In the spirit of school uniforms, a number of rabbis have since written letters forbidding overdoing it at weddings. In the case of the bar mitzvahs, though, it's unlikely that the offenders are paying attention. Still, with so many real community needs going unmet (East Denver's mikvah, for instance, is closed, pending enough funds to buy a new roof; yes, this is a shameless bleg, and anything at all you feel moved to contribute is greatly appreciated), spending $100K to boost a kid's popularity is warped.

    Nobody ever said you can't buy friends, but 50 Cent seems a poor substitute for real community.

    UPDATE: Welcome Hugh Hewitt readers. See, now there's a mensch...

    December 6, 2005

    Yoffie and the Holocaust

    In his recent peroration to the biennial Reform convention in Houston, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, spiritual guiding light mentioned the Holocaust twice. Once to condemn fellow Jews, the other time to condemn believing Christians. Unfortunately, he got it wrong both times.

    Here are the two quotes:

    We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations. And today, we cannot feel anything but rage when we hear about gay men and women, some on the front lines, being hounded out of our armed services.


    The settler leaders and their Rabbis fomented civil rebellion, urged soldiers to disobey orders, and profaned the Holocaust by making despicable comparisons between Nazi expulsions and actions of the Israeli government. The pain of the evicted could not, in any way, excuse or justify such outrages.

    So in one case, vicarious pain on behalf of those willfully violating the law is sufficient to invoke Hitler, while in the other case, being forced to turn your house over to rapacious jackals is just another day at the office. It brings to mind Mel Brooks's definitions of comedy and tragedy: Tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel; Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die.

    But the double standard really has to play second fiddle to politicized historical revisionism of the worst sort. In fact, Yoffie has invoked the Holocaust where it's grossly inappropriate, and twisted the words of his opponents (or at least focused on the exceptions) to shut off a debate he thinks he's won.

    I have no sympathy for rabbis who were encouraging mutiny; any society, and especially one under constant threat of extinction, can only hold together if people put up with decisions they don't like. And in the end, that's pretty much what everyone did. There was a fair amount of civil disobedience, but surely old Leftie Yoffie can remember his own student protest days. Going limp and getting carried off to the wagon by the Establishment Lackeys is hardly an "outrage" by his standards.

    Yoffie's sin here his one of the definite article: "the settler leaders and their Rabbis..." I remember about 20 years ago, when someone asked Wynton Marsalis about jazz's relative obscurity, and he remarked that it was because "the Jews" controlled the media. A cousin of mine pointed out that while "Jews" might indicate bad taste, "the Jews," in implicating us all, indicated bad manners.

    The same sleight of tongue is at work here. Almost all the references I heard to the Holocaust compared Gaza to Europe - Judenrein to Judenrein - and lamented the fact that this time Jews themselves were acting as the moving company. I remember pointing out myself the fact that any decent, civilized neighbors would settle for sovereignty without expulsion. And truth be told, it's hardly an original observation that a great deal of Arab propaganda over the last few years has looked more and more like Der Sturmer. All of which adds up to perhaps less than a historical repetition but a great deal more than a rhyme. Rabbi Yoffie's outrage seems to be somewhat misdirected.

    And here we come to his other Holocaust observation, the one that really does debase the currency. Paul Johnson, in Modern Times, describes the anti-Semitism of a British "thinker" particularly influential in pre-War Germany:

    [Houston Stewart] Chamberlain, whom Hitler was to visit on his deathbed to kiss his hands in 1927, argued that God flourished in the German and the Devil in the Jewish race, the polarities of Good and Evil. The Teutons had inherited Greek aristocratic ideals and Roman love of justice and added their own heorism and fortitude. Thus it was their role to fight and destroy the only other race, the Jews, which had an equal purity and will to power. So the Jew was not a figure of low comedy but a mortal, implacable enemy: the Germans should wrest all the power of modern technology and industry from the Jews, in order to destroy them totally.

