Friday, September 24, 2021

Is There Still Bipartisan Support for Israel?

After the vote PM Bennett thanks the US for their support (UWI)
I was shocked.  When the one billion dollar funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system was dropped from Congress’s comprehensive spending bill because of the threat by some House Democrats  of voting against it - I could not believe it. It was only 9 Democrats. But there was fear that without their vote, the bill would not pass. So that provision was dropped like a lead balloon. 

I thought that this is a new low for the Democratic Party. Israel no longer enjoyed universal support in congress. That support now existed only among Republicans. 

The truth is however that there still is bipartisan support. After the vote on the budget, a stand-alone bill was introduced that will fund Iron Dome. It was  passed overwhelmingly. But there were 9 House members that voted against it From Newsweek:

The Democrats who voted against the funding were: Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Jesús (Chewy) García of Illinois; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Marie Newman of Illinois; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. 

They were joined by Republican Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky. He appeared to explain his vote on Twitter by pointing to his position opposing foreign aid.

Two members voted "present"— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Henry Johnson of Georgia, both Democrats.

The vote was 420 to 9.  That is a whoppingly lopsided margin. It’s nice to know that Israel still enjoys bipartisan support. It also makes clear that 9 members of the House (or possibly 11 - if you count those who voted present) are antisemitic regardless of any protestation to the contrary. There can be no other explanation for their vote. Iron Dome is strictly a missile defense system designed to shoot down rockets shot at Israel. Hamas sent what seemed like an endless number of rockets indiscriminately into Israel the last time they attacked. Without caring a whit where they would land; who they would kill; and how many. 

Had Israel not had Iron Dome, there would have been an immense number of casualties, some of whom would have been Palestinian. To vote against a strictly defensive system that saved so many lives can only be explained by an innate hatred of the state. Or sheer stupidity. Or both.  

This should be obvious to all fair minded people. No matter what part of the political spectrum one’s sympathies may lie. Even if they buy in totally to the Palestinian narrative - opposing a strictly defensive system can only mean that they don’t care if innocent Israelis get hurt. That they just want to hurt the Jewish state. Can there be any other explanation? They can try to offer one. But anyone with even a modicum of intelligence will see it for the lie that it is. 

This does not mean that all of the 420 House members that voted in favor of it are on the same page.  There are for example a variety of views about what Israel should do about making peace with Palestinians.  Such as giving Palestinians their own state on the West Bank (the 2 state solution). Or considering settlements an impediment to peace. Or support restoring the Iran nuclear deal. 

But that does not make them anti Israel. It just makes them naïve.  I’m pretty sure that most Democrats disagree with Israel on those issues. They think Israel will be better served if they would follow their advice on these issues. But the fact that they voted to fund Iron Dome with taxpayer money tells you that they do not want Israel to be destroyed. They also understand Israel’s strategic value to the US as a valuable source of intelligence..

I am glad that the other major political party to sees the abovementioned issues the same way Israel does. Which is the same way I do. No longer are Republicans the blue blood antisemities of old that could not care less about the Jewish state - many of them being closet antisemites. Republicans are no longer like that. Almost all of them are enthusiastic supporters of Israel and her polices. But at the same time it’s good to know that despite the Democrats naiveté, at the end of the day - unlike the abovementioned 8 Democratic House members (and one Republican) - they will have Israel’s back.  

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Even Though the Constitution Guarantees Religious Freedom...

The debate seems to never end. There is yet another article about the conflict between the government and those religious schools that refuse to offer a secular curriculum for part of their school day. The title of that article says it all: Religious Education under Secular Assault 

In a somewhat lengthy article, Rick Plasterer rehashes the issues and suggests that there ought to be room to allow some schools to not offer any secular studies and devote their entire day to religious studies. And in any case the government should not be dictating how religious schools educate their children as a matter of religious freedom. He notes that the skills learned in those schools are undervalued by the state. I’m sure that’s true. but even if the the state did give them the proper value, it would still not be enough.

I am so tired of this. The fact is that the vast majority of Orthodox schools offer a secular studies curriculum. Some better than others. But in all cases they should not be targets of government regulators. They should be left alone. It is only a few -  mostly Chasidic schools that refuse to offer any secular studies at all that should be focused upon. There is no need for the government to change their policy. 

On the other hand, shouldn’t the ‘Free Exercise’ clause of the 1st Amendment guarantee that schools may choose to devote their entire day to religious studies if they so choose? Attorney Jay Ferguson, who is now head of Grace Community School in Tyler, Texas. – a Christian school -  made the following argument: 

Parents choose religious education, he said, precisely because “they do not want a substantially equivalent education for their children, and to force it on them isn’t freedom; it’s antithetical to the principles of the republic.” If the state wants to ensure quality of education, it can do so through the accreditation process,...

