Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sometimes people ask me if Jews still use amulets. I tell them that I've seen preprinted amulets that can be bought at Jewish book stores (I have a few in my office). But this is an example of a contemporary soferet (scribe) writing an amulet based upon the classic form of an amulet taken from Sefer Raziel, an early 18th century anthology of mystical and magical texts. Aviel Barclay-Rothschild, "the only living certified Soferet (female Jewish ritual scribe)," says about the amulet:
The top text is a series of angel names, invoked for the safety & health of the mother & child. The middle is an illustrated focal point, representing the 3 angels who have power over Lilith as birds on one hand, mysterious shapes on the other. Adam & Eve are banishing Lilith from the birthspace. The bottom text is a blessing for the mother, here referred to as "Plonit bat Plonit", or "What's-her-name daughter of What's-her-name". This space can be personalised. I sold the original work to a female obstetrician/gynecologist in St Louis, MO.

She also has an example of another amulet she has made, this time a birth-protection amulet

Monday, June 27, 2005

Jews blaming ourselves for the Holocaust

Once more on the theme of Jews blaming ourselves for the Holocaust. Over on DovBear, Toby Katz has again fallen into the pit which she herself has digged, with the following comment:
1. I said, over and over and over, that no one knows why the Holocaust occurred, that there were numerous reasons for it, and that the only people to "blame" for it are the Nazis. OTOH I did say that "it was no coincidence the Holocaust started in Berlin." That is the only sentence of mine you keep quoting, because you seem to think it shows me at my worst. Mis-nagid [another blogger] has openly admitted he's an atheist, but what about the people who claim to believe in the Torah? Do you deny Hashgacha Pratis [individual Providence - i.e., the idea that God watches over each individual]? Do you deny the validity of the Tochacha [the Rebuke - series of punishments described in Deut. 27-28, which are supposed to come upon the Jewish people if they fail to obey the covenant with God]? Do you think that whatever happened in Europe, it WAS just a coincidence? By causing people to focus their hatred against Torah-true Jews [i.e., Orthodox Jews] instead of against the failings of their own non-Torah movements, you prevent the Ge'ulah [redemption]. And how do you know for sure that it WAS just a coincidence? That Reform was not even one thousandth of a thousandth of a reason for any of G-d's protection to be withheld from His people, not even one tiny bit? Did G-d Himself tell you that the Tochacha is no longer operative?

I find this offensive in so many ways, principally because it involves a Jew blaming other Jews for mass murder inflicted upon Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. I also object to the view of God that Toby Katz (and not only her - see also the comments of a Rabbi Forsythe, A Torah Insight into the Holocaust) puts forward - as an unmerciful, vengeance-seeking, tyrant. What about the prayers that we utter during the Days of Awe, asking for God's forgiveness and being assured that God will forgive us? "And repentance, prayer, and charity/ righteousness will avert the evil decree."

I also object because Toby (and Rabbi Forsythe, and perhaps others) are arguing that this is the only "Torah-true" perspective on the Holocaust, something which is clearly not true. The best example, perhaps, is to be found in the writings of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, a Polish Hasidic rebbe (whom I've written about before) who led a very successful yeshiva and educational program before World War II. He was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazi invasion of Poland, and lived through the "Great Deportation" in summer of 1942, when the majority of the Ghetto's Jews were taken to Treblinka and killed.

His first attitude towards the sufferings the Jews were enduring at the Nazis was very much the traditional view espoused by Toby Katz & R. Forsythe, although unlike them he was going through this suffering, rather than theologizing about it after the fact. He first held that the Jews were suffering because they had left religion, were not studying Torah with the proper diligence, etc. After a while in the Ghetto, his views began to shift, and he began to believe that it was not because of the sins of the people that they were suffering. Instead, he began to see it as an unknowable mystery about which even God himself was weeping in his inner chambers - and a mystery into which a weeping Jew can enter precisely through his own weeping.

