Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Traveling Home

Soon my family and I will be visiting my parents in Sunny So.Cal. It's our first trip as a family (and also the first time I've seen my parents since my wedding and only the third occasion that my wife and daughter are meeting my parents). My daughter is excited. I'm nervous.

You see, I am what you might call a half-assed Baal Teshuva. Well, there isn't even maybe half an assed involved in it. I didn't go from a completely secular to a frum background. Rather my parents are kind of Reform, and I am now a vaguely Sabbath observing, reasonably kosher Jew ... married to a slightly more stringently Sabbath observing, pretty much kosher Jew.

So the question is: how do y'all deal with going home to parents who are simply less religiously strict? When we visit my family, they won't be serving us bacon, but they will be using their traif dishes, etc. Now I am used to this, and I certainly would not want to make my parents feel uncomfortable by insisting they use paper plates or what not. To me, honoring your parents is a bigger mitzvah than koshrus. But to my wife, even though when she visits non-Jewish relatives or even eats at a restaurant, she'll eat ("pescatarian") food cooked/served on traif dishes, she is not really used to the idea of going to a Jewish family and eating off of traif dishes, not really observing the Sabbath, etc.

So how do people who are even as quarter-assed about Baal Teshuvus (if I can coin that phrase) as I (perhaps especially people in my position -- 'cause if you go full frum, then of course you're eating off of paper plates, etc. ... 'cause you wouldn't even go into a non-kosher restaurant or what not) work this out? How do you explain to not-so-religious parents the psychological (and arguably even halachic) dynamics of "well if those goyim serve me on traif plates, who am I to question that" vs. "these people are Jews ... they should be keep kosher ... so why am I eating off of traif plates?"? How do you honor your parents, honor your new family's desires and your religious commitments? More generally -- how does one handle "trips" home when one's lifestyle is somehow fundamentally different than one's parents' way of living? ... especially if your new lifestyle says that your parents ought to live more as you do?

I guess, in this actually all is, in a way, parsha blogging. After all, the 10 commandments are one thing ... but doesn't morality live in the details? Values are in a sense always relative -- you can claim you value good things X, Y and Z, but when it comes down to saying what your real values are, isn't what matters whether you value X > Y or Y > Z? And those details, the real brass tacks following the big show of the big 10, are what Parshas Mishpatim is about, eh?

Thursday, February 05, 2009


People are Talking about Purim Already

Nu? I'll have some Purim related blogging.

One claim that has been made as to assigning 'fault' in the latest hostilities between Israel and Gaza is that Israel "started it" by placing an embargo on Gaza when Hamas took over. Of course an argument could be made that this is, in fact, an act of war, and, at the very least, if Israel wants to encourage democracy and independence among the Palestinian people, they should have "respected" the election results no matter how loathsome they were.

Of course, one counter-argument is "should the WWI allies, e.g., been so 'respectful' of the election which ultimately brought Hitler to power?" Certainly, Hamas ostensibly supports the same genocidal policies as the Nazis. And we have vowed "never again". Like Haman before Hitler and Amalek before Haman, we as Jews must make sure that we will never again allow ourselves to be caught off-guard by those who want to destroy us.

However, does our vow of "never again" mean that we should be so quick to draw our guns to defend ourselves that we end up shooting ourselves in the foot? When Israel "responds to terrorist actions" does it really make those in Israel any safer? Defenders of Israel's policies will say "of course it does -- imagine how bad it would be if we didn't defend ourselves? ... it isn't as if anything we do will change their minds about hating us ... after all, people hate Jews".

The problem is that when we act as if that is the case, we ensure that is the case. Israel and her defenders say "Israel does everything it can do to make peace". But does Israel? Sure Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, but at the same time Israel also siezed some additional lands in the West Bank and shortly thereafter initiated an embargo against Gaza. Certainly all of Israel's actions are justifiable here (and anyone who doesn't see how that is the case is likely blinded by their own prejudices even if they claim to be "liberal" and anti-racist), but can't we Jews see how even these justifiable actions are obviously viewed? Israel gives with one hand and takes with the other -- and we clever Jews always come up with some "reasons" why this is ok. It's bad enough that anti-Semites claim this is how Jews behave. Should we Jews actually behave this way?

At some point if we Jews don't want Hitler to have any more posthumous victories, we need to make sure that we stop living in constant fear of another Holocaust. Does Hamas want to destroy us? Yes, it would seem they do. But should we respond to every rocket launch as if it were a realistic attempt at genocide? How is it making us any safer to do so? Even if Hamas has never followed through with a "cease-fire", shouldn't we encourage any reduction of fire with positive gestures without all this "we'll give you X, but then we'll take Y" ... rather than respond to any attack with more force that just escalates violence and results in even more rockets being launched at Israel?

At some point if we keep acting as if Hamas is a collective reincarnation of Hitler, we are letting Hitler live in Hamas. The goal of Zionism is that we Jews should stop living in fear -- and yet we are constantly letting the memory of Hitler keep us in fear. Isn't that giving Hitler a posthumous victory?

Already we are making plans for the upcoming holiday of Purim. Do we commemorate our almost annhiliation as a people by cowering in fear of another Haman? No ... we commemorate what happened by mocking Haman and in literal observation of the Biblical commandment to blot out the name of Haman's ancestor, Amalek, we drawn out every mention of his name with boos, hisses and noisemakers. We cannot forget the Holocaust and other attempts to annhialate the Jewish people. But we must remember that -- we survived! We are commanded not to remember Amalek's name and what he did to us, but to remember what he did and blot out his name.

Let us stop allowing the name of Hitler to live on by letting anti-Semitic bullies have us lash out in blind fear, but let us blot out the name of Hitler by refusing to see every threat as his existential threat. We complain that the Palestinian people should "move on" and stop blaming Israel for population transfers that were par for the course at that time (including those involving all the Jews absorbed into Israel), and that the Palestinian grudges that lead to terrorism are hateful to us (which they are): well, what is hateful to us, we should not do to others (as Hillel would say). We should remember the Holocaust but also move on and stop living in fear of bullies who seek to destroy us, but rather blot out their names and ... you know ... sometimes the way to deal with a bully is to fight back. And sometimes the way to deal with a bully is to ignore him.

Responding to Hamas violence with violence and giving them the power of being Hitler hasn't worked. Maybe it's time to change strategies.

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