Friday, June 18, 2010

A Parsha Thought - Yiftah in His Generation

Tomorrow we read my bar mitzvah parsha, Hukkat, with its haftara recalling the war conducted by the judge Yiftah against Ammon. Our sages tell us that Yiftah was not the best of the judges, that he was a ba'al gaavah (arrogant fool) who made a rash vow and was too proud to go to the High Priest and have it annulled. We are told, "Yiftah in his generation is as Shmuel in his generation," Shmuel being the paradigmatic wise and scholarly leader of the nation. Our leadership may not be ideal, but if it is the best our generation can produce we have to follow it.
Let's look at the character of Yiftah. He is a gibor hayyil, a military man from a wealthy and prominent family. But he had problems early on. He was born to an isha zona, some sort of innkeeper or secondary wife; the word zona in Tanakh does not necessarily connote a prostitute. In an echo of what we see with Yitzhak and Yishmael ("the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son Yitzhak"), and what so often happens in polygamous societies, the sons of the primary wife dispossessed Yiftah and threw him out of the house. Others gravitated to him and they lived by their wits until the leaders of the nation asked them to fight the Ammonites. The text characterizes Yiftah's followers as anashim reikim, empty people. But if they were so empty, why were they chosen to spearhead the campaign against Ammon? I submit that Yiftah was a "tough guy," young, strong, ready to fight at the drop of a hat, and a natural leader. His followers were tough guys like himself, dispossessed, empty of material wealth, living on what they could honestly acquire with their strength if not by outright banditry. They had a little bit of Eisav in them. Brothers do share genes, and sometimes you need an Eisav to deal effectively with the Nimrods of the world, and the Ammons. They would have been empty of scholarship as well; most people living hand to mouth have neither the time nor the inclination to sit in yeshiva. But Torah learning was not going to chase away the Ammonites. Yiftah and his gang were up to the task, and the powers that be wisely recruited them.
Today, alas, we are afflicted with a total vacuum of leadership. We don't have Shmuels, scholars who live in the real world and can teach us how. At any rate, such men are not in positions of authority. Our "leaders" are old fools who think they can erase reality be banning books. The lifestyle they promote is an unsustainable fantasyland where one need not work for a living with one's brains or one's hands, where "the Lord will provide," somehow, perhaps with thieves and professional schnorrers. And we don't even have a Yiftah. The people who figured so prominently in building the state, empty of Torah learning but full of mesirut nefesh, willing to sacrifice themselves to lay a foundation upon which a structure of learning can be built, are no more. Obama says jump, and we all say how high. Or perhaps Obama says don't jump, don't build up your land, don't build in your capital, and we say how deep a hole should we crawl into. I don't see this ending well, unless we somehow: 1. Take back the Torah from the doddering old fools who make a travesty of it, and 2. Find political leaders with the backbone to defy the movers and shakers who were never very comfortable with the idea of strong Jews in a strong state.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Courts should not interfere - really?

Elements in the Israeli Ashkenazi haredi community have been resisting integration of Ashkenazi and Sefaradi students in their girls' schools. They claim that the integrated schools do not meet their religious standards; their real fear seems to be that their daughters might be exposed to Sefaradi customs that are strange to Ashkenazim but well within halakhic norms, such as eating kitniyot on Pesah. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the girls must attend the integrated schools. According to Arutz Sheva, some parents are prepared to go to jail rather than send their daughters to ethnically integrated (but still haredi) schools. Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Chief Rabbi of Beit El, called on people to attend a haredi-sponsored mass rally supporting the parents in their defiance of the Court. As he says, they should "protest the intervention of the Supreme Court in educational matters." Huh? That is precisely the Court's job. Ever heard of Brown vs Board of Education?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Terror Apologists Come To Brooklyn

A coalition of left-wing and pro-terror groups has invited three "survivors" of the Israeli "flotilla massacre" to speak in a Brooklyn church on Atlantic Avenue this Thursday, June 17, at 7:00 P.M. Click here. A columnist in the New York Post called for a hold on their visa applications pending a background check, and not allowing them into the country if they have any ties with terror groups. While such a hold would be welcome, it is not likely to happen. What I would like to know is why nobody in the Jewish community alerted the public to this in time to organize a counterdemonstration. The anti-Israel crowd sees our non-response to their events as a sign of weakness; click here. When I was in college a development like this would have been answered with flyers all over the place and word-of-mouth advertising and these leftists and Arabs would have been welcomed by hundreds of spirited Jewish activists wearing shirts with pro-Israel messages, waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans. This is not a call for violence (unless "other people" decide to get physical), just a plea for a peaceful show of strength to show our adversaries and the media that we remain steadfast in our commitment to Israel and its inherent right to defend itself.