Rabbi Shapira also denied that the sufferings of the Holocaust could be compared to any previous suffering in Jewish history. In November, 1942, after the Great Deportation, he writes in a note, "Only until the end of 5702 [summer of 1942] was it the case that such sufferings were experienced before. However, as for the monstrous torments, the terrible and freakish deaths the malevolent monstrous murderers devised against us, the House of Israel, from the end of 5702 and on - according to my knowledge of rabbinic literature and Jewish history in general, there has never been anything like them. May God have mercy and deliver us from their hands in the twinkling of an eye" (p. 139 of R. Shapira's Esh Kodesh, a collection of his homilies published posthumously after the war; translation from Nehemia Polen, The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, pp. 132-133).

One of the qualities that shines through Rabbi Shapira's writing is his love for the Jewish people and individual suffering Jews - and I believe it is this quality of his that we must emulate when writing and speaking about the Holocaust, rather than blaming the victims and besmirching the memory of the Jews were were murdered.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

This is another serious issue that Rep. Hostettler took up last year, to defend the morals of the good citizens of Indiana - Hostettler mounting campaign to change the name of Interstate 69. Otherwise, from looking at his official website, he seems a fairly devoted supporter of Pres. Bush's conservative Republican policies, although he voted against the war in Iraq (and also against sending U.S. ground troops to Kosovo). He voted for that perennial favorite, moving the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but since no such thing is going to happen until there's a real peace between Israel and the Palestinians, such a vote is a cheap sop to Zionists.
E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes about Rep. David Obey's attempt to Keep Faith With Religious Freedom. Last week Obey offered "an amendment to the military appropriations bill calling on the secretary of the Air Force to 'develop a plan to ensure that the Air Force Academy maintains a climate free from coercive intimidation and inappropriate proselytizing.'" For his pains, Obey, a Roman Catholic, was viciously attacked by Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana, with these words:
Obey's all-American assertion of religious liberty was, for Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), part of "the long war on Christianity in America [that] continues today on the floor of the House of Representatives. It continues unabated with aid and comfort to those who would eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage being supplied by the usual suspects, the Democrats. . . . Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians."


This appalling statement was eventually stricken from the record, but that was cold comfort for Obey:
Obey rose to his feet and demanded that Hostettler's last words be stricken from the record, which they eventually were. "If Jesus is watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives, with people behaving in such a blasphemous fashion," Obey said this week, "well, I am reminded of that passage, 'Jesus wept.' " Obey said that when he first came to Congress, "there would have been universal condemnation of Hostettler by both parties." In this case, Obey said he was approached afterward by a single sympathetic Republican. Obey was comforted that Jewish House members "appreciated that a Christian would speak out."


This last quote is very scary! Only Jewish house members appreciated what Obey said? And have we descended to the political level now that we have to be grateful that Christians are speaking out in favor of religious tolerance?

The Forward reported earlier this month on how Rep. Steve Israel of New York was also harassed when he tried to introduce two measures to require the Air Force to "submit a plan for ensuring religious tolerance" at its academy.
Several Republican lawmakers are using the controversy as an opportunity to air the view that it is Christians whose constitutional free-speech rights are being suppressed in the military. At a recent Armed Services Committee hearing, Rep. John Hostetler, an Indiana Republican, derided the "mythical wall of church-state separation" as he argued that Israel's amendment "would bring the ACLU" and "the very silliness that's been present on... several courts of justice over the last 50 years" into the United States military. Israel's measure, he added, would "quash the religious expression of millions of service personnel."...

At the hearing, Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, suggested that, contrary to what Israel was reporting about the Air Force Academy, the problem in the military was that some evangelical Christians feel they are "not being promoted" because of their faith, and Christian chaplains say they are not being allowed to conduct prayers referring to Jesus. "There is a problem in the military.... The problem is political correctness," he declared.


No, the problem is what Andrew Sullivan has started calling "Christianism" (a term to parallel with "Islamism") - the belief that Christianity is superior to all other religions, and that this superiority must be upheld by the U.S. government.

As Steve Israel said, "The Republicans [on the Armed Services Committee] just jumped on me," Israel told the Forward. "The people who were coerced were represented as the problem. The people who coerced were represented as the victims."

I wonder what the position these Republicans take on Israel (the nation, not the individual)?

