Tuesday, December 28, 2004

My thanks to Rua da Judiaria for naming my blog on his "Magen David'Ouro Os Melhores Blogs de 2004." I appreciate the boost - now, can you tell me what this means in Portuguese?

Monday, December 27, 2004

And then, for the really important news: At least 24,000 people killed by the Southeast Asian earthquake and tsunami catastrophe. "The wall of water up to 10 meters tall flattened houses, hurled fishing boats onto coastal roads, sent cars spinning through swirling waters into hotel lobbies and sucked sunbathers, babies and fishermen off beaches and out to sea. Worst affected were Sri Lanka where over 12,000 were killed, India where officials reported as many as 5,600 could be dead, Indonesia with 4,991 drowned and the southern tourist isles of Thailand where at least 866 were feared to have lost their lives. Many of the dead were foreign tourists."

I'm visiting Israel right now, and Ha'aretz reports that an Israeli medical team went to Sri Lanka today.

To give aid for emergency relief, go to the American Jewish World Service website, among many others.

AJWS is sending humanitarian aid to the people affected by the tsunami caused by the world's largest earthquake in 40 years. More than 22,000 people are known dead and thousands are still missing in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Burma, and Maldives. For several years, AJWS has partnered with 22 non-governmental, community-based organizations in the region on sustainable community development projects. AJWS is working with these local groups to assess needs and provide emergency relief - food, water, shelter and medicine - and long-term development support.

Donations for this relief effort are being sought and can be made by mail, phone or Web site: American Jewish World Service, Asia Tsunami Relief, 45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018, 800-889-7146.

To donate on-line to AJWS, go to: AJWS secure website.

West Bank Settlers to Wear Orange Stars

And DovBear also comments on the story about the WEST BANK SETTLERS TO WEAR ORANGE STARS. On this point, Ha'aretz points out that this particular tactic seems to have backfired.
In Israel, home to the world's largest number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, opposition to the orange patch was fierce, cutting with ease across ideological lines.

Perhaps the clearest, most potent voice in opposition came from a most unexpected source, the army's highest-ranking religiously observant officer, a major general who is himself the child of Holocaust survivors."They belong to Holocaust deniers, those settlers who wear the star," IDF Personnel Branch commander Elazar Stern said. "This truly plays into the hands of those who say that the Holocaust was just some legitimate phenomenon that happened in history, the result of a people taking a democratic decision," Stern said. "If what was done during the Holocaust resembles what we are doing to them, then apparently the Holocaust was not all that bad, not all that unique, especially in our own history."

Stern spoke poignantly over the weekend of his parents' experiences in the death camps, where his mother lost her twin sisters, mother and grandmother at the whim of Nazi death camp doctor Joseph Mengele, and his father was forced to eat horse carcasses to survive.

Appearing on Channel Two television's highly-rated "Meet the Press," he quoted his parents as having called the idea of the orange patch "madness." Asked what he himself thought of the idea, he replied, "I think that it is madness."
I have a hard time feeling sorry for Gaza settlers who will receive many thousands of dollars when they leave Gaza, while hundreds of thousands of Israelis don't have enough to eat EVERY DAY. And those same poor Israelis within the Green Line will be paying for the ample compensation for Gaza settlers. There was a harrowing article in the most recent Jerusalem Report about poor elderly people in Israel - the most horrifying example was a 105-year old woman who is fed every day by other (slightly less) elderly people from Ezrat Avot, since the maximum old-age pension one gets from the National Insurance Institute is about 1400 NIS per month.

William Donahue - the Jews control Hollywood!