There are always counterdemonstrations by Arabs, leftists and their Jewish lapdog traitors at the annual Salute to Israel parade and at demonstrations of support for Israel. I say turnabout is fair play.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Defining Deviancy Down and Segregated Buses

A while ago I posted a piece decrying the diminution in standards of English spelling, grammar and usage in written material intended for public consumption. A piece dramatically illustrating this appeared in a Jewish-oriented magazine that made its way to my door recently. That it also appears to excuse if not outright justify gender segregation on public buses compounds the embarrassment. That glaring errors escaped both the author and her editors adds tragedy to embarrassment - and hillul Hashem if the piece found its way to non-Jews. Here is the essay: read it and weep.

Here are the errors that I caught in a cursory reading, and I am not a professional copy editor:

1. "When To Use common Sense And Derech Eretz." If every other word in the title was capitalized, "common" should also have been capitalized.
2. "Once, after I paid my fair and took a seat,. . . ." Try, "paid my fare. . ."
3. "Only me and the driver. . . " should be "Only I and the driver. . ." The first person pronoun is the subject of the sentence. An English speaker might get away with this in informal conversation, but not in writing for publication.
4. "He asked me. . . if I would possibly, in a very polite manner, move to the back of the van. . . " As the sentence is structured, the author was asked to be polite as she moved to the back. I suspect that the author meant to say that the man, whom she had previously characterized as well spoken, asked politely. She should have written, "he asked me in a very polite manner to move to the back."
5. "I have no idea why this man would have the nerve to ask. . .an older American woman to the back of the bus. . ." A verb would add clarity - ". . .to move to the back of the bus."
6. "For those of you whom have traveled. . . . " Again, we have subject-object confusion. She should have written, "for those of you who have traveled." It is common to see this transposition the other way around; who instead of whom. Perhaps in thirty years the object pronoun whom will have become obsolete (yes, language is an evolving entity), but it is highly unlikely that "whom" will replace "who."
7. ". . .who were asked too many times to please leave there seats . . . . " It's "leave their seats." Please.

There are other instances of awkward sentence structure that make it difficult to decipher the author's point. All of this appeared both in the written article and in the online version.

To my chagrin, deviancy has been defined down not only in the finer points of English but in the substance of the article. What has been unacceptable - and illegal - for some fifty years is becoming the accepted norm. The controversy over segregated buses has been going on in our community for several years, and whenever I read about it my mind conjures up one name: Rosa Parks. A black woman, she boarded a bus in Alabama in the 1950s and sat in the front. The driver asked her to move to the back, as the law then required, so a white person could sit in the front. She courageously refused, sparking the bus boycott led by Martin Luther King. The rest is history. For over 50 years, buses in America may not discriminate on the basis of race and other "protected classes" including sex. I read postings on other blogs by attorneys to the effect that sex discrimination on public buses is "illegal, period." Neither tzniut (sexual modesty) nor any other consideration justifies it. It might pass in a private vehicle taking people from Point A to Point B, but certainly not in a bus that stops on public streets to pick up and discharge fare-paying members of the public. And if the bus is engaged in interstate commerce, for instance a bus traveling from Brooklyn to Monsey by way of New Jersey, sex discrimination becomes a federal offense. Israel is a different case, since it is not subject to American jurisdiction. However, American immigrants bring American values, including basic equality and human rights, that preclude women being beaten or spat upon when they refuse to move to the back of the bus. This has happened more than once, at the hands of supposedly "religious" men.
The author says she has no idea why that man asked her to move to the back of the bus. I submit that he took the author for a pushover, and unfortunately he was right. Stop making excuses for behavior that, like tearing pages out of biology books, is onerous and odious. We need Jewish Rosa Parkses to look such men straight in the eye and refuse to move. If the driver or others attempt to enforce illegal segregation, the women must be adamant in their refusal and then file the appropriate complaints with the New York City Human Rights Commission and the equivalents in other jurisdictions. It is 2010, not 1950. Get with the program.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

If you can't beat 'em, spoof 'em

And if you can beat 'em, spoof 'em anyway. . . .

We con the world. . . .
We'll make them all believe that the Hamas is Momma Theresa. . . .