I do not see that as a way to get those Chasidic children educated. Their religious leaders could not care less about accreditation.

The ‘fix’ is simple. There is no need to change anything other than enforcement of the already existing rules. The state was negligent about that in the past. Those schools were simply ignored. That is where the state failed. And that is what should change. Leave the vast majority of schools that offer a secular studies curriculum alone. Focus only on those schools that refuse to offer them. If they don’t comply, then I would support shutting them down. The Free Exercise clause ought not enable wide spread illiteracy among certain Chasidic groups.

I realize that one can function in society without a secular education. There are plenty of illiterate people on the planet. Some of them do quite well. But for the Jewish people that ought not be our bottom line. Why shouldn’t all of our religious schools have a higher standard than simply functioning at a  base level in society? Why must we condemn so many of our people to live their lives limiting opportunity for lack of an education? Why  not instead expand  their opportunities for success? Just because their community as a whole is satisfied how their children are educated, does not mean they aren’t short changing them. Ignorance is not bliss.

The bottom line for me is that a religious education alone is not enough. Even though that kind of education is way ahead of public schools on some areas –  like in teaching them  critical thinking skills... there are other skills that are essential for living in the modern era  – which are not taught.

I believe that at least in part, the motivation of the Chasidic communal leaders in not offering a secular curriculum is  to keep them insulated from the rest of the world. They do not want any outside cultural influences to impact their people. Keeping them illiterate helps accomplish that. 

But that is no longer possible anyway. We now live in world that is tied together electronically. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach them how to navigate that world than to try and insulate them from it – which is in any case a losing battle?

I have been told that some of these schools have made some progress along these lines. I wonder though whether that includes even a minimal part of their day devoted to secular studies? My guess is that it does not. And that there  are still some schools that refuse to do that! I will be happy to be proven wring. Any improvement that does not include part of day devoted to secular studies is not enough. That is what has to change. There has to be a dual curriculum in every religious school. That is the best if not the only way to become more productive individually as well as communally in our world today.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Applying Halacha - Not Adapting It to Fit the Times

Dalid Minim
Judaism must change with the times. That is perhaps the most widely used cliché by heterodoxy. The idea being that what was once a common religious practice or belief is now irrelevant - and pehaps even contrary to the ethics of our time - considering what we now know. That kind of thinking is what generated the Reform Movement. They have veered away so far from tradition and Halahca that there is hardly anything recognizably Jewish about them.  Their claim that the laws and customs of old were designed to teach us certain values. And now the we know what they are, those laws and customs should be abandoned. 

Rabbi Lamm discussued this issue in a lecture he gave on Sukkos... published* as part of a collection of the lectures he delivered before becoming President of YU. 

Therein he rejects the idea that Judaism must adapt to fit the times. As he did the idea of seeking truth without a frame of reference - instead relying on the whims of constantly changing and fickle world. 

For us the Torah is frame of reference. An anchor by which to live. We do not focus on the here and now to see what’s relevant and what is not. Instead we look to the Torah to teach us how to encounter change. That means applying the Torah to the times. Not adapting it to fit the times.   

This is how we navigate an ever changing world.  It gives us concrete Mitzvos - symbols of our stability. Stability in a historic chain practiced by our forefathers throughout Jewish history till this very day.

On Sukkos it is the Sukkah and the Dalid Minim – commonly called the Lulav and Esrog. By holding the Dalid Minim – we connect with our past and re-assert our anchor. Without them, we become subject to the whims of the time. We are like newborn children trying to find meaning in life without any guidance, direction, or frame of reference. Just the randomness of the social order of the particular time in which we live. 

A joyous Sukkos to all. Chag Sameach

*Adapted from Festivals of Faith by Rabbi Norman Lamm

Apology to Breslov

Gravesite of Rebbe Nachman in Uman (Wikipedia)
I have just been informed that a recent story about a few Breslover Chasidim returning to Israel from Uman with fraudulent COVID test results - is false. There was no fraud. From Life in Israel: 

...investigators realized, as many of the Breslavers have been claiming all along, that the local PCR tests in Ukraine had been negative, and the tests upon landing in Ben Gurion airport had been negative for them, while only the MDA, Magen David Adom, tests in Ukraine had been positive. The investigators decided based on the official information they confirmed that there was no fraud and the problem was with MDA testing, not with the Breslavers

The post I wrote about this has been taken down. 

I offer my sincere apologies to the innocent Chasidim involved as well as to Breslov Chasidism in general. If in any way my words hurt anyone - I truly am sorry and regret my error. It was an honest mistake based on reports published in more than one respected publication. That does not excuse what I did. But it does explain why I did it.

I ask Mechila from the individual Breslovers involved as well as from the entire Breslov community. Once again. I am truly sorry. 


