Posts Tagged Politics

The Real Rainbow Coalition

rainbow_wallpaperI can always count on my friend Daniel Jacobsen to pose simple questions with complicated answers.  Whenever I see him coming at me with that look in his eye, I know my brain is in for some heavy lifting.

This time was no exception.  “I’ve been wondering about the rainbow,” he began.  Here we go, I thought.  And I was right.

“Why did God choose something so beautiful as a symbol of destruction?”

Much has been made of the shape of the rainbow:  even as the Almighty points the arrows of divine wrath away from us, it is only His promise to Noah that protects us from the natural consequences of our own moral corruption.

But what do the colors and the beauty of the rainbow signify?  Here was another simple question that had never occurred to me.  I told Daniel that I’d have to get back to him.

What is a rainbow but the refraction of white light into a multitude of colored bands?  Like the air we breathe and the water we drink, we take white light for granted; by doing so, we fail to appreciate the very blessings that are most essential to our existence.  Indeed, as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato observes in the introduction to his ethical classic Mesillas Yesharim, those things that are most obvious to us are the things most easily forgotten.

Only when moisture in the air disperses photons into a spectrum of color do we stop and marvel at the beauty of light.

In the same way, the unity of the Almighty that we declare daily when we recite Hashem echad is far too abstract a concept to guide us as we seek to infuse Godliness into our lives.  We therefore partition the Divine “white light” of the Creator through the prism of human comprehension into 13 individual descriptive qualities on which we can focus one at a time.

When we do so, the primordial beauty of God’s indivisibility manifests in a rainbow of separate middos, or characteristics.  Individually, they represent our journey; collectively, they represent our goal.

Now let’s apply the same principle to the Jewish nation as a whole.

An old joke tells of the Jew who proclaims his love for the Jewish people but denounces Steinberg as a cheapskate, Lebowitz as a crook, and Schneiderman as a nogoodnick.  The sad reality, however, is that too often it isn’t a joke.

Read the whole article here.


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Why are you missing out?

What does the bar-headed goose have to teach us about striking spiritual balance in our lives?  Is the separation of church and state really as fundamental to the constitution as everyone thinks it is?  When is stress really a good thing?

If you’ve been following my new blog, you know the answers.

imagesBut for some reason, the majority of you who follow this blog have not switched over to my main blog

If you’ve enjoyed my articles up to now, why miss out by not updating your subscription?  Just click on the link and look for the “follow” button, then add in your email as you did when you began following Torah Ideals.  Alternatively, send me an email and I’ll sign you up myself.  You can reach me at yonasongoldson [at]

I look forward to hearing from you.


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Leadership vs. Ideology

What bad calls in baseball teach us about global terrorism, climate change, and the leadership to face the real problems that threaten civilized society

7811115782_9f4bf679b3_oBaseball aficionados will not soon forget the game played on June 2, 2010, at Comerica Park between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga should have become the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. Instead, the first base umpire called Indians batter Jason Donald safe at first base, handing Mr. Galarraga the lesser distinction as winning pitcher of baseball’s most “Imperfect Game.”

The question on everyone’s mind was, justifiably: How could this happen?

In an interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, Etan Green of Stanford Business School offered this thesis based on her research team’s observation and analysis of over a million pitches:

“If you’re an umpire and you’re unsure about what the correct call is and you’re given a choice between one call that’s particularly consequential and one call that’s relatively inconsequential, they will more or less preserve the status quo.”

This says a lot about the process of calling plays, which is much more of an art than a science. It also suggests applications that extend far beyond the field of athletics.

Read the whole article here.

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The Priorities of Progressives

I offer here a remarkably savvy insight into progressive thinking and priorities from Jim  Geraghty of the National Review, cited by Eytan Kobre in Mishpacha Magazine:


imgresA list of progressives’ fears would offer a mix of the insignificant, the theoretical, the farfetched, and the mundane… climate change a century from now, the Koch Brothers, insufficient cultural sensitivity in video games… New York mayor Bill DeBlasio is on a crusade to save his city from charter schools and horse-drawn carriages…

You notice progressives don’t spend a lot of time and energy fearing flights of people from countries with Ebola, and unsecured border, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Vladimir Putin’s aggression, the declining number of two-parent families…

This may be a bit of psychological transference.  When the Leftists notice things like ISIS, Putin’s aggression, or the collapse of the family, on some level — perhaps subconsciously — they realize their prefered options are unlikely to be effective.  Confronting that fact would force them to reevaluate how they see the world — and sometimes, after a sufficiently dramatic or frightening event such as 9/11, some people actually do change their worldview.

But a lot of people can’t or won’t overhaul their entire philosophy and understanding of how the world works.  So they deny the idea that any of these are real problems or worthy of much attention or discussion — they reflect GOP scaremongering, others’ paranoia, etc.