Friday, June 24, 2005

DovBear has decided to train his sights on Daniel Lapin's organization, Toward Tradition, so I thought I'd cruise on over to their web site to take a look at them. On their home page I came across a list of the "four unique programs" of their mission. They include:

1) The Macabee Project. "Combating anti-Jewish/ anti-Christian bigotry; defending Christians unjustly accused of anti-Semitism." The main point seems to be to provide coverage for right-wing Christians whose vision for America doesn't include much tolerance for anybody else. See their comments on the ADL: "The Anti-Defamation League once stood to defend the Jewish faith, as well as the Jewish ethnicity, from anti-Semitic assaults in the media, and in society. They now seem poised to turn every conflict between a secular Jewish individual and a religious Christian into a specious example of anti-Semitism. This will not help the Jewish community. In fact, Judaism seems to be under attack from liberal, secular Jews: this is defamation and anti-Semitism that seems to attract little to no attention from the ADL."

I do agree that the ADL does sometimes blow incidents of antisemitism out of proportion, but I think that Lapin is simply turning his own political disagreement with the ADL into the ADL's supposed lack of interest in defending Jews against antisemitism.

3) The American Alliance of Jews and Christians. "The American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC) is led by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. The Alliance unites American Jews with Christians on behalf of traditional values. The AAJC’s Board of Advisers includes Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Charles Colson, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson, Pastor Rick Scarborough, as well as Rabbi Barry Freundel, Rabbi David Novak, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Michael Medved, John Uhlmann."

Well, from this list of advisors we know where their political beliefs lie - uniting with such paragons as Charles Colson, Pat Robertson, et al, and equally conservative Jews like Freundel, Novak, and Medved (although one wonders why they've gone along with such a dubious character as Lapin).

For those who wish to know more, they've published a pamphlet called "Enemies or Allies? Why American Jews Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Conservative Christians."

And finally, 4) The Ethical Capitalism Project, which begins with these words: "Much of America's strength is depleted by the animosity and disrespect heaped on business people. When an employer who has provided jobs for thousands of people is made to feel guilty for being greedy, it's time for society to reassess its values."

As DovBear Rabbi Lapin appears to be deep in the muck with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist accused of defrauding Indian tribes. So much for ethical capitalism...
Defining "lulei"

On the phrase "lulei de-mistafina," a favorite of Cloojew (and mysterious to most others), two people comment (from On the Main Line):

It's one of those words that no one in ninth grade told me what it literally meant and I never thought about it, but you pick up from context. Contextually it means something like "if I may be so bold".
S. | Homepage | 06.24.05 - 12:00 pm | #

Lit.
If not for the fact that I am less than 100% sure of what I'm saying...

LkwdGuy | 06.24.05 - 12:02 pm | #

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I was just cruising through Bloghead and found a link to this hilarious post by Naomi Chana of Baraita, on the broad-ranging cross-blog fight about hagba, women's tefillah groups, and the role of women in Judaism (by the way, why don't we ever have big fights about the role of men in Judaism?). Her best line: "But I had hitherto been ignorant of how participating in groups of women praying and studying Torah together will cause said women to sprout facial hair, stop loving their children, produce Christian grandkids, do something unspecified but presumably nasty to True Judaism (tm), and start participating in incestuous cannibalistic orgies with married terrorists." Read the rest for further amusement....

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I've definitely been spending too much time participating in some rather rousing discussions over at DovBear's and Miriam (and Paul) Shaviv's blogs - long arguments, mostly about women and halakhah (a very interesting discussion sparked by Miriam's participating in a women's tefilah group and getting hagba). There's been much spirited argumentation with Toby Katz, and now Lisa, on DovBear's comment threads - they defend a rather (to my mind) rigid version of Orthodoxy and especially what should be important to Orthodox women (having more babies and dressing modestly, it seems).

Two bloggers that I've encountered through these discussions and have started to read with pleasure are Orthomom and Mirty, who has also been drawn into the uproar (see this posting from her: they really don't get it).

Since I currently belong to a Conservative shul, and have never defined myself as Orthodox (even though I did belong to an Orthodox shul for a year in Jerusalem), I sometimes feel a bit of an interloper in these discussions, but one of the pleasures of the internet & especially the blogging world is that it's possible to enter into a community of sorts that one might never enter in the "real world."