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Thinking Out of the Box - Middle East Peace

Mahmoud Abbas The real obstacle to peace?  (Wiki)
There is little doubt about the problems facing Israel with respect to Palestinians on the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). It is not rocket science. Palestinians are currently the pawns of their leadership – the PA (Palestinian Authority). Many of them live in less that ideal conditions – to say the least. The world blames the ‘occupation’ for this. Claiming that if there were a 2 state solution – all this would be settled. Palestinians would be able to rise above their current circumstances.

I am not, however, convinced of that. The PA has received billions of dollars in US aid over the years. Much of which was used to pay families of terrorists (called martyrs by their leaders) who died trying to ‘liberate’ their people from the Zionist occupiers. 

That fact is lost on the world. They parrot PA leaders who blame only Israel. Saying that the PA is being denied their state for no good reason. I literally do not understand how the world  buys this argument if they know that terrorist families are being paid with funds from the US aid. Other than the occasional vague reference to Israel’s need for security there is no mention of how much support the PA has for their ‘martyrs’. 

The PA doesn’t just tolerate terrorist attacks  – they reward it! The world just seems to ignore that - insisting that a 2 state solution will solve all problems. That terrorists have the very real goal of terminating Israel’s very existence and will not end with 2 states. I believe that those attacks will increase with the advent of 2 states. Even though the PA claims that they will live in peace with Israel if given an independent state -  that they pay families of their ‘martyrs’ gives lie to that claim. 

Is all that US aid given to terrorists families? No. Much of it is pocketed by the corrupt PA leadership. Little of it trickling down to the Palestinian in the street.

Does the PA view of Israel match that of the typical Palestinian?   

I suspect the answer to that is complicated. On the one hand when a people is indoctrinated from their youth to see ‘the Jews’ as evil, it’s hard to imagine they could have any other view. So they blame Israel for their plight. That is reinforced by the financial hardships they face daily living under Israeli occupation.  The indignities they suffer because of Israel’s security needs should not be minimized. but neither should the reasons for that be underplayed.  Israel's security needs are real. What choice do they have?! Nonetheless, Palestinians blame only their Israeli occupiers for their indignities.

What about a one state solution where the West Bank becomes part of Israel and it’s residents become full-fledged Israeli citizens?  

The problem with that is their population continues to increase, it will soon enough outnumber Israeli Jews. Which means that Palestinians could then vote Israel out of existence. What they cannot achieve with bullets they will achieve with ballots. 

Neither solution is viable.  And yet there must be something can move the needle! This is where the money comes in. Not that it is a slam dunk. But it hasn’t been tried yet and it might be worth considering. 

If Israel could somehow improve the material welfare of West Bank Palestinians, the indoctrinated hatred might be stilled if not eliminated. This might not stop terrorism. But if we could raise the standard of living to parallel that of Israelis they might just like it enough to leave things as they are. Especially knowing that the PA leadership has thus far failed them.   

They may still hate us. But they are not going to bite the hand that feeds them their newfound prosperity. How Israel might do that is a good question. But surely doing tangible things like upgrading their infrastructure to be comparable to Israel proper would be a good start. As I understood it, the Trump peace plan was actually willing to pour tons of money into the Palestinian economy as an incentive to make peace with Israel. 

The result would be short of an actual state. It might be in the form of a loose affiliation with Israel that would give them complete autonomy, full civil rights, and prosperity - without becoming actually becoming Israeli citizens. In other words it would be just short of a state. 

Of course that would not satisfy Palestinian aspirations of having their own independent country.  But it would improve their lives to the point of not acting on those aspirations. My guess is that deep down the typical Palestinian cares more about feeding their families and prospering than they do about having their own state. 

The only ones that care more about having their own state are their corrupt leadership. Whose material welfare has already been taken care of. They will never accepts anything less than their own state. On the other hand Palestinians know that the hand that was supposed to feed has failed. While the hand that feeds them now succeeds. They might just reject those leaders and embrace their new status quo instead. 

It may be farfetched. I know there are a lot of skeptics.  Especially to anything that has Trump’s name on it. But if the US can circumvent the PA leadership, get Israel deeply invested in doing whatever they can along these lines, and directly help the Palestinian  people, that would in my view  have a major impact. 

It should be noted that some Arab nations have suggested that it should be given serious consideration. That is unprecedented!

Will it work? Who knows? I tend to be a skeptic by nature. But still – it has never been tried.  One things is certain. The conventional wisdom about what should be done has produced zero results.  There is no reason to believe anything will change if we continue along those lines.

After decades of no movement where a lot of blood has been spilled in both communities - it is certainly worth a try. The Biden administration should consider it. You never know...

Friday, September 17, 2021

Can a Human Being Actually Change Their Sex?

