Archive for category Politics

It’s not either/ or

Apparently, I’m not the only critic of Dennis Prager’s last column.  In a follow-up piece, Mr. Prager presses the point that competence is a more important requirement for leadership than character.

I agree.  But that is beside the point.  I would much prefer a Bill Clinton in the White House than a Jimmy Carter.  But far more than either I would prefer a Washington or a Lincoln, a Teddy Roosevelt or a Harry Truman.

To ask whether we are better off with an adulterous statesman or a virtuous bungler merely muddies the waters.  Needless to say, we often have to choose between the lesser of two evils, but my objection to Mr. Prager is that he is rationalizing immorality into irrelevancy.  We need moral leaders as desperately as we need capable governors.  That we may have to make compromises when there is no Harry Truman to be found is an unpleasant fact of life, not a reason to diminish the value of virtue.

Mr. Prager goes on to prove, anecdotally, that not every case of adultery is as bad as every other.  This is obviously true, just as not all acts of robbery are equal and not all acts of spilling blood are equal.  But that is the point precisely.  It is only when we have leaders of moral stature that we retain the ability to make meaningful value judgments and not slip into the moral anarchy that characterizes so much of our society by elevating “nonjudgmentalism” to the highest strata of virtue.

Regarding Biblical interpretation, Judaism operated for over 3000 years within a system of rabbinic authority built upon the authority handed down to Moses at Sinai.  Separatist groups like the Hellenists, the Sadducees, and the Kaarites attempted to overturn those conventions with only fleeting success.  They all disappeared, and authentic Torah tradition endured.

But their spiritual descendants keep coming back.  The lessons of Jewish history rest upon a solid understanding of how the prophets and sages chose to transmit their teachings.  We cannot reinvent them to fit the sensitivities of our times, although sometimes we have to try to find a new way of explaining them to which modern ears will be receptive.

Of those who have commented, some clearly have not read or do not care about what I wrote in the linked essay about David and Bathsheba.  Others have offered explanations, even in David’s defense, that have no basis in Torah tradition that I know of.  Oddly enough, the same people who would never argue against going to a doctor for medical advice, going to an accountant for tax advice, and going to a mechanic for auto advice, believe that they are fully justified in offering their own unschooled interpretations of manuscripts that have been analyzed and annotated by the most brilliant minds over the last hundred generations.

This is what we call chutzpah.

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Email of the Week

An Israeli is on vacation and is visiting a zoo in the Englandwhen he sees a little girl leaning into the lion’s cage.Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The Israeli runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the Israeli brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A reporter has watched the whole event. The reporter says to the Israeli: ‘Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I’ve seen a man do in my whole life.’

The Israeli replies, ‘Why, it was nothing, really. The lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger and acted as I felt right.’

The reporter says, ‘Well, I’ll make sure this won’t go unnoticed. I’m a journalist, and tomorrow’s paper will have this story on the front page. So, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?’

The Israeli replies, “I serve in the Israeli army and I vote for the Likud.”

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the Israeli buys the paper to see news of his actions, and reads, on the front page:

RIGHT-WING ISRAELI ASSAULTS AFRICAN IMMIGRANT AND STEALS HIS LUNCH

Hat tip:  Steve Glassman

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Obama’s Mideast Farce

As usual, Charles Krauthammer is a lone voice of truth and reason in the wilderness of international and media groupthink:

President George W.Bush gave a written commitment that America supported Israel absorbing major settlement blocs in any peace agreement, opposed any return to the 1967 lines and stood firm against the so-called Palestinian right of return to Israel.

For 21 / 2 years, the Obama administration has refused to recognize and reaffirm these assurances. Then last week in his State Department speech, President Obama definitively trashed them. He declared that the Arab-Israeli conflict should indeed be resolved along “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

Nothing new here, said Obama three days later. “By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different” from 1967.

It means nothing of the sort. “Mutually” means both parties have to agree. And if one side doesn’t? Then, by definition, you’re back to the 1967 lines.