I would find it interesting to be introduced to some more Conservative and Reform Jewish bloggers who are as passionate as the usual crew over at DovBear & Bloghd - the inimitable Amshinover, the halakhically correct Gil Student, the lyrically spiritual Barefoot Jewess, GoldaLeah, Conservative Apikorus... the list goes on. Anyone have suggestions?

Monday, June 20, 2005

There were several letters in yesterday's Ithaca Journal responding to the full page of opinion pieces published on May 21, 2005, responding to Sandy Wold's column criticizing Israel. (By the way, I discovered by going back to the site that my letter has made it on to the IJ's web site: "Zionist Jew" rejects inflammatory comments.)

Along with three letters critical of Israel written by other people, Sandy Wold herself wrote an angry retort in yesterday's Journal, in which she said that she is retracting her apologetic letter of May 21:
I have been deeply concerned about the presentation of the May 21 opinion page. While the Journal followed its "journalistic standards," they nevertheless made choices that placated an international group at my expense and neglected to inform readers of significant behind-the-scenes events. Readers should know that 90 percent of the hostile letters published on May 21 came from Honest Reporting", an organization of 120,000 who bombarded me with hostile emails and calls. Readers should know that the Journal publisher urged me to submit a peace-making communication I posted to the honestreporting.com blog on May 9. Readers should also know that the Journal omitted two significant paragraphs from my May 21 guest column without my permission while superfluous quotes remained.

She's right that the letters were prompted by the posting on Honest Reporting, and also by the posting on Little Green Footballs. I went to the HR website and some of the comments posted there were extremely hostile, as were those on the LGF site. While I didn't agree with what she said, some of the HR and LGF comments were over the line and engaged in personal abuse.
My critics made countless false assumptions about what I believe and the Journal misrepresented me and my message of May 21. Ironically, the volatility of my critics and the Journal's appeasement perfectly exemplify the dynamic I was describing in my original guest column of May 7.

I don't quite know what she means by the "volatility" of her critics. Yes, people were mad at her - as advocates of Israel often are at those who criticize or demonize Israel (I think her comments came closer to the latter than the former). I don't see that the Journal "appeased" them - rather, it published letters critical of her remarks - and letters that were not personally abusive. They objected to her on political, rather than personal grounds. Anyone writing in public on Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to be prepared for criticism (and sometimes personal attacks) from those disagreeing with them.
I also object to the choice of pictures for that page which demonized Arab people. Readers deserve to be reminded that not all Palestinians/Arabs agree with PLO behavior. My column and its omitted content was written in a sincere spirit of seeking understanding of the individuals within this group and simultaneously clarifying what I originally meant by the universality of the victim mind-set. I did not know that the Journal would edit my column in such a way that would collude with the agenda of this group to silence dissent; I therefore retract my letter of May 21 and will publish elsewhere.

For the information of readers who only saw the internet version of the Journal from May 21, there were two photographs placed at the top of the page, below which came first my letter, then a whole series of international letters (prompted by the posting on Honest Reporting), and then Sandy Wold's column responding to those who criticized her (specifically, the international letters, not mine). The photograph on the right depicted Palestinian men wearing masks, and aiming guns. The legend below the picture was, in the words of the Journal, "Masked Palestinian militants of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militia linked to the Fatah movement, perform a military exercise in the streets during a rally in Gaza City, Friday. As Palestinian-Israeli fighting spilled over into a third straight day, Israel warned a cease-fire declared in February is in danger of collapse." The photograph on the left depicted Jewish settlers, also armed, in Gaza, with the legend: "Jewish settlers walk toward an abandoned building located between the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom and the Palestinian town of Deir el-Ballah on Friday. Settlers intend to set up a defensive position in the building used earlier on by Palestinian militants who fired missiles and light arms fire at the Jewish settlement." Both pictures were from the AP. The placing of the photos side by side seemed to me the Journal's attempt to be evenhanded - to point out that there is violence on both sides from sources not officially authorized - Jewish settlers and the Popular Resistance Committees.

I think it's very telling that Wold only objected to the picture of the Palestinian gunman, and didn't even mention the photo of the Jewish settlers. She is only capable of seeing media bias on one side (as is true of many of the letters criticizing her).