One of the most poignant lectures on transgenderism I ever heard was given by Boca Raton Synagogue's Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. The sensitivity he showed and urged us all to have for people with this condition is something we should all aspire to. 

Rabbi Goldberg’s compassion is not theoretical. A devout male member of his Shul (in his 60s) asked him a Shaila about whether he could change his sex and become a woman. He apparently always felt that he was female despite the fact that he was born physically male. He was miserable as a man. 

The fact is that people with this condition have a very high rate of suicide. Rabbi Goldberg asked a world class, widely respected  Posek this Shaila and was told that he got asked this Shaila twice a week. I used to think this condition is quite rare. But it is apparently not as rare as I once thought.

The Halacha is clear. One may not change their sex for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. (Whether Pikuach Nefesh is a factor because of the high rate of suicide is well beyond my paygrade). But that doesn’t mean we can’t have compassion for such individuals. We should and I do. They deserve to be treated like the human beings they are.

There are however some interesting questions that come to mind. Does the surgical procedure known a sex re-assignment surgery really change one’s sex? How should society treat such people? Do they have a mental Illness? Or is changing one’s sex simply a choice – even if it is based on the deepest and most profound emotional distress.  What about transgender people that were miserable and after surgery are now happy with their lives? And what about those who do not undergo the surgical procedure - only being treated with hormones, Are they in the same category?

I think that last one is clear. If the surgery is not performed there is no sex change regardless of how such an individual lives.

Not sure how to answer the rest of these questions. But they are dealt with in 2 books reviewed by Mary Harrington in First Things. The authors identify as liberal. But do not assume the obvious. 

In essence they seem to argue that the reality is that the sex one is born with is the one they are - regardless of what they do to their bodies. Treating them otherwise ignores that reality. And yet that is exactly how they are treated in liberal circles and increasingly in society at large - influenced by a sympathetic mainstream media. In fact advocacy groups are so convinced that one can decide which sex they want to be, that they virtually ostracize (or worse) those that don’t: 

On the identitarian left, refusing to pay lip service to the belief that humans can literally change sex is now a serious heresy. If perpetrated by a female, it results in being dubbed a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” or “TERF.” In “antifa” circles it is common to claim that punching TERFs is as legitimate as punching Nazis. Even those who disclaim violence often support ostracism, loss of employment, and online harassment as appropriate punishment for those deemed to hold TERF opinions. 

This kind of thinking is the ‘religious’ dogma of advocacy groups like LGBTQ. They insist that  transsexuals be fully treated as they wish to be treated regardless of how they were born. I believe they even apply that to those that have not undergone the surgery. 

I suppose that it is compassion that underlies this approach. Transsexuals want to be treated as completely normal. It surely impacts their mental well being. But should we? I believe that kind of compassion is misplaced. Is there no room left to actually consider gender dysphoria a mental disorder? Can we not be sympathetic to someone that suffers from it if it is? 

The motives behind the compassion by LGBTQ advocates might come from a good place. They want to alleviate the distress transgender people have always had now that they’ve transitioned. Total acceptance helps them accomplish that. But as both authors point out, the biology just isn’t there. 

That becomes apparent in the field of sports. Male athletes that have transitioned into women have an unfair advantage by now competing with women. Trans advocates like LGBTQ dismiss that idea and believe that trans athletes should be able to compete with the gender with which they now identify. That is patently unfair. No less a trans-athelete than Olympic Gold Medalist, Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner feels the same way. Genitalia are not the only differences between man and women. Men have greater upper body strength. Women have greater lower body strength. The sexes are shaped differently and thereby the weight distributed differently. That gives trans-woman athletes an obvious advantage over women born women. 

My view compassion cannot be based on a falsehood. You cannot make up reality. Reality is what it is. Surgery cannot fully change an individual’s sex. No matter how much society says it can. Society should not allow itself to be bullied into acceptance of it, no matter how much compassion we feel for people with this condition. Compassion - which basic human decency demands - must nevertheless reflect reality. Because if it doesn’t, it isn’t really compassion at all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Who by Fire - Revisited

Leonard Cohen in 1988 (Wikipedia)
The late singer-composer, Leonard Cohen was by all accounts not an observant Jew. But I believe that at some level he had a deep and abiding faith in God. I say that because it is reflected in some of his music. The most prominent of which has been recorded many times by many different recording artists. It is based on events recorded in Tanach.  

For me, Leonard Cohen’s most powerful composition is a song called, Who by Fire. I featured a few years ago at this time of year. But recent events have caused me to think about it again.   

This composition is obviously based on Nesaneh Tokef, one of the most poignant  prayers of the season recited shortly before Kedusha of Musaf on both days of Rosh Hashanah and the day of Yom Kippur.