Read the whole article here.

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Live From New York

I am pleased to announce that I will be a featured speaker at the Yeshiva University book sale on the topic:

Why Jews are Liberals
Jewish history and the origins of political ideology

7:30 PM
Wednesday 23 February
2495 Amsterdam Ave
Manhattan (Washington Heights), NY

A book signing will follow for my overview of Jewish history and philosophy, Dawn to Destiny.

For directions and location information, click here.

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For the Record

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892–1984), imprisoned by from 1937-1945 in Sachenhausen and Dachau concentration camps for speaking out against the Nazi party.

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An Open Letter to NPR

Earlier this month, National Public Radio aired a report on its afternoon program All Things Considered that began with this question:

When is a Jew not Jewish enough?

The story went on to describe the circumstances of one Jonathan Leavitt, a native Californian who recently arrived in Israel as a new immigrant to discover that, according to Jewish law, he cannot be considered a Jew because his mother’s conversion process had not been overseen by a Torah observant rabbinic authority.

Amidst numerous quotations from two victims of “domination” by the “ultra-Orthodox” and one indignant representative of the Reform movement, NPR honored its own version of editorial balance by including two sentences from an Orthodox rabbi who, although a distinguished authority, was clearly less than fluent in the English language.

Predictably, the article concluded by playing the “Holocaust card,” implying that Orthodox Judaism is somehow comparable to the Nazi party and blaming its rabbis for dividing the Jewish world.

For those genuinely interested in understanding the other side of the issue, I offer this letter, only slightly revised from the one I sent NPR:

Dear NPR:

I listened with interest to Lourdes Garcia-Navarro’s report about Jewish identity in Israel.    Regrettably, your reporter did your audience a disservice by not clearly representing both sides of the issue.

For the first 3,100 years of Jewish history, there existed virtually no debate over the fundamental prerequisite for conversion to Judaism:  namely, a demonstration of sincere commitment to upholding the precepts of Torah law.  Consequently, the ultimate decision regarding acceptance of any prospective convert finds its basis in the collective scholarship and wisdom of judges who are themselves fully observant and grounded in the legal traditions of Torah law and practice.

Since the early 1800s, however, the Reform and Conservative movements have, by their own admission, discarded adherence to Torah law as an essential principle of their belief systems.  Consequently, because individuals converted by representatives of these movements have been denied the information necessary to make any real commitment to Torah observance, their conversions cannot be considered authentic.

No one is questioning the sincerity of Jonathan Leavitt or any other intended convert whose Jewish identity is not accepted by the Israeli rabbinate.  But just as an immigrant seeking United States citizenship must meet the requirements of this country before he can be considered a true citizen, so too must any hopeful proselyte meet the established standards of traditional Jewish law to be universally accepted as a member of the Jewish people.  If not for this single standard, the Jewish nation would truly become a house divided against itself.

There is no issue of politics or elitism here.  Neither is there, as your correspondent suggested from the first line of her report, a question of being “Jewish enough.”  Unlike any other people in history, the Jews have survived countless generations of persecution and attempted genocide because we have remained firm in our commitment to our values and laws.  Today traditional Judaism is under assault from a new adversary: the political correctness of contemporary culture, with media outlets like NPR grasping for every opportunity to discredit Torah Jews in the eyes of the world for daring to insist that the traditions of 33 centuries are sacred and inviolable.

Finally, and for the record, there is no such thing as an “ultra-orthodox” Jew.  It is a media-created term, designed to imply irrational extremism, just as the name “orthodox” was imposed by the early Reform movement leaders two hundred years ago to imply anachronism and calcification.  Such disingenuous labeling stifles meaningful discussion and is inconsistent with responsible journalism.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yonason Goldson

Emily at NPR replied to my email, informing me that my feedback is important to them, and that my thoughts have been noted.

It is comforting to know, as well, that “NPR is always delighted to hear from listeners.”

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The Second Amendment and the Oral Law

When the words of our fathers succeed or fail to guide us in their footsteps.

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