But all that fear and anxiety and anger has to go somewhere… and thus it gets expressed at much more convenient and much more philosophically aligned targets — i.e., climate change a century from now, the Koch Brothers, insufficient cultural sensitivity in video games, and so on.


In other words, if the big problems of the world are likely to remain insoluble unless I change my approach to political, economic, and social dynamics, then I’m likely to shift my focus to more abstract issues that don’t force me to question my own ideological predisposition.

This reminds me of a meeting I once had with my editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  In the course of the conversation I mentioned columnist Charles Krauthammer.  Without missing a beat, my editor said, “I hate him.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “He’s so articulate that I find myself agreeing with him… and I don’t!”

Had I been less protective of my position at the time, I would have suggested that she reexamine some of her positions.  Oh, well.  I guess I can suggest it now.

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What Ferguson teaches us about ourselves

imgresDoes living in St. Louis make me an authority on the Ferguson riots or the Michael Brown shooting? On the one hand, local news offers a view of events more pure, more raw, and more personal than anything found in national coverage.  More significant, perhaps, is how the fear of spreading violence, made real by advisory statements from local police and local rabbis, descended upon our community more palpably than the first snowfall of winter.

But let’s be honest. The violence hasn’t spread. Ten miles sounds perilously close to the images spilling over television screens around the world; but I was no more affected by the rioting than you were in New York or Israel or Madagascar.

In University City, St. Louis’s predominantly Torah observant neighborhood, you find an even mixture of middle-class Jews and middle-class blacks.  The families next door and across the street from my house are African American, and we couldn’t wish for nicer neighbors.  Indeed, for all the portents of spreading violence, not a whisper of civil unrest has disturbed our ethnically divided neighborhood… Baruch Hashem.

So who am I to opine on the Ferguson violence?  Frankly, my perspective has more to do with what I do than with where I live.  I’m a high school teacher.  My subject is Jewish history.

So my first thought was that Jews have had plenty of cause for grievance over the generations.  Relentless Roman pogroms, forced conversions by Almohad Muslims, massacres by the Crusader armies, the Cossack uprising in Poland, the expulsion of Jews from Spain (and Portugal, and Britain, and France, ad nauseum), the blood libels of Europe and North Africa and, of course, the Holocaust, have provided ample justification for a culture of entitlement based on historical victimhood.

imagesAnd yet the Jews have never responded that way.  Our collective equanimity comes largely from our religious sensitivity, which dictates that absolute justice is reserved for the World to Come; the best we can hope for in this world is an imperfect system that prevents, according to the teaching of our sages, man from swallowing his fellow alive.  We need only watch recent news reports to witness what happens when the rule of law is abandoned.

And so, collectively, we have accepted with stoicism the injustices perpetrated upon us by the nations of the earth, defending ourselves when we could, resigning ourselves to Divine judgment when we could not.  But we never responded with random violence, never vented our rage against one another, never burned down our own communities because we had no where else to direct our fury.

Well, almost never.

Click here to read the whole article.

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Revisiting the Cause of Terror

Adapted from an essay in Mishpacha Magazine for the Times of Israel.

Question:  When is a new shul considered successful?
Answer:  When it’s big enough to spawn its first breakaway minyan.


This past August, observers went to great lengths to show, correctly, the silver lining of achdus within the dark clouds of terrorism.  The three martyred yeshiva students, the barrage of rocket fire, the mass retreats into bomb shelters, the cost of the Gaza operation in precious Jewish lives – all of these brought Jews in Israel and around the world together and, for at least a moment, put an end to the divisiveness that too often characterizes our community.  Now, the brutal terrorist attack in Har Nof promises a similar response.  This is a genuine consolation, and should not be discounted.

What compounds these tragedies, however, is the cycle of missed opportunity that has repeated itself again and again and again.
Read the whole article here: Revisiting the Cause of Terror | Yonason Goldson | The Blogs | The Times of Israel
Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

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Groupthink: blinded by “I’m right”

Published on

A child’s brain is like a sponge, absorbing everything with which it comes in contact. As the brain gets older it learns to process, to analyze, to interpret. And eventually it begins to slow, begins to forget, begins to lose function.

Few prospects are as forbidding as mental decline, the specter of which haunts us as we advance toward old age. And so the experts tell us to keep our minds active, that using the brain is the surest way to stave off mental deterioration.

Crossword puzzles. Sudoku. Word games. Logic problems. These are common recipes from the diet books for the mind. Go traveling. Take up knitting or gardening. Learn Italian. Drive a different way to work. Get an advanced degree. Anything and everything that piques cognitive activity belongs in our catalogue of mental health activities.

“That’s all good,” says Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind andNew York Times health and medical science editor. But the most intriguing advice Ms. Strauch has heard is this: “Deliberately challenge your view of the world. Talk to people you totally disagree with.”

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