In response to Wold's letter, the editors of the Journal wrote (June 18): "EDITOR'S NOTE: Wold was repeatedly advised by the opinion page editor that she was welcome to submit a follow-up column to her May 7 piece, but was not required to do so. Wold accepted that invitation, submitting nine versions of her reply as well as a hand-written addendum. The final version of her reply, plus addendum, was about 300 words longer than The Journal's established 750-word limit for such submissions. It was carefully edited to approach that word limit without altering its message. We stand by that effort."
It's because of stories like this - Iraqis Found in Torture House Tell of Brutality of Insurgents - that I can't support U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. We would be abandoning and betraying people like Ahmed Isa Fathil, who briefly joined the new Iraqi army and apparently was captured and tortured by terrorists (I can't bring myself to call them "insurgents" - it's much too anodyne a name for these torturers and murderers). I'm just sad and angry that our administration has screwed things up so badly in Iraq.
As Kevin Drum says, "This [Gov. Bush's insisting on keeping the Schiavo case open], though, simply beggars the imagination. What kind of human being would keep a vendetta like this alive at this point?"
When I read this in yesterday's New York Times, Gov. Bush Seeks Another Inquiry in Schiavo Case, I was astonished and disgusted. Has Jeb Bush no shame at all? He writes in a letter to the Times yesterday: "The New York Times's grotesque and chilling disrespect for the sanctity of life has never been more apparent than in your June 16 editorial 'Autopsy on the Schiavo Tragedy.'" Does he really think that the New York Times, which opposed the Iraq War, opposes the death penalty, and speaks out for those being murdered in Darfur, Sudan actually disrespects "the sanctity of life"? He goes on to write: "Terri Schiavo was a deeply loved daughter, wife, sister and friend. The fact that her brain was atrophied or that she was blind or could not have been rehabilitated doesn't change that fact. While many medical professionals said she was in a persistent vegetative state, still other highly respected neurologists said there was a chance that she was not." Which highly respected neurologiests? Sen. Frist? Anybody who had actually examined her? He finishes by saying, "Despite claims of cynicism and being "\'agenda-driven,' we will continue to strive to protect our most vulnerable citizens. All innocent human life is precious, and government has a duty to protect the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable." What a hypocrite. This is the so-called culture of life? I'm really disgusted.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Last night I went with friends to see a new Israeli movie - Walk on water. It's a story about a Mossad agent whose mission is first to find out if an old Nazi war criminal is still alive, by befriending his grandson who is visiting his sister who is volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel, and then when he discovers that the old man is still alive, to follow the grandson back to Germany to find the war criminal. The grandson is gay, and the sister is estranged from her parents because of their accepting attitude toward her grandfather. I won't reveal the climax because it's rather surprising. I thought the movie was very well made - perhaps the best made of the Israeli movies I've seen. The acting was top-notch, especially the portrayal of the Mossad agent, Eyal - a paradigmatic stoical Israeli man, whose brittle veneer is broken down completely by the end of the film. The gay grandson was also portrayed very well, and there was a fun and revealing look at the gay male culture in Israel. The ending was somewhat pat, but didn't detract from the rest of the film. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Steven Fine's new book, Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World, has just been published by Cambridge University Press.

From the publisher's description: "Art and Judaism explores the Jewish experience with art during the Greco-Roman period - from the Hellenistic period through the rise of Islam. It starts with the premise that Jewish art in antiquity was a ‘minority’ or ‘ethnic’ art and surveys ways that Jews fully participated in, transformed, and at times rejected the art of their general environment. It focuses upon the politics of identity during the Greco-Roman period, even as it discusses ways that modern identity issues have sometimes distorted and at other times refined scholarly discussion of ancient Jewish material culture."