    Leave aside the evident absurdity of comparing this mindset with the evangelical attitude towards homosexuals. (Again, I remind you that a couple of dozen Kansans in search of adventure hardly counts as a world-historic movement.) By invoking the comparison with Hitler, and all its Holocaust overtures, Yoffie is effectivel,y demoting Jews to Just Another Group that Hitler Didn't Like, You Know, Like Gays.

    In fact, there was from the beginning something special about Hitler's attitudes towards Jews. Gays may have been subhuman, but they didn't pose the threat of world domination. Neither did Gypsies. And when modern-day evangelicals suggest that maybe they don't want to redefine the basic social unit, and don't want to be subsidizing health insurance for long-term committed partners, either, that's not the same thing as clamoring to take the Zyklon-B canisters out of mothballs.

    Most evangelicals I know are of the hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner attitude on the issue, in any case, and in 21st Century America, even that's too much for most people. Contrast that with 1920s Germany, where the Germans were pre-occupied with the "Jewish Problem" to a far greater degree even than the French were worried about the German Problem.

    Yoffie can get away with this sort of double-talk, of course, because the ADL and other groups have spent the last 60 years arguing that Jews aren't special and that anti-Semitism as Chinese laundry jokes gone bad. It's led to everyone with a grievance invoking the Holocaust as what happens when you let things get out of hand. No, the Armenian genocide by the Turks, or the Hutus and the Tutsis are what happens when things get out of hand. There's no ideology or world-ending world view at work there, just generations of hatred and maybe a little fertile farmland.

    But the Jews occupied a special place in the Holocaust, however inconvenient that may be for the Reform movement's Chief Social Activist, and trying to substitute gays for Jews and James Dobson for Adolf Hitler is a repugnant act of self-betrayal.

    On a par with failing to recognize real anti-Semitism when it shows up and burns synagogues.

    December 2, 2005

    American Jews & Israel: A Vicious Circle

    Over at the American Thinker, Clarice Feldman has noticed a disturbing trend - the re-emergence of the so-called "dual loyalty" accusation, the myth that American Jews are appendages of the Israeli Foreign Ministry first, Americans second. (That this myth has been perpetrated by Citizens of the State Department and Citizens of the World, whose own loyalty might be questioned, is ironic if not surprising.)

    At the same time, the Israel Project has commissioned a survey which finds that American Jews, while strongly supportive of Israel, don't spend a lot of time actually defending it in conversation.

    No doubt, some of this reticence comes from wanting to avoid arguments with non-Jewish co-workers and friends, many of whom have been fed a on steady diet of the Crescent News Network. At the same time, I can remember growing up being confronted with the dual-loyalty question, and having to find an answer. So there's some reason to believe that many American Jews, even if they don't doubt their own loyalties, don't want to push the question for fear of having it doubted by others.

    This silence lets hostile Muslim-American and Arab-American groups have it both ways. Their existential opposition to Israel is overwhelmingly more monolithic and intractable than is American Jewish support for Israel. But the repetition of the Bie Lie of Jewish Dual Loyalty makes it possible for the LA-area leader of CAIR - a group whose loyalty lies solely with Islam and not at all with America - to accuse Frank Gaffney of being in the pay of the Israeli government on the air. Gaffney's more than able to defend himself, but many more of us are not.

    The problem is that by lying low, we don't reverse the problem but reinforce it. After all, if your opponent is silent on a question, the most natural thing in the world is to assume that they're hiding something. When Jews do support Israel, their arguments are immediately suspect because of who they are. In effect, failing to support Israel now makes it much harder to do so later, when that support may be even more critical. After all, what happens if a democratic Lebanon and a democratic Iraq still find themselves opposing Israel? You'd better have serious arguments ready, and you'd better have an audience willing to take them seriously.

    Right now, evangelical Christians are among the most vocal and strongest supporters of Israel. In fact, this support, while welcome, may be allowing some Jews to duck their responsibilities to hone arguments and engage in debate. After all, the obvious answer to the dual-loyalty charge is twofold: 1) there are Jews who don't support Israel much, and 2) there are non-Jews who do. But ultimately this is not their fight. It saddens and perplexes the evangelicals I know when it turns out that Jews don't automatically rise to defend Israel. Americans will eventually tire of fighting for someone who won't take risks for themselves, no matter the eschatological consequences.

