Friday, March 21, 2008

This just in from Shushan News Service: Hang Him High

The bodybuilder on the left is Andy Haman. If you hang him you better hang him high, 'cause there ain't no rope that will hold him. When the rope snaps, the 50-cubit drop will get him.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Zakhor - Remember

Yesterday, the Shabbat before Purim, we read Parshat Zakhor, the exhortation to remember the sneak attack that Amalek carried out in the desert and, when we finish conquering Eretz Yisrael, to erase Amalek from under heaven. The haftara from Sefer Shmuel tells how the prophet Shmuel conveyed God's message to King Saul that the time for that punic war had arrived. In language that grates on our modern ears, he is commanded to utterly destroy Amalek, "from man to woman, from infant to suckling, from ox to lamb, from camel to donkey." The words offend our sense of right and wrong, and they did the same to King Saul. He thought he knew better than God what was right and what was wrong, so he spared Agag, the king of Amalek, and his wife. They conceived a child that night, and the Amalekite evil that should have been stamped out once and for all survived. Centuries later Agag's descendant Haman hatched the plot whose frustration we will celebrate this Friday. The biological descendants of Amalek may be gone, but the evil they represented is still very much with us, as we saw last week. An Arab terrorist, a citizen of Israel living in Yerushalayim, carried out a sneak attack against students at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav and murdered eight talmidim in the beit midrash. Like their forebears, this Amalekite did not dare fight us like men, but instead murdered unarmed Yeshiva students. Holy sefarim were stained with their blood. Like so many times before, young parents cried at the funerals of their children.

Remember - This is an enemy that glorifies the murder of innocent people, that celebrated this outrage just as it celebrated the murders of 9/11. Remember - This is an enemy that teaches its children to idolize and emulate suicide bombers. Remember - This is an enemy (same enemy, same fight) that flies planes full of innocent people into buildings full of innocent people. An enemy that chops off people's heads in front of rolling TV cameras to make political points. There is no barbaric outrage, no atrocity, no inhumanity that is beneath those cowards. Remember what the rest of the world, even much of America, prefers to forget. The following is a column from the New York Post a bit less than a year after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001:

by Eric Fettmann

August 29, 2002 --
THE first anniversary of Sept. 11 fast approaches, and the ceremonies have been set: intense, commercial-free TV coverage of what promises to be simple, dignified, yet extremely emotional proceedings at Ground Zero.
But there's something missing.
We'll see the pain and the grief. We'll see the loss of widows and widowers, of children who lost parents. We'll see the uniformed services commemorating their comrades' heroism and sacrifice. But what has happened to our anger? The acute rage, the white-hot fury that nearly all Americans felt in the immediate aftermath of the horrifying murders of 3,000 people seems to have dissipated. And, with it, the resolve that saw Americans united on the need to utterly demolish international terrorism. Which is one reason why, increasingly, the skeptics are seizing control of the debate over how America should respond: They're ridiculing President Bush's rhetoric about the "axis of evil" and raising fears that confronting international evil is not worth U.S. casualties. It's almost as if we want to put the shocking memories out of our minds - even as we obsess over our loss with the kind of forlorn grief that we normally reserve for dead celebrities. To that end, the networks have promised not to air the sickening footage of the planes hitting the Twin Towers. I understand the pain that such video may cause those who lost loved ones in the carnage, but America - and the world - need to be reminded, as forcefully as possible, just what happened that morning. We need to see the footage again and again. We need to recall, vividly and acutely, the horror and the heartsinking fear we all felt that day.
Even from the outset, some details seemed too bloodcurdling to discuss. The New York Times, for example, was widely - and wrongly - criticized for publishing a large photo showing several victims jumping from the blazing towers. Consider how appalling the situation must have been up there that scores of people willingly jumped hundreds of feet to certain death in order to escape the flames. It enrages me just to think about it - and it should enrage everyone.
And yet the late-night talk-show hosts long ago began working Osama bin Laden jokes into their monologues. The murderer of 9/11, with the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands, has become grist for the nightly joke mill. Even David Letterman, whose stunned and tentative demeanor on his first post-9/11 show captured the national mood like nothing else, sees no reason not to make jokes like this one the other night: "Osama bin Laden is back running al Qaeda. I guess this means their leader got back from vacation before our leader."
We've grown so obsessed with the monthly ceremonies and the size of the permanent memorial, as psychobabblers run around seeking "closure" for the survivors and the families, that we've forgotten just what bin Laden unleashed on this country.
Has our national attention span really become so short? I'm sorry, but I don't want to see mournful processions and bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" over and over. I want to see a rekindling of the unrestrained anger we once felt. I've seen conservatives rage for years about Bill and Hillary Clinton. I've seen liberals who still can't discuss the 2000 elections without uncontrolled fury. Why don't we still feel the same way about bin Laden?
I also want to see the same determination to vanquish the enemy that Americans displayed 60 years ago when 2,300 of our countrymen were murdered at Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 7, 1942 - the first anniversary of what was still angrily being called Japan's "sneak attack" - The Post's headline was: "Wrathful City Marks Pearl Harbor Day With Grim Resolve." The editorial page said, "The test of character of a man or a nation" is "how he pulls himself off the floor and slugs his way toward victory."
Can we honestly say that 9/11 has done the same thing for us? Yes, taking drastic action on the basis of unrestrained emotion can be dangerous. More often than not, it's necessary to step back a bit and gain some perspective.
But it's just as dangerous when the pendulum of emotion swings to the opposite extreme - and we forget what and why we are fighting.
Ad kan leshono.