It sounds like a really interesting book, worthwhile for anyone interested in ancient Jewish art and archaeology. I hope that it might be of some use to me in my current research on the Babylonian incantation bowls (I'm currently writing an article tentatively called "Image and Word: Performative Ritual and Material Culture in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls," a revision of two papers given in the last two years at the Association for Jewish Studies meetings). One of the problems that always concerns me in dealing with the bowls is the question of the relationship between literary sources and material remains. Are they talking about the same thing? Do they give evidence for the same aspects of late Sassanian/early Islamic culture in Iraq? What is the relationship between unequivocally Jewish sources like the Babylonian Talmud and the incantation bowls, which clearly display a pluralism of cultural markers? What do the bowls tell us about cultural/ethnic/religious identity at that time in late antique Iraq? Steve Fine's book deals with the Greco-Roman world, but some of the same intellectual problems would arise there also.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

In this Autopsy on the Schiavo Tragedy, the New York Times editorial page points out that "The autopsy results released yesterday should embarrass all the opportunistic politicians and agenda-driven agitators who meddled in Terri Schiavo's right-to-die case. There is no evidence that Ms. Schiavo's husband did any of the awful things attributed to him, and no hope that her greatly damaged brain would ever have recovered. The courts were right to conclude that she should be allowed to die after 15 years in what her doctors described as a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery."

When I was reading about the autopsy yesterday, it made me wonder if Terry Schiavo had actually even been alive before the feeding tube was removed. If her brain was half the size it should have been, and if she could survive only with the feeding tube - why do we call this "being alive"? Some of her body was alive, but not any of the higher centers of the brain, and not some of the lower centers of the brain. Why were people so eager to keep her in this state of existence?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Transience

A friend of mine just started up a blog - Quicksilver - that has as its framework a commentary on the daf yomi - the daily reading of one page of the Talmud. His commentary is very interesting, touching on many issues of the day as well as the Talmudic back-and-forth. His latest post addresses the question of "What causes cancer?" Since I've had many friends and relatives succumb to cancer, this question is of concern to me also.
What causes cancer? Why do these people get those cancers? For half a century, such questions have nagged us. The search for explanation. In the 1950s, we asked, does smoking cause cancer? Later: are there synergistic factors? (E.g., tobacco and asbestos combined.) What about pesticides? Are there cancer “hotspots” caused by hazardous waste sites? We seem to be straddling scientific research and a political / culture war. I suspect many of us gravitate to one pole, e.g. cancer is caused or facilitated by diet and lifestyle, or by toxic pollution, or by our genetic inheritance. But we are all far from able to explain the decline or rise of particular types of cancer.

I wish we could figure out what causes various cancers, and learn how to stop them. It's such an evil disease to die of. (I know, how can a disease be "evil"? "Evil" is a human category, our way of judging the morality of human actions. But still, cancer feels evil to me - especially when a friend is suddenly stricken with cancer and dies a horrible death).

Yesterday evening I took a bicycle ride over to Ithaca Falls, one of our local waterfalls (in the city of Ithaca alone there are two waterfalls - Ithaca Falls and Cascadilla Falls). The whole area of the falls looks like it was scoured out by last winter's heavy snow and cold. The path of Fall Creek flowing from the falls towards Cayuga Lake has shifted. And instead of soil and plants & trees growing from the bank, it's now mostly big and little stones. The pool just under the falls appears to be bigger also, and yesterday a family was swimming there. As I walked back from the falls to my bicycle, I couldn't help but think about the transience of life, how ephemeral human life (and everything else) is. The Fall Creek neighborhood, where I live, is built on the flood plain for Ithaca Falls. Floods are now mostly contained by various measures, so only some people this winter had their basements fill with water - but what about in a hundred years? Will the neighborhood even exist? My house was built in 1870 - will it make it another hundred years?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I just got an e-mail from Macher Search telling me that they have indexed my blog. Quoting from the e-mail: "MacherSearch is a search engine that gives users the opportunity to search through thousands of Jewish and Israeli Sites websites with just one click, and search blogs, the news, and the web-at-large as well." I'll have to check it out and see how well it works.
This is a cool story from Israel that has nothing to do with the current conflict - After 2,000 Years, a Seed From Ancient Judea Sprouts.
Israeli doctors and scientists have succeeded in germinating a date seed nearly 2,000 years old. The seed, nicknamed Methuselah, was taken from an excavation at Masada, the cliff fortress where, in A.D. 73, 960 Jewish zealots died by their own hand, rather than surrender to a Roman assault. The point is to find out what was so exceptional about the original date palm of Judea, much praised in the Bible and the Koran for its shade, food, beauty and medicinal qualities, but long ago destroyed by the crusaders.

