I'm a talmudic scholar and former hitchhiker, circumnavigator, and newspaper columnist, living with my wife in St. Louis, Missouri, where I teach, write, and lecture. My forthcoming book, Proverbial Beauty: Secrets for success and happiness from the wisdom of the ages, is due out in July.
Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2020
Anyone who has raised children — or been a child — should be well familiar with the plaint, “It’s not fair!”
If we’re honest, however, we’ll admit that our intolerance for unfairness is something we never outgrow.
- Another candidate got the job.
- My co-worker got the promotion.
- The professor gave me a B.
- It was the other driver’s fault.
- Why did my neighbour win the lottery and not me?
And those are the mundane questions. The far more imposing question of universal injustice is either too painful to contemplate or too devastating to ignore:
- The Pacific Rim tsunami.
- Hurricane Katrina.
- The twin towers.
- COVID -19.
- The Holocaust.
We want to believe in an all-powerful, all-merciful God. But how can we believe in a God who allows acts of injustice great and small or, even worse, seems to perpetuate them Himself?
Let’s start with a most fundamental question: why did God create the universe?
Why did the least of Hillel’s students have the greatest impact? How can we learn to follow in the footsteps of greatness?
Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2019
Hitchhiking, Fundamentalism, and the Art of Ethical Communication
Why Republicans shouldn’t expect to win over Jewish voters
If Moses won’t come to the mountain, bring the mountain to Moses.
This might be the tagline from conservative strategists’ latest brainstorm: according to Politico, the Republican Jewish Coalition is spearheading a multi-million dollar campaign to woo Jewish voters away from their generations-long love affair with the Democrat party.
A more accurate tagline might be: Good night and good luck.
The proposed PR blitz presumes that the party loyalty of American Jews can be weakened by a two-pronged attack. First, invoking American policy toward Israel. Second, attributing the resurgence of anti-Semitism to liberal political policy.
Both assumptions are flawed, and here’s why.
Most American Jews are deeply conflicted about the State of Israel. As I explain in my article, “Why Jews are Liberals,” the average American Jew has largely abandoned every outward vestige of his Judaism. All he has left is the echo of Jewish idealism, the mission to elevate human society by serving as a model of virtue.
That’s good as far as it goes. But untethered from the practices of traditional Jewish observance, that idealism has no discernible outlet except through the causes of social justice – which, perforce, require supporting every underdog against every establishment, any David against any Goliath.
Based on that template, the First World, along with its every manifestation, is intrinsically evil. Western Civilization, capitalism, the tech industry, and economic success – all these must be lumped together as villains and oppressors. The success of American Jews themselves is atoned for through Jewish guilt and active support for victims.
Those victims are defined, for the sake of convenience, as any person or group opposing or opposed by people or nations of privilege. And since Israel is an American ally, a military power, and an economic dynamo, by definition it automatically gets filed in the category of “oppressor.”
This is why the perverse rewriting of history that brands Israel as an aggressor and occupier garners so little objection from American Jews. It doesn’t fit the narrative; therefore, it challenges the basic assumptions of what American Jews believe. See no evil; hear no evil.
That’s why American Jews, 78% of whom supported Barack Obama in 2008, continued to support him overwhelmingly in 2012. Despite a long record of undisguised and unapologetic animus toward Israel, Mr. Obama retained 69% of the Jewish vote when he ran for reelection. There’s little cause to believe that Donald Trump could ever erode that margin significantly further.
The issue of anti-Semitism is even more of a non-starter, for much the same reasons.
Despite many generations of history proving otherwise, secular Jews have long believed that anti-Semitism is the natural consequence of drawing attention to themselves. The remedy is to blend in. And, since most American Jews associate only with liberals and progressives, they can’t even conceptualize deviating from the party line as a viable option.
With so much invested in progressive ideology, American Jews won’t let little details like Democrat Congresswoman IIhan Omar’s open anti-Semitism or Beto O’Rourke’s slur of Benyamin Netanyahu shake their party loyalty. Always, ideology trumps ethnicity.
It’s worth noting that the large majority of Orthodox Jews identify themselves as politically conservative. The failure of social justice programs, abandonment of traditional values, and militant hostility toward Israel provide more than enough reason for the religious to reject progressive liberalism in general and the Democrat party in particular.
But the religious still make up only a small minority of American Jews, and the Republicans don’t need a campaign to win them over.
What strategy should be employed to turn American Jews? The same one that should be used toward mainstream liberals. Rather than trying to shame them by challenging the political allegiance, quietly leave them agonize over their party’s abdication to the extreme left wing. They may not vote Republican, but they may stay home and note vote at all.
Chanukah isn’t really over after the eighth night; in a sense, it’s just beginning. Watch this video to discover the disconcerting aftermath of the Maccabean victory and the enduring legacy of the Hasmoneans.
The body is more than just a garment; it is at essence a servant to the soul.
Our hands enable us to reach out to others, to perform acts of kindness, to give charity, to caress those whom we love. Our legs carry us to visit the sick and aid those in need. Our mouths allow us to articulate words of higher ideals, to study the wisdom of our people, to elevate our voices in prayer. Our minds spur us to contemplate the nobility that defines our humanity and reflect upon the magnificent design of the universe.
To merely cast off a faithful servant once his or her service is no longer required is the height of ingratitude. Such a servant deserves to be escorted with dignity, with respect, and with love.
So too the body, which has served us in life, deserves to be treated with reverence in death.
What form does that reverence take?