The story of who composed it… when, how, and why - is by itself a gut wrenching exercise in Teshuva. According to legend* that composer was R’ Amnon of Mainz, Germany who composed it under what must have been the most excruciating pain imaginable. He was literally sliced to bits by a bishop that tried to convert him.

The final section of Nesaneh Tokef mostly lists the many ways in which one can die and is recited on the days we pray God grants us a year of life and good health (among other things). On Rosh Hashanah our fate for the coming year is recorded - so to speak - by God. And on Yom Kippur our fate is sealed. We pray that in the event that we were not granted a positive outcome on Rosh Hashanah, that it be changed into a positive one on Yom Kippur. After hearing the Chazan chant it, we declare in unison: that Teshuva (repentance of sin), Tefilah (sincere prayer) and Tzedaka (charity) removes the evil decree.

Although it is not an exact translation and has a few additions, Cohen does a magnificent job in evoking its message. Which is that we are all fragile human beings subject to the will of God. And that we could all die at any moment in a variety of painful ways. We are not really in control. No matter how much we think we are.  As my recent bicycle accident has shown me.

I broke four ribs, and had a pneumothorax (partially collapsed lung).  It was a freak accident. Although I am a bit of a ‘speed demon’ on my bike, I ride it defensively, always assuming the worst and taking the appropriate precautions. But when I banked right on a right turn, the bike over-tilted. My pedal hit the pavement; I lost control, and hit the pavement hard. I thought I had control. But God showed me otherwise.

The pain was severe. I had never experienced that level of pain before. A trip to the emergency room ended up with being admitted for observation (mostly because of the pneumothorax). Thankfully, my lung situation improved considerably overnight and I was released. The pain, however, was still pretty severe. There was nothing I could do to stop it, no matter what position I took sitting, standing, or lying down.

For the first few days, the pain was so strong, that I could not get out of bed or get dressed without my wife’s help. A few days later came Rosh Hashanah and I barely made it to Shul just to hear the Shofar (first set of Tekiyos - just before Musaf). I listened in pain, and then went home.

Since then I have been steadily improving and although I still have some pain, it is more tolerable. I no longer need help getting out of bed or getting dressed. I hope to be in Shul for the entire day tomorrow. We shall see.

Back to Who by Fire. My ordeal was nothing compared to what happened to another young member of the Chicago Jewish community. I don’t know him personally. But this is what happened a couple of days ago. After having recently celebrated the birth of twins, tragedy struck him. A freak cooking accident gave him severe facial burns. He has been hospitalized and as of yesterday his situation was so dire that a name was added. 

I have no idea whether he is conscious. But I hope he isn’t. Because the pain and suffering of that kind of burn is unimaginable. I cannot get him out of my mind. I pray his pain and suffering end quickly; that he has a Refuah Shelaima B’Karov - a complete and quick recovery and that this young husband, father, and son gets his life back.   

May we all merit to be sealed in the ‘Book of Life’ in complete health – both physical and mental.

G’mar Chasima Tova 

*Apparently, Nesaneh Tokef  was found in the Cairo Genizah - which predates both R' Amnon and the city of Mainz itself. So this story which is printed in many versions of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Machzor is likely inaccurate - to say the least. Perhaps as one reader suggests it was R' Amnon that had it inserted into the liturgy but did not compose it himself.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Why I Am a Jew

Believing Jews 
One of the great conundrums of life for me is, Why Judaism? What is it about my Emunah - my faith that makes me so committed to it? It might surprise people to know that like others who ask serious question about their faith and end up leaving it, I too have questions. And like many of them, I too have not found satisfactory answers to them all.  And yet I remain true to my faith.

Lest anyone accuse me of heresy for even asking those questions, let me assure you that I am not alone. Nor am I alone on retaining my faith in spite of asking them. I have simply learned to live with them. 

In an interview I saw online, no less a religious giant than the late Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski had a similar response when he was asked whether he had any doubts. He admitted that he did. But he too learned to live with them and remained a devoutly religious Jew. He explained that when he saw the pictures of his father and grandfathers on the walls of his house he felt that they were so much wiser and greater than he - and yet they were filled with complete Emunah. Who was he to do otherwise?  

I think what he may have meant is that he trusted the faith of his fathers who in essence trusted their fathers - in a chain going back to Sinai. Why did he not go OTD? Because deep down he intuitively had faith in the long chain of believing forefathers.

Even more amazingly, I read an article about the Toldos Aharon Rebbe of Meah Shearim. That is an individual with whom I have many serous differences. And yet share with him one very important thing. That faith begins where the intellect ends. 

He was asked about the tragedies experienced by all of Jewry in a series of events, that included a high rate of death among observant Jews due to COVID; and the many tragedies that befell obervant Jewry over the past year. The most relevant to him being the tragic deaths of so many of his Chasidim in Meron on Lag B'omer. His intellect failed him and he too had no answers. He therefore relied on his pure faith to carry him forward. 