"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," says Psalm 92. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age. They shall be fat and flourishing."

Well, we'll see. Dr. Sarah Sallon, who runs a project on medicinal plants of the Middle East, notes that the date palm in ancient times symbolized the tree of life. But Dr. Elaine Solowey, who germinated the seed and is growing it in quarantine, says plants grown from ancient seeds "usually keel over and die soon," having used most of their nutrients in remaining alive.

The plant is now 11.8 inches tall and has produced seven leaves, one of which was removed for DNA testing.

Well, let's hope this one doesn't keel over!
Some rather strange searches recently directed people to my blog:

freemasons in amman (?!)
yentl subtitle hebrew
new york in the summer

and a couple of sad ones:

Janjaweed
pictures about famine in Darfur

And on the note of "New York in the summer" - I think I was probably writing about New York City in the summer, but it's been plenty hot here in Ithaca, New York too. On the other hand, it does mean that the vegetables are growing fast. The roses are blooming (and the Japanese beetles haven't yet arrived), as are the snapdragons (which reseeded themselves), AND the chives (the first plant to come back after the snow melted). My peonies have already finished blooming (and the blossoms were blown away in last Monday's thunderstorm), but other people's are still blooming away. The daylilies are starting to bloom.

I guess it's summer!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Thank you DovBear (Still fuming...) for fisking Toby Katz's horrendous comments about why the Holocaust occurred.

She said (in a comment thread): "Jews tried to leave Judaism but G-d reminded them that He does not allow that. When we try, there are fearful consequences, spelled out in the Torah. The same Torah also promises that our enemies will never be able to destroy us, that we are an eternal people. Individuals die but Klal Yisrael does not die." In a further comment in the same thread, she redoubled her obnoxiousness: "I don't understand those of you who claim to be orthodox & yet attack someone so vehemently for saying that the reform was a major factor in the Holocaust. The Torah at the end of Vakikra & Devorim say clearly that if the Jewish people don't follow the Torah they will be punished with terrible punishments. When the Second Temple was destroyed Chazal gave reasons to explain which sins were the primary cause. Likewise when Betar was destroyed. I think the same was done through out the generations when tragedy struck the Jewish people. In all of those tragedies the good & bad were punished together but that did not stop the Rabbis from attempting to attribute what sins were the primary cause of our punishment. If not following the Torah is the cause of our punishments, is it not logical that the reform movement should be on the top of that list? Certainly religious Jews were not perfect & I'm sure that they too contributed to the punishment, but the point remains that those who abandoned the Torah the most are the most culpable for G-d's decision in decreeing or allowing(per R' Berkovitz) the Holocaust."

Until I had read this discussion on DovBear, I didn't realize that this nonsense was still being propagated in Orthodox (or ultra-Orthodox) circles. When will Jews stop blaming other Jews for the Holocaust? How about blaming the true perpetrators, the Nazis, and their collaborators?

A good response comes from Cara, who replied to her: "Toby- Most of my mother's family was killed in Germany during the Holocaust. None lived in Berlin. Of those who survived and came to America, only my mother's children (and some distant cousins in NY) are still frum. Given my family background, I don't know what pains me more: to read the dreck you just wrote about how certain you are with regards to the reasons why the Holocaust happened the way it did, or to know that you believe what you wrote."



Nicholas Kristof again calls us to pay attention to the genocide in Darfur - Uncover Your Eyes: "Mr. Bush values a frozen embryo. But he hasn't mustered much compassion for an entire population of terrorized widows and orphans. And he is cementing in place the very hopelessness he dreads, by continuing to avert his eyes from the first genocide of the 21st century."

In this article he outlines ways in which the African Union troops, plus international aid groups, have actually saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Darfur. If we could just muster the political will to give real support to the African Union mission, perhaps we could end the genocide - if we would just pay attention...
The ADL executive board met with the superintendent of the Air Force Academy, and: Air Force Academy Chief Admits School Bias.
The superintendent of the Air Force Academy acknowledged to leaders of a national Jewish group Friday that religious intolerance permeates the military school.

"As a commander, I know I have problems in my cadet wing," Lt. Gen. John Rosa said at a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League's executive committee. "I have issues in my staff, and I have issues in my faculty - and that's my whole organization."