Remember - and keep reminding our friends, neighbors, co-workers and countrymen who would rather forget. Remember - and support the political candidates who remember, and oppose those who would rather forget. Remember - and do what has to be done.
Erase those evil bastards from the face of the earth. Never mind collateral damage. Never mind the cost - diplomatic, economic and military. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Erase them. It's either them or us.


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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Day the Music Died

It appears that the ban-this-ban-that cancer so prevalent in Israeli haredi circles has spread here. A music concert, typical of what has been common in our community at least since I was in college, was scheduled to take place in New York’s Madison Square Garden Sunday March 9. Last week wall posters in Hebrew went up in Boro Park excoriating the concert as contrary to Torah values and likely to lead to impermissible mingling of the sexes (despite separate seating, which was not a fixture when I was growing up), and calling on the public to boycott the concert and not hire the performers for future functions unless they backed out. At least one copy of the poster appeared on a lamppost in Midwood, where I was able to read it. To the authors’ credit, the Hebrew was quite good; perhaps the practice of spending a year in Israel after high school is doing some haredim some good. The signers of the ban included the usual suspects, including many who signed a ban on a similar music concert in Israel and who signed the infamous Slifkin book ban. Not surprisingly, the main performer backed out under intense pressure, and the concert was canceled.
Speculation on the real reasons for the ban is flying thick and fast. There seems to be a fringe group that holds that almost all music is forbidden since the destruction of the Beit Ha-mikdash. A group of Jews living at the time of the second hurban, known as Aveilei Zion, actually sought to forbid eating meat and drinking wine. If God is not to eat sacrificial meat and drink the wine of libations (zevah u’nesakhim) as it were, then neither should we. The camp of R. Yohanan ben Zakkai countered that it should then be forbidden to drink water, since nissukh ha-mayyim, the pouring of water on the Altar on Sukkot, was also discontinued. The hurban was not to engender prohibitions on all the sensual pleasures that nature and nature’s God intended for human beings to enjoy. Needless to say, mainstream halakha is not like Aveilei Tziyon. Some contend that the lead performer, Lipa Schmeltzer, who is also a comedian, had made unacceptable jokes about some highly placed rabbis. If that is the reason, some highly placed rabbis need to get themselves a sense of humor. Some say that the style of music lends itself to anti-Torah thoughts or behavior. Since the specific “anti-Torah behavior” cited in the posters is mingling of the sexes, may I remind those people that we are not in Anatevka any more, thank God. Remember Tevya, on being informed by one of his daughters that she had found her own match without a shadkhan, exclaiming, “Where do you think you are, in Moscow, in Paris, in America?” Well, yes sir, we are in America and I for one am glad of it. Boys and girls will meet, fall in love, get married and make babies, and there is nothing anti-Torah about that; it is the first mitzvah. What do our “Torah authorities” think will happen when you systematically deprive young Jewish people of any chance to meet in a wholesome environment? Two things:1. A shiddukh crisis – ‘nuff said. 2. Young Jewish people will meet in an unwholesome environment conducive to all kinds of real, not imagined, aveirot. That boys and girls will meet and eventually make babies is what nature and nature’s God intended.
Some contend that the style of music, supposedly copied from secular music, is objectionable. R. Shimshon Refael Hirsch, R. Kook and others encouraged us to appreciate and enjoy what is beautiful in the secular culture – להכניס מיפיפותו של יפת לאהלי שם. Back in the ‘70s I took a girl to the opera; we now have, thank God, two wonderful children. And today I sometimes listen to – rap music! It would be difficult to imagine a more objectionable genre of music than rap, with its glorification of violence and disrespect of women. But music is a window on the soul, and I teach inner-city African-American teenagers. I need to listen to their music to get a feel for where they are coming from and, with God’s help, be able to reach them (see the book Skullcaps and Swithblades, by Dr. David Lazerson). So I will listen to rap music and, if ghettoized “gedolim” disapprove, why that’s just tough. And guess what? Good rap music does exist! I listened to a piece from Shaquille O’Neal that made me take a good hard look at how I was functioning as a father. Thanks Shaq, I needed that!

Where do we go from here? Do we allow the ban-signers, and remember they are a Who’s Who of haredi Torah authority in this country and their ban is but the latest, and certainly not the last, of a long train of abuses and usurpations, to impose on us a joyless Taliban-like existence? If you think we have a dropout problem now, well you ain’t seen nothing yet. I too would have dropped out of such an Orthodoxy. We should rather encourage the talented among us to continue performing – when God gives you a talent you’re supposed to use it, remember? If certain authority figures rooted in a bygone world disapprove, well, we are adults and we do not need their approval. And as long as we are cutting the umbilical cord, we might as well have what we had when I was growing up – mixed seating! Take a date there, or perhaps meet a girl or boy there. Make a point of attending such events – a concert is scheduled for the Sunday after Purim at the Armory at W. 168 Street in Manhattan, sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel and the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, separate seating available - so the tyrants will not be able to deprive the performers of their livelihood. Engage them at our private smahot, which will also have mixed seating for those who so desire. In short, let’s be normal again!

Hat tip: Emes Ve'emuna

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