Why do so many of us remain with our faith despite difficult questions and doubts while so many others do not? This subject was touched upon by Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz in a Jewish Link article which asked the question, How Do I Convince My Child to Be a Jew?

That was a question asked of the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks by the mother of a young man who was dating a non Jewish woman. His mother was worried about her grandchildren not being raised Jewish which is what her son had confirmed to her.

That  generated an entire book on the subject, but as Rabbi Steinmetz  notes, it didn’t really answer the question. At least not for him. 

That got me to thinking about what moves me to be Jewish. 

I have expressed my views about my beliefs many times. Put simply there are a variety of reasons mostly having to do with intellect and intuition. It is not any one thing, which by itself may be refutable. It is all of them in combination that leads to my intuitive Emunah. I am not going to into detail here which is beyond the scope of this post. 

The focus here is not how I remain with my Emunah intact despite those questions and doubt. But in why I look beyond that.

Like Rabbi Twersky, I look to my father who surely had greater questions than I. He was a Holocaust survivor that went through unimaginable hell. If anyone had the right to ask questions and lose their faith it was him. Many of his fellow survivors actually did in fact lose their faith. Why didn't he?

He believed in his heritage intuitively. Much the same as Rabbi Twerski. There were no questions that could disuade him from his pure beliefs. That intuition was passed on to me.

But it’s even more than that. It is about the values we cherish. It is about appreciating a way of life that has served the Jewish people for many centuries. Even though Judaism has evolved over time, there is a continuous thread of belief and practice that reinforces my intuition about the truth of my beliefs. As does the massive amount of literature (e.g. the Talmud, its commentaries; compilers of the law, and its commentaries; and various treatises on Jewish ethics, philosophy and Mussar).  All of which has been preserved over the centuries and speaks the language of that same truth. It is about the continuity of our people. A people with a Godly heritage.

Living my life as I do thus adds meaning to my life... the sense of continuity... an inner sense of peace to know that my time here on earth is not the full extent of my existence... that trying to live my life the way my Creator wants me to will give me a future beyond the temporal one. 

Living a uniquely Jewish life thus gives me an inner sense of peace and contentment... a sense of pride in my people – and pride of purpose to live the way I do. Identifying with - and looking up to all  the great people that preceded me, including my own parents whom I can best honor posthumously through my observance.

I realize that this is a bit of a ramble. I have surely not covered all the bases. And I am not trying to necessarily convert anyone to my way of thinking. My purpose here is not to convince those that have gone OTD to return to the faith of their fathers (Although I can’t deny that I believe they should since I believe it is the truth about our existence and will give them a more meaningful life). My purpose here was to simply write down my thoughts on the subject and hope that those who read them will understand that - despite my having unanswered questions why I am a Jew.

Warning: Despite the subject matter of this post, this blog assumes the truth of Judaism. As always - any attempt to deny that truth in the comments section is off limits. I would appreciate honoring that rule. Thank you.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

My Thoughts about 9/11 - Then and Now

It’s been 20 years. Yesterday, September 11, 2021 was the 20th anniversary of an attack against the United States by the Islamic terrorist group known as Al Qaida. To say that it was horrific is a gross understatement. I will never forget that day. I don’t think anyone alive that day will ever forget it either. 

Four US passenger planes filled to capacity with fuel were hijacked by devout Muslim extremists. Two of them were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in a suicide mission. One flew into the pentagon. And one was diverted from it likely target - the White House.   A few courageous  passengers forced it to crash into the ground before it reached its target - giving up their lives in the process. They were true American heroes.

The image of the 2 twin towers collapsing after the 2 planes crashed into them have been burned into my memory for the rest of my life. That day, I was an American like at no other time.  I stood in solidarity with all Americans outraged that this had happened… that it even COULD happen! There were no Republicans or Democrats on that day. No liberals. No conservatives. No race. No ethnicitty. Just one people. For one terrible moment in time all of us were living the American credo of E Pluribus Unum – from the many, one!   In fact the entire civilized world was in a sense ‘American’. They were in solidarity with us. 

As the day progressed I thought... ‘Finally!’ Now the world knows more than ever what Israel is going through. Finally - we can identify a common enemy who views America and Israel as a common threat to Islam… and as the source of conflict between Israel and the Arabs. That the crux of that conflict was based on the Islamic belief system.  Radical fundamentalists wanted an Islamic Middle East ruled by Sharia (Islamic) law. They saw Israel as the biggest obstacle to that. And they saw America as responsible for it. Since America was Israel’s strongest ally - supplying them with military aid  America was placed in the crosshairs of Al Qaida, led by Osama bin Ladin. It was Al Qaida that carefully planned and executed the successful terrorist attack on 9/11. 