He said he admonished the academy's No. 2 commander, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, a born-again Christian, for sending an e-mail promoting National Prayer Day....

Rosa said he has spoken with academy critics and agrees with many of their complaints. He said he didn't learn of a Yale University memo issued last year on religious intolerance at the school near Colorado Springs until much later.

I have to admit I don't understand why he didn't know about the Yale Divinity School memo - isn't he running the school? Shouldn't he know about these things?

Mikey Weinstein said that "We need new leadership at the Air Force Academy." We certainly do! And especially leadership that pays attention to whether certain cadets are being discriminated against for their religion.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A new AP poll shows that the U.S. is the most religious nation among several surveyed, and the one where the most people are willing to countenance clergy interference in politics: Religious Devotion High in U.S.
Religious devotion sets the United States apart from some of its closest allies. Americans profess unquestioning belief in God and are far more willing to mix faith and politics than people in other countries, AP-Ipsos polling found.

In Western Europe, where Pope Benedict XVI complains that growing secularism has left churches unfilled on Sundays, people are the least devout among the 10 countries surveyed for The Associated Press by Ipsos. Only Mexicans come close to Americans in embracing faith, the poll found. But unlike Americans, Mexicans strongly object to clergy lobbying lawmakers, in line with the nation's historical opposition to church influence....

The polling was conducted in May in the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea and Spain.

Nearly all U.S. respondents said faith is important to them and only 2 percent said they do not believe in God. Almost 40 percent said religious leaders should try to sway policymakers, notably higher than in other countries. "Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian policies and religious leaders have an obligation to speak out on public policy, otherwise they're wimps," said David Black, a retiree from Osborne, Pa., who agreed to be interviewed after he was polled.

In contrast, 85 percent of French object to clergy activism - the strongest opposition of any nation surveyed. France has strict curbs on public religious expression and, according to the poll, 19 percent are atheists. South Korea is the only other nation with that high a percentage of nonbelievers [my suspicion is that this number may include non-theistic Buddhists who would be considered religious by other measures - RL]....

But even in Italy, home to the Catholic Church, resistance to religious engagement in politics is evident. Only three in 10 think the clergy should try to influence government decisions; a lower percentage in Spain, Germany and England said the same...

The poll found Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to think clergy should try to influence government decisions - a sign of the challenges ahead for Democrats as they attempt to reach out to more religious voters.

It seems to me that there is a direct connection between my previous posting and this poll. It would be interesting to see a more nuanced poll - who are, exactly, the 40% of Americans who think that clergy should try to sway politicians? I imagine this number doesn't include very many Jews, and probably a lot of evangelical Christians and some Catholics.
This article in Haaretz, I Want You for the U.S. Air Force (but you'd better believe in Jesus), details the series of abuses at the Air Force Academy, where evangelical Christianity appears to have become the official religion. Mikey Weinstein, who served in Reagan's White House, and whose younger son is now at the academy, initiated a public campaign, which has "exposed an intentional policy going back several years of religious guidance from above, active encouragement of Christian evangelism by senior officers and prejudicial discrimination against members of other religions. Hundreds of families have approached Weinstein, and to date 117 people have filed official complaints through him. Only eight are Jews. The majority are Christians who feel persecuted by the policy of promoting evangelical Christianity on an institutional basis while employing the power of military authority." Congress has refused to do anything about this, and in fact when the issue was brought up in a Congressional committee, criticisms of the academy's bias against non-evangelicals were turned into complaints by Republican congressmen of anti-Christian bias (surely a new definition of what the word "chutzpah" means!).

And what is the Air Force Academy doing about this? "Last Friday, USAFA Superintendent Lieutenant-General John Rosa met with Anti-Defamation League activists, and for the first time admitted to them that there was a problem at the base. He said he is losing sleep over it, but noted that it might take up to six years to correct." It doesn't sound to me like he's losing very much sleep over it!

If Jews and non-evangelical Christians are being harassed in this way, just imagine how Muslim cadets might be treated there - if there are any who dare to apply. It's becoming clear that at least some of the people who are fighting the war on terror do think that it's a religious war - evangelical Christianity vs. everyone else.