    This is still a reversible problem. And the best way to reverse it is for American Jews to have confidence in the rightness of Israel's cause, and to be willing to defend it when necessary.

    December 1, 2005

    Name That Tree

    The Corner and the permanently blogless Dennis Prager have spent some time on this today, and if you happened to hear "Joshua from Denver" call in to the show, then, yes, that was me, and you can stop reading now.

    Prager was spending a great deal of time decrying the progressive (and Progressive) renaming of the Christmas Tree to the Holiday Tree. His ire was centered on what he saw as an attack on Christianity among the mendacious, and excessive sensitivity on the part of the immature. Right on both counts.

    My object, however, was different. As an Orthodox Jew, my concern is with building and perpetuating a cohesive and resilient Jewish community. The rationale for renaming Christmas Trees to Holiday Trees is that "Christmas" is exclusive, whereas "holiday" is inclusive. Personally, it just makes me want to be more reclusive, but that's another matter. So the question is, what exactly are the revisionists including?

    What do you think? They're trying to include Hannukah. But I don't want Hannukah included. Hannukah doesn't have anything to do with trees, except perhaps burning them for the fire to make the latkes. Trees have no place in Hannukah, just as Christmas has no place in Judaism. This is the kind of syncretist nonsense that can only serve to undermine, dilute, and corrupt my holiday, and it reveals a leftist hostility not merely to Christianity, but to religion as a whole.

    Christmas in the public square is fine, as long as it doesn't try to include me.

    November 30, 2005

    Haveil Havelim

    The Official Carnival of Jewish Blogging is up for the week.

    November 23, 2005

    The American Thinker on Yoffie

    I still plan to write more about Eric Yoffie and the Reform Movement's biennial convention in Houston. For the moment, I'll yield the floor to Richard Baehr (a politically conservative Jew himself) of the American Thinker:

    A comparison to Nazis? That is the kind of cheapening of the uniqueness of the Holocaust that normally gets one in trouble with the Anti-Defamation League and its President Abraham Foxman. At least most of the time, it does. But Foxman did not find any problem in Yoffie’s outrageous and vile comparison of the Nazi killing machine to anti-gay marriage advocates among the Christian right. When you do not agree with the political and social priorities of Rabbi Yoffie or Rabbi Saperstein, you must be a Nazi or sinful. This is the wonderful language of these temperate, thoughtful leaders.


    It is not evangelical Christians who hijacked airplanes and crashed them into tall buildings in New York. And it is not evangelical Christians calling for the elimination of the state of Israel or murdering Jews there, or murdering Americans in Iraq and elsewhere. Of course, Abe Foxman and Rabbi Yoffie believe we have bigger threats than radical Islamic terrorism, such as silent prayers before a school day begins, a nativity display next to a Menorah in the town square, and making sure that minority students do not get a better education in a private school with a religious affiliation financed by education vouchers.

    By failing to recognize the most basic realities around them, focusing on imagined enemies while ignoring and even cozying up to those who support real enemies of the Jewish people, the liberal Jewish panjandrums have clearly entered pathological territory.

    He's actually kinder than I would have been. For instance, he fails to note that, later in his address, Yoffie (rightly) condemns radical settlers for comparing Sharon to the Nazis, thereby "cheapening the Holocaust."

    Read the whole thing.

    Rabbi Invokes Hitler, Press Yawns

    I'm no fan of Eric Yoffe. But the religious head of the Jewish Reform Movement in America gives a biennial sermon at the national convention, to set the tone and the agenda for the next tow years. This time, he's outdone himself. In discussion the "religious right" and its approach to gay issues:

    We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations.

    I'm going to have more - a lot more - to say about this, especially about his call for "discussion with civility", but for the moment, just consider the irony from the press's point of view. He's sought out for quotes on Supreme Court nominees. When Senators call him "The Antichrist," they back down. Political meetings he attends are front-page news. The Post and the News report about James Dobson as though the Colorado Springs exits off of I-25 have toll booths with direct deposit to Focus on the Family, and participants in City Council meetings need to kiss his ring before they can go into chambers.