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Pot. Kettle. Black

Israel evacuates Gaza and hands over everything they built over nearly four decades to its enemies, hoping for peace. Instead, it gets daily rockets, deliberately aimed at civilians, from the "piece" of Jewish land it foolishly handed over (now with 20/20 hindsight we all know that Zvi Yehuda Kook was right). Israel imposes a naval blockade to interdict weapons intended for Hamas, the terrorist masters of Gaza. A flotilla of boats organized by a Turkish group with ties to terrorists including Al Qaeda, and with the full support of the Turkish government, attempts to run the blockade. They call themselves "peace activists" attempting to deliver "humanitarian aid," and somehow Israel thinks it's dealing with disciples of Martin Luther King. A small lightly armed naval commando force is sent to interdict the boats. They rappel from a helicopter into what turns out to be a lynch mob armed with crowbars, clubs and knives. After a heroic struggle in which several commandos are wounded and at least one flung overboard, the Israelis gain control. Nine enemy lives are lost. An orgy of condemnation, made in and directed by Ankara, comes Israel's way. Never mind that the blockade is fully in accord with the international laws of war and anybody attempting to run it should know that he is putting his life on the line, just like the Confederate blockade runners in the American Civil War. Never mind that Israel, true to form, took great pains to use minimal force and minimize enemy casualties. Never mind that Israel warned the flotilla several times and invited the boats to dock in Ashdod, where the cargo would be inspected and genuine humanitarian aid would be trucked overland to Gaza. Never mind that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; food, medicine and such are trucked in every day from Israel and Egypt, and indeed were trucked in even during the worst of Operation Cast Lead. Never mind that some of the "peace activists" had prepared Al Qaeda-style "martyrdom tapes" before the operation and had declared their intention beforehand to become "shahids" - martyrs in jihad. Israel is at fault. Israel always is at fault.

Isrealis attacked by "peace activists"

There is a sea change in the Middle East, as sweeping as the one over three decades ago when the Shah of Iran fell - and an America that was serious about its global responsibilities would never have allowed that debacle to occur. Turkey is abandoning the legacy of Ataturk, architect of the modern Turkish state who threw in Turkey's lot with the West and Western secularism. It is becoming an Islamist state with ambitions of becoming the dominant power in the region as it was before World War I. Here is New York Post columnist Ralph Peter's take on the situation. This is the Turkey that never owned up to its genocide against the Armenians, the Turkey that oppresses its Kurdish minority, the Turkey that imprisons and tortures human rights activists, and the Turkey that occupied one-third of the independent nation of Cyprus, sent in thousands of Turkish settlers and set up its own puppet state, the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," recognized by no other nation on earth. This has been going on since 1974. The United Nations of course is chiming in, that confabulation of tyrants and dictators responsible for untold suffering and bloodshed. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Next time (and there almost certainly will be a next time - an outfit from Ireland is organizing a flotilla as I write, of course with support from Turkey) Israel should have better intelligence and know with whom it is dealing. Nonviolent demonstrators can be subdued with paintball rifles. Armed terrorists must be met with overwhelming force that will maximize the enemy's losses and minimize Israel's own. Finally, there are murmurings that Turkey intends to send naval vessels to escort a second flotilla. If it does, it will have unambiguously shown all concerned whose side it is on. This should not surprise us; in the Middle East nations change sides in a conflict the way we change our underwear. Israel and the United States must take notice and act accordingly.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Salute to Israel

Last Sunday was the annual Salute to Israel Parade in New York. Jewish students and others marched up Fifth Avenue amid song, dance, floats and general rejoicing. Forgotten for a moment were all Israel's troubles and all the infighting within the Jewish community here, as we came together k'ish ehad b'lev ehad (well, almost) to celebrate Israel's 62nd birthday.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces

Israel to the Rescue - Showcasing humanitarian aid provided by Israel to disaster victims the world over

Hang 'em high - The usual traitors from Neturei Karta were there along with their Arab and leftist camp followers.

I have been at this parade in various capacities almost since its inception. While in high school, I marched either with my school or with Bnei Akiva. In the 1970s the parade was arranged by the American Zionist Youth Foundation, and I was among the college and graduate students serving as volunteer marshals. Later on the American Zionist Youth Foundation dropped its sponsorship in a spat over participation by Beth Simchat Torah, New York's gay and lesbian synagogue. That synagogue remains excluded after Orthodox groups threatened to withdraw if Beth Simchat Torah was there, and sponsorship of the parade passed to an ad hoc "Israel Tribute Committee." After decades of amateurism including groups stepping off hours after their scheduled time, the committee last year hired a professional "event organizer," and everything went off without a hitch. This year the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) took over the parade, and again it was professionally run. I kind of miss the spontaneity of its student-run days, but in today's security and budget climate "fashionably late" is no longer viable. I would like to see Beth Simchat Torah somehow included, perhaps among the other Reform synagogues without being identified as gay and lesbian. We Orthodox always marched with all kinds of avaryanim (transgressors) and never "checked tzitzit;" why should gay Jews be an exception?
May we all live and be well, and may next year's parade be even grander.

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