As pointed out by DovBear, William Donahue, the president of the Catholic League, has finally revealed his anti-semitic beliefs - the Jews do control Hollywood! On the show "Scarborough Country," for December 8, the question was whether "Fahrenheit 9/11" or "The Passion" should win an Oscar in 2005 (my hope is that neither will get it...). On the show were, among others, Pat Buchanan (acting as the antisemitic host), Shmuely Boteach, defending the Jews but also making sure we understood his conservative bonafides, and William Donahue.
Who really cares what Hollywood thinks?  All these hacks come out there.  Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.  It‘s not a secret, OK?  And I‘m not afraid to say it.  That‘s why they hate this movie.  It‘s about Jesus Christ, and it‘s about truth.  It‘s about the messiah. 

Hollywood likes anal sex.  They like to see the public square without nativity scenes.  I like families.  I like children.  They like abortions.  I believe in traditional values and restraint.  They believe in libertinism.  We have nothing in common.  But you know what?  The culture war has been ongoing for a long time.  Their side has lost. 

You have got secular Jews.  You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins.  Frankly, Michael Moore represents a cult movie.  Mel Gibson represents the mainstream of America.
Read the whole transcript for many other fine sentiments from Donahue, Buchanan and other sterling guests.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

AJS 2004: How to Expel Demons with Pictures

I am currently trying to finish my paper for the Association for Jewish Studies meeting, which is occurring this coming weekend (panic!). Abstract of my paper follows:
How to Expel Demons with Pictures:
Performance Theory and the Aramaic Incantation Bowls
The Aramaic incantation bowls (4th-8th centuries C.E.), used by Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and others in Sassanian Babylonia, are inscribed earthenware bowls whose purpose was to exorcise demons, cure illness, protect against evil spirits, and save one’s children from Lilith and other demons. Most studies of the bowls, found in archaeological excavations in present-day Iraq and Iran, have concentrated on the written texts and not on the bowls’ pictorial depictions. In fact, the remains of the incantation bowls are filled with images – of demons, the person to be exorcised, and weapons directed against evil forces. The images also include what the ancient texts call “charakteres” – letter-like figures that appear to belong to unknown alphabets. This paper examines the images found on the bowls and their relation to the bowl texts and discusses why those who made the bowls and other amulets found it meaningful to use pictures and characters in concert with words, and explores how the pictures and characters cross cultural and political boundaries. The paper explores the use of performance theory, as exemplified by the work of Stanley Tambiah and J. L. Austin, to understand these images in their material and ritual context. Were the images considered efficacious when used alone, or was it necessary to accompany them with words? This paper concludes that it is important to analyze the pictures along with the words in order to fully appreciate this aspect of ancient Jewish material culture.
Instead of working on the paper today I sat and read many papers for my modern Jewish history course - some of them even well-written - mostly on the founding of the state of Israel and the history of the Holocaust (these were two different topics). I would have preferred that the students not write about the Holocaust but most of them opted for this as a paper topic. Perhaps the next time I teach the course I will speak about the way that fascination with the Holocaust has become a mainstay of American Jewish identity and question perhaps whether this is healthy or justifiable.

Next semester in my introduction to Judaism course we will be reading Elie Wiesel's Night, as part of a unit on Jewish theology. Afterwards I intend to introduce the idea that the committing of genocide did not end with the Shoah, and provide information about the slaughter in Darfur and some of the contemporary Jewish responses to it. A couple of years ago when I taught the book for the first time we discussed the meaning of the slogan "Never Again," and it became clear to me that the students (mostly Jewish) had learned it from their synagogue educations, but that it was essentially devoid of content for them. Perhaps if we pay attention to a currently-occurring genocide (which the world seems to be doing its best NOT to prevent) then the real meaning of "Never Again" will become clear to us.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Impossible Introspection

It’s amazing that the semester leaves so little time for any real introspection – it seems to me that it simply dies away with no encouragement. I spend all my time thinking about my students, what will work in class, grading papers, preparing myself to stand in front of the class, worrying about what they think about me – and often feeling that I don’t present myself as I truly am to them or to anyone else. But how much would I want to reveal about myself to them? I don’t know, I’m not sure – but sometimes it seems to me that better teachers actually reveal more, not necessarily in words & personal details, but in the way they embody their teaching. And then at the same time they make it more possible for the students to be honest about themselves, their motives, their motivations.