    But when the spiritual head of one of the three major Jewish denominations compares him to Hitler, that's unremarkable.

    November 21, 2005

    Vanity (or is the Emptiness?)

    The 45th edition of Haveil Haveilim or (Habel Habelim, if you're Yemenite) is up, over at Mirty's Place.

    November 13, 2005

    Haveil Havelim

    So it turns out that with about 2 minutes to go until sundown, I discovered I was short of dog food, and wouldn't have enough to get the big guy through Shabbat. It was suggested that I go get enough for the dog's breakfast and dinner from some friends, but I couldn't.

    You're not allowed to be mikibble on Shabbat.

    And with that, on to this week's Haveil Havelim. I had a hard time deciding whether some posts belonged in the Israel section or the Archaeology section, an occupational hazard when dealing with a country with so much history, so close to the surface, I suppose.

    In addition to the submissions, I've added a few postings from other Jewish blogs I read. These postings aren't necessarily an endorsement of their opinions, but you may take them as an endorsement of the blogs themselves.


    Israel Perspectives finds immediacy in history at Latrun.

    Shiloh Musings lets us know that the Vatican has its eyes on a prime piece of historic Jewish real estate.

    Mirty draws attention to readin' and writin', 10th Century BCE-style.

    Israel & The Middle East

    Chayyei Sarah explains why government offices need to treat immigrants differently from tourists.

    Uber-Haveil Soccer Dad has some thoughts about the New York Times of Israel, and exactly how apt that appellation is.

    Daled Amos notes that the Palestinians lead the Iraqis in one important category.

    Samizdat has a suitably depressing take on the state of Israel's political parties, sparing no one.

    CosmicX suggests that Shimon Peres may not be the loser we all assume he is, despite the similarity between his general election record and that of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls.

    IRIS blog has collected a bunch of links that point to more Islamic influence in the French riots than we may have thought.

    And TheRaphi has some friendly suggestions for the French on dealing with their Muslim populations.

    Religious Stuff

    Out of Step Jew revisits a great article by Haym Soloveitchik, and wishes the tenor of the debate were a little more contructive and respectful.

    Judith Plaskow's Standing Again At Sinai has inspired quite a debate over at Western Jew.

    And Modern Orthodox Woman notes some changes on women's roles in the Orthodox community.

    Me-ander meditates on Parshah Lech Lecha, and has some comparisons between Abraham and Ruth.

    The 37th Tzaddik has some fairly high-level discussion of what happens after you die. Warning: Hebrew required.

    For those of you contemplating yet another schism, On the Main Line has some thoughts on Karaism.

    Jewish Book Month

    A Whispering Soul notes that it's Jewish Book Month, and has some personal favorites to suggest.

    A Simple Jew has the story of some books from a Judenrein shtetl, the last living remnants of that place.


    Elie continues Aaron's Story, at the halfway point of saying Kaddish.

    Gadol Hador signs off.

    And let's finish with a little poetry from Musings of a Jewish Soul.

    Haveil Havalim (The Jewish/Israeli blog carnival) can also be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

    November 1, 2005

    Why Refs C&D Are Like Passover

    Passover is a expensive holiday that demands extensive preparation. So a lot of people (usually with a lot of money) decide to go away to a Pesach program, at a hotel, and Leave the Kashering to Them. Some friends of ours run such a program, and were kind enough to have us as guests a few years ago.

    The logistics of preparing a tour like this are complex. Not only is there the catering, but also the kashering of the kitchen, the programming, setting up a synagogue in the hotel, programming, children's programming, arranging local tours, and so on. Families want special rates. They need special room arrangements for wheelchairs. Some people arrive in the middle, some people leave in the middle, and some families partially arrive in the middle, and want rooms near each other. D-Day took less preparation.

    Now, these programs are pretty expensive, especially for a family. A family of four can easily spend $30,000 on such a trip, and some families do it every year. Which means that when things go wrong - and they always do - people complain. As my friend Avi put it, "when you're paying $30,000 for a vacation, every meal is a $30,000 meal, because that's the number they remember."