Alas, It wasn’t long before the unity America had that day began to fade as politics came back into focus. My hope that we would all be on the same page were dashed when I started hearing the widely divergent opinions on who was really to blame and what we should do about it.  

On the extreme left were those who blamed Israel for that day. Some of the more radical Muslim conspracy theorists actually believed that it 9/11 was really perpetrated by an Israeli intelligence agency (the Mossad) for purposes of making Islam look bad. But the majority of the extereme left simply blamed our support of Israel for this attack and suggested that we ought to change our foreign policy by reducing or severing our relationship with Israel. …that our leaders ought to instead be focusing on our own people than people in a foreign country (Israel). 

On the other side of the spectrum were those who saw things the way I described them above. The views of most of the American people seemed to hover somewhere between those two perspectives. 

Thankfully, the US under every President since that day were not going to be cowed into changing our foreign policy by terrorists. If anything, the American commitment to Israel strengthened. The US began relying heavily on Israeli intelligence and does so to this day.  

Our focus was on finding those responsible for 9/11 and destroying them. Afghanistan was targeted for attack. The Taliban controlled the country back then and allowed Al Qaida to flourish. They were kindred spirits. Their ‘solders’  were allowed to be developed and trained for terrorism. 

America attacked Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban quickly. Since then - for  20 years under US military presence, Afghans had basic human freedoms that  until then, the Taliban’s strict religious rule denied them. Most prominently, women could get an education without fearing Islamic retribution. 

But Bin Ladin escaped and relocated elsewhere. And Afghanistan was no longer a home to Al Qaida.

To his credit, former President Obama was determined to find bin Ladin. He was eventually found to be living in  Pakistan . The President authorized a clandestine operation by an elite  group of Navy Seals to attack his compound and execute him. They succeeded. Who can forget the iconic picture of the President, Secretary of State, and military leaders watching it happen. 

Since 9/11, the US has taken steps to prevent anything like that from ever happening again. Thankfully they have been successful. There has not been a terrorist attack in this country ever since. It helped that Al Qaida was decimated and could not reconstitute in Afghanistan while the American military was there. 

President Obama understood the importance of our presence there. When the Taliban started making progress in our war with them, he did not cut and run. He instead authorized a military surge which pushed them back. 

Over the last few years our presence has been reduced to about 3500 troops. To the best of my knowledge, none of our troops have been killed by the Taliban there over that time. Those troops – aided by the Afghan military which we trained - were enough to keep the Taliban at bay, keep Afghans free, and most importantly keep Al Qaida from reconstituting. In fact more troops were killed (13) during our evacuation than have been killed by the Taliban in years!  

This last point is not insignificant. Al Qaida represented the greatest danger to American security. They were well funded, well organized, and well trained to do it again given the chance. 

President Biden has given them that chance by deciding to end our military presence there.The Taliban took back the country in a flash and are now in full control. The freedoms Afghans enjoyed for 20 years are gone. Intelligence experts that I heard interviewed are convinced that Al Qaida will be welcomed back by the Taliban and quickly be reconstituted. 

This need not have happened. Had we not pulled out so precipitously, Afghanistan would still be free. And more importantly Al Qaida would have no place to go. 

Those who say that we could not stay there forever are wrong in my view. The US has troops stationed in Germany for over 75 years - ever since the end of WWII.  And US  troops are stationed in South Korea ever since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s. If there is a need, we have no reason to cut and run the way we did in Afghanistan.  What greater need could there be than preventing the one group proven capable of hurting us from reconstituting? And in the process keeping an entire country free of extremist Islamic rule? 

What have we gained by leaving? Afghanistan is now exactly the same it was 20 years ago before we went in. Only now it is better armed with the weapons we left behind and Al Qaida is poised for return.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A police raid on a illegal Rosh Hashana Minyan (YWN)
There has been a lot of talk about the antisemitism expressed by government officials during the pandemic.  It usually came in the form of something like this: ‘the ultra-orthodox (Chasidim) just don’t know how to follow the rules…’ the reference was to how that community has scoffed at rules designed to protect public health. It was felt by many Orthodox observers that the government is ‘picking on us’ for no other reason than that we were Jewish.

In my view, that is nonsense. And yet it does seem that way. At least when it comes to Chasidic Jews. But I don’t believe that it can be called antisemitsm when only one segment of Orthdoxy is targeted. if indeed they even are. I do not think that is the case.

The problem is that all of Orthodoxy is tainted by that one segment. Chasidic Jews are the most identifiably Orthodox of all of us because of how they look. Hence the focus on them by the media. The public does not necessarily make distinctions between one type of Orthodox Jew and another. So when there is misbehavior - the public sees us all as ‘guilty’. 