I was just thinking of that passage in the fourth Harry Potter book where the fake “Mad-Eye Moody” is saying that he disabled his truth-telling devices, because there was so much outright lying that students did – lying to teachers about why their essays were late or were not handed in or why they had not done the work, etc. I think the same sort of device would also have to be disabled at any college I’ve ever taught at! It’s frustrating, the level of artifice and dissimulation that exists between the students and us.

And then the semester just seems to eat up any motivation to do something other than teaching, or doing research (which definitely runs a poor second). This summer I was very upset about Darfur and really wanted to do something about it – but now? I went to one meeting about it and had a couple of conversations with students. I tried to raise the topic with friends, usually unsuccessfully. I don’t know why I was so unsuccessful – perhaps the presidential election just soaked up everyone’s political energies. But now at least there does seem to be some activism about it in the Jewish community. Our rabbi spoke about Darfur during this Shabbat’s service, and in the most recent issue of the Temple newsletter there was a page about Darfur.

The Klezmatics came today to give a Hanukkah concert – singing the Hanukkah songs of Woody Guthrie (who would have thought it?!). It was beautiful, energetic music. Their last song was called “On Holy Ground” – about the experience of revelation, when God demands we take off our shoes because we are standing on holy ground. Because this was an afternoon concert with songs meant for children, and many of those who came brought their kids, there was a lot of dancing down in front. I went to dance during the next to last, incredibly energetic song, and then during “On Holy Ground” a young man took off his shoes very elaborately (they were hiking books with lots of hooks and the laces took a long time to get off) and danced a gorgeous dance, as if no one else was there.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Exorcisms and Amulets in the Israeli elections of 1996 and 1999

For the last class meeting of my Jewish Magic and Ritual Power course, we watched part of the 1937 Yiddish move, Der Dibek, after having finished reading Yossi Chajes' fascinating book on spirit possession in 16th century Jewish communities, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism.

In order to illustrate how acts of ritual power can become part of modern politics, I also handed out articles on a case of modern-day dybbuk possession that roiled the Israel elections in the spring of 1999. One contemporary account (from the right-wing Israeli radio station, Arutz Sheva) reported (April 27, 1999):
The media in Israel have widely reported the removal ceremony of a "dybbuk" [wandering soul] that was performed by kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri, together with some 30 other rabbis, in a Jerusalem yeshiva in mid-April. The event has aroused reactions from many quarters, ranging from total scorn to a desire to repent. It was broadcast live over haredi radio stations, and many people were invited to the ceremony, in order to "publicize the sanctification of G-d's Name, and to cause more people to believe in the existence of an afterlife" -- according to Rabbi Batzri's son, Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri. The younger Rabbi Batzri told Arutz-7 radio that an "unbelievable amount of people have called and expressed the desire to observe the commandments as a result."

Rabbi Batzri [the son] related that a woman whose husband had died three and a half years ago had recently been plagued by the soul of her husband, which "entered her body and spoke from within her in his own voice to his sons and friends....The woman underwent terrible suffering. Finally, after great hesitations, my father agreed to perform this ceremony, feeling that the life of the woman was at stake -- for the dybbuk had threatened to kill her by choking." In a subsequent conversation with an Arutz-7 correspondent, the younger Rabbi Batzri explained that a "wandering" soul suffers more than one that faces immediate divine punishment. In the exorcism ceremony, Rabbi Batzri is heard talking forcefully with the dybbuk, whose short answers are delivered in a raspy and sometimes unclear voice. "My father told the dybbuk over and over that he has no right to harm anyone....The dybbuk said he had committed many sins, but did not want to elaborate....My father then performed a "tikkun" [sublimation of the soul], and forced the dybbuk to exit the woman's body through her toe. She later felt great pain there for a