    And that's where C&D come in. When we were interviewing Bob Beauprez, he recalled a conversation with the police department in Delta, and how desperate they were for their piece of that $3.7 billion. "How much of that do you really think you're going to get?" he asked them, in a conversation since repeated a few hundred times. "I think they thought they were getting the whole $3.7 billon."

    In fact, since nobody really knows how much they're going to get, $3.7 billion is the number they remember. So every slice, every nonprofit, ever fair-to-middle Montessouri school in the middle of Montrose turns into Mr. Berger, Esq, from Manhattan, and his family of five. Just as every seder turns into a $30,000 meal, and every broken TV remote turns into a $30,000 call to the hotel staff, every non-existent allocation turns into $3.7 billion.

    Remember, there is abosolutely nothing statutory about where this money gets spent, how it gets spent, or who gets to see it. Legislatures can't bind their successors that way. The C&D proponents simply dangled this $3.7 billion number in front of these guys, and they all figured they're get a generous helping. They foolishly looked at the long list of advocates, and thought this must be a good thing. In fact, tonight, if C passes, every name on that list makes each piece that much smaller.

    When those guys who put their names on the line for $3.7 billion get a check for $5,000, they're going to be more than a little disappointed. And no, don't expect them to have second thoughts about the process. Expect them to ask for even more money.

    Which just goes to show that generous non-profits can be just as short-sighted and selfish as anyone with retained earnings.

    October 23, 2005

    Ecclesiastes To You

    Sukkot (and its appendage holiday, Shemini Atzeret) is eight days long, so it always falls on at least one Shabbat. Never able to resist the temptation to lengthen the service, the rabbis instituted the practice of reading the Book of Kohelet (that's Ecclesiastes to you). It's a longish book, and it usually adds about half an hour to the service, but it's one of my favorites.

    Academics will tell you that Kohelet is a perfect example of ancient "Wisdom Literature," turning the book's author, King Solomon, into a earlier-day Poor Richard, without the poor. In fact, it's a Jewish "Carpe Diem," which on reflection risks turning the great King into Robin Williams. Nonetheless, it's a perfect counterpoint to Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, where we spend the whole day reflecting on what we've done wrong. While "Unetaneh Tokef" reminds us that life is fleeting, and once it's gone, it's gone, "Kohelet" gives us a reason to care about living that life.

    October 19, 2005

    That's Tabernacles to You

    For those of you wondering where the blog has been the last two days, Monday night was the start of an 8-day Jewish Festival known as Sukkot (most of the Christian world knows it as the Feast of Tabernacles, which isn't quite the same thing). There's a fall harvest component to the holiday, but the main thrust of it is the booths, or Sukkot, that Jews build to eat and spend time in during the holiday. It's dark now, of course, but I'll get my own sukkah pictures up tomorrow.

    The other main symbols are the lulav and the etrog. The lulav is a bundle of myrtle, willow, and a palm frond, while the etrog is a more-or-less-inedible citrus, apparently only grown in Israel. Most of the palms come from Egypt for some reason. Now, the palms in southern California and Arizona are, in fact, Kosher for Festival Use, and to the best of my knowledge, the country also has some areas that do fairly well in producing citrus. So why on earth someone hasn't put together a local business growing these things is beyond me. There's a market of at least several hundred thousand for the etrogs, and there's only a palm tree on every other corner in LA, SD, and Phoenix.

    Go here or here for further information.

    October 3, 2005

    Shanah Tovah

    Blog's going dark for the next two days - Rosh Hashanah, 5766.

    Shanah Tovah, and a happy, healthy new year to everyone.


    Power, Faith, and Fantasy

    Six Days of War

    An Army of Davids

    Learning to Read Midrash

    Size Matters

    Deals From Hell

    A War Like No Other


    A Civil War

    Supreme Command

    The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

    The Wisdom of Crowds

    Inventing Money

    When Genius Failed

    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

    Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

    How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

    Good to Great

    Built to Last

    Financial Fine Print

    The Day the Universe Changed


    The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

    The Case for Democracy

    A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

    The Italians

    Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

    Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

    Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud