Sunday, January 31, 2010


Masorti in Israel and Progressives Here

Another issue we both have is how do you "win" the game when your side cares about actually accomplishing goals while the other side thinks the government you're competing to control fundamentally isn't quite legitimate anyway?

Progressives in the U.S. are hobbled by actually wanting government programs that work (although ironically, vide infra, we seem to have issues with actually communicating how our programs will work) whereas what passes for conservatism in this country is actually a nihilist movement that just doesn't care and is in politics merely to win. How do you win against such a movement that doesn't care about for what we're competing but only winning the competition?

Similarly in Israel -- the Masorti (and other religiously liberal yet Zionist-oriented movements) are hobbled by the fact that we care both about Judaism as a religion and Zionism (which, IMHO, is itself oxymoronic -- which is defined as "pertaining to a moron who doesn't get enough Lutein or Vitamin E in his diet"?). OTOH, many Haredi are not even ideologically Zionist. So what do they care if they drive the Zionist entity to the ground with their antics?

Since the Haredim have the freedom to not support any particular government of Israel or even Israel in general, that gives them tremendous power in Israel that we Conservative/Masorti Jews who are, as a movement (although there are exceptions among us), ideologically committed to "supporting Israel" do not have.

Nu? Under such situations how do forces for freedom and progressive change win?

Of course the ultimate example of this dynamic is Hamas and what's happened in Gaza. Lefties oftentimes accuse Israel of not wanting peace simply because they don't proceed to withdraw from occupied territories in the absence of a larger agreement. But the fact is that Israel tried the option of withdrawing, even when negotiations weren't really moving forward, from Gaza and (not only was Israel criticized for being disingenuous but also anyway) did that result in peace? No ... it resulted in more wars.

Nu? What do you think? Israel, of course, now knows that they cannot withdraw from occupied territory in the name of peace and that if peace, the safety of their residents and even the safety and security of Palestinians (what's happened in Gaza ain't good for the residents of Gaza no matter who's to blame) is the goal, Israel best not withdraw from occupied territories.

But what has happened here? Who's won? Israel? The PA? Which, for all their flaws really are interested in some sort of solution (if not a just one) to the problem? No ... Hamas, which is not interested in a solution was able to win (i.e. create conditions in which it would be irrational to solve the problem) because they don't care whereas Israel is hobbled by caring.

I always find it odd when liberal/progressive types are against Israel and de facto pro-Hamas: which side behaves like constructive (insert bad taste pun about the settlements here), albeit oftentimes asshole, progressives and which side behaves like nihilistic so-called conservatives?

Monday, January 18, 2010


Needed: A Few Good Grant Writers ...

... to transfer their skills for promoting certain political agendas/actions.

It seems to me that the Mercaz's efforts to promote religious freedom in Israel and the Democrats' efforts to promote their agenda suffer from the same problem -- a lack of appropriate detail.

I can go to shul (as I did Sat.) and hear our Rabbi give an inspirational sermon about the need to fight for greater access to the Kotel by egalitarian Jews and about the need to write letters to various people and join Mercaz. I can hear Pres. Obama talk about the need for health care reform and that whatever bill comes out of Congress will provide better and cheaper health care and a pony for everyone. I can also read online various drafts of various health care reform bills as well as all sorts of details about what exactly it is Mercaz does.

But what is missing is some intermediate level of detail. I'm a busy man who has other things on his mind besides the intricasies of Jewish organizations or Congressional sausage-making. But before I give money to some Zionist organization (even though I am a non-Zionist) or support what is, in my opinion, a half-bake compromise on health care reform, I want to know what it is I am supporting and how it will work.

Instead of just telling me to write letters and donate to a cause -- why not tell me, not the goals of the cause, but what the cause will do and how the letters will help. Why not tell me how, in a few bullet points, health care reform will accomplish its stated goals instead of giving me a "steal underwear, ???, profit" statement of goals in answer to questions of "how?"

You'd think a bunch of liberals, many of whom are academics, would know better than to answer a "how?" question with a "plan" worthy of a dot-com bubble-era start-up. If liberal Jews and liberal politicians want to succeed in the very important goals of liberalism, why don't we hire some folks with much success in grant writing to write some real plans and arguments for us to "fund" them?

Monday, January 11, 2010


Shemos Blogging

Exodus 3:3 -- "So Moses thought, 'I will detour from my path to see this amazing sight. Why does the bush not burn up?'"

Moses can only see God, in his avatar of Mercy (YHVH) when, faced with a "paradigm shift" of an observation, he goes outside of the 4 cubits of Halacha (lit. "the going" or the path) in order to investigate whether his path accords with the natural world. Reason and empiricism are clearly insufficient to be a basis for morality, and it is an aspect of the mercy of Hashem that Hashem has given us a means to go towards (Halacha) a higher moral level (and without a fence, we would not know which pitfalls to avoid, which is part of why we put a Fence around the Law, although c.f. my previous blogs about that concept). But, when what we think we know of God's ways is in conflict with God's creation and a miracle we see therein, perhaps we should re-reflect on what we think God's ways really are -- perhaps, indeed, what this will lead to is a more full revelation of Halacha (as the Exodus leads to Sinai).


Meanwhile, am I the only one who thinks the "and then Isaac studied in the Yeshivos of Shem and Ever" version of Judaism is a bit tone deaf to Jewish texts? Is that really the root of Haredism? A certain tone deafness to sarcasm, irony and nuance in certain Jewish texts? That they view comments that are not meant to be taken straight-up as a justification for nostalgia along the lines of how some view "as der Rebbe zingt" as not a parody but as a loving portrait"?

To whit, how do you view R. Hoffman's use of the quotation, "Return you wayward sons all except Acher – who knew my Glory and rebelled against Me", here, considering Acher turned away from God because he saw the ultimate example of "no good deed goes unpunished" -- a boy, in the process of performing an ultimate Mitzvah promised to result in long life, dying whilst performing the Mitzvah"? Surely if this is the "glory of God", something is wrong here. No doubt there was a certain bitter sarcasm in the context of the original Talmudic quote that seems to be missed in this frum interpretation of what to do when scholars fall (which interpretation leaves too much room to excuse malfeasance, either sexual or in business, on the part of our community's leaders).

How much is missing the tone, as it is missed here, a part of what constitutes the Haredi (as opposed to an authentically Jewish mindset -- remember sarcasm and irony have long been tools of survival of us Jews) mindset? Or am I reading my modern "ironic" sensibilities too much into Jewish texts?

But really, what are we to make of texts that say things like "Acher saw the full glory of God" or "God created the first pair tongs on the eve of the sixth day of creation"? Traditionally Judaism, when faced with an amazing sight in a text, the humanistic and literary equivalent of a burning bush, also detoured from the path, just as Moses did, and through analysis at all levels of PaRDeS, whether it be close p'shat reading or extensive spinning of midrashic yarns, found new insights into the ways of HaShem. Shall we act as if midrash is some fixed text we should believe some non-zero, non-unity fraction of or should we engage in midrash as a way of bringing the Bible into our times so that we too, in our times, can say we are receiving directly the revelation at Sinai?

I guess that is a question whose answer makes denominations, doesn't it?

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