The question remains, however, why does it seem like governments pick on Chasidim? Is there some justification for it? 

Unfortunately I believe there is. Now that might  suggest to some people that I too  am ‘antisemtic’. At least as it pertains to Chasidim. How dare I excuse the way governments have been treating the Chasidic community during the pandemic?!  

I’m not. There has been a multitude of occasions where Chasidim did not  follow the rules designed to protect the public from the spread of the disease. Like the recent case of  Chasidim in Melborne, Australia on the first night of Rosh Hashana. From YWN

A tense stand-off outside a Melbourne Shul has ended with police warning all adults who illegally gathered that they will be found and fined.

Up to 30 people are now believed to have attended a Rosh Hashanah Minyan, which let police and media in a stand-off with on Tuesday night as they gathered for the first night of Yom Tov… Six people have been been fined $5,452 for breaching public health orders.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett has told other Mispalilim to come forward and turn themselves in.

He’s vowed to hunt down every adult inside the Shul and fine them.

‘I’m appalled,’ he said on Wednesday morning. ‘Come forward, identify yourself.

‘My instruction to my investigators today is every person at the gathering will receive a penalty notice.’

Supporters stood outside the Shul in Ripponlea, Melbourne on Tuesday night as the Rosh Hashanah continued inside.

 The reaction of that commuity after getting caught breaking the rules? 

…a well-known Jewish community activist told YWN that “Melbourne felt somewhat like Nazi Germany this year Rosh Hashana.. as police sieged a Shul for 14 hours”.

He went on to ‘explain’ why they felt justified at breaking the rules. Basically saying that they tried to get a legal exemption by virtue of their high level of immunity based on a 90% vaccination rate. They didn’t get the exemption; felt it was unfair; and decided to break the rules clandestinely.

One can debate whether those rules were fair or whether they should have gotten an exemption. But one cannot debate the fact that they broke the rules and should suffer the consequences.

I realize of course that it was a relatively small group of people (30). But this is not the first time Chasidim decided to break the rules. It was just the latest. I am not aware of any other segment breaking the rules. At least not as often as segments of  the Chasidic community have.

To be clear, I do not believe that this kind of behavior applies to all Chasidic groups. Of which there are many. But there are enough of them that it does apply to – to make it easy to generalize.

When government officials say that ultra-Orthodox don’t follow the rules they are not just making it up. They see it happening again and again. The result? A Chilul HaShem. Which also contributes to the  very real antisemitism that is already out there. 

And yet, there have been some amazing acts of selflessness and kindness by the Chasidic world that has benefitted victims of the COVID virus beyond their own community. Most notably, early in the pandemic when Chasidic communities like Monsey were hit hard and early with the virus. They donated their blood plasma in massive numbers in a project to benefit everyone, not just Chasidim or even just Jews. Blood plasma transfusions were an early and relatively effective way to treat seriously ill COVID patients back then.   

Chasidim are not some sort of evil Cabal out to help only themselves. One of the character traits most associated with Chasidim are their acts of kindness. That is what that plasma drive demonstrated. The majority of blood plasma collected for therapeutic use was from the Chasidic world. For which they received public recognition at the time.

But then again you have what happened in Melbourne last Monday night. Watching videos of that event (posted at YWN) made my stomach turn. 

How does one explain this dichotomy?

The answer, I fear is their sense that when it comes to any religious ritual - they answer only to God. If government rules prevent them from doing it they are going to violate the rules clandestinely. They see violating unfair rules as a Mitzvah. They do not think they will be caught. But if they are, they ae going to accuse government authorities of persecuting them just for being Jews.   

Now it’s true that Rosh Hashana is an important time of year where we seek to be extra careful about performing Mitzvos. .Especially when it comes to praying to be forgiven for lapses in that regard over the past year. But when it comes at the expense of a Chilul Hashem - the opposite is true. Not only are you not forgiven - you have added to your total burden of sins. 

These Chasidim do not see it that way. They believe they are experiencing the same form of antisemitism their European ancestors experienced. And they are not going to be stopped by some arbitrary rule they believe to be sourced in that.  They are going to go to Shul on Rosh Hashana. And if they are caught, they will scream ‘Nazis’!

As important as going to shul on Rosh Hashana is, it is not a do or die requirement. Especially when there are rules against it designed to protect public health. Not agreeing with it does not mean the rules should be violated.

But these Chasidim have an exaggerated belief that - in the final analysis - ‘the goyim are all antisemites and are out to get us’. They are determined to not to let them do that! They were going to go to Shul on Rosh Hashana by hook or crook. And make a lot of noise if they are caught.

As I have said many times, I don’t think there is much of anything we can do to change their way of thinking - although it is always worth a try. All we can do is try to explain it – and try and convince the world that this is not the sum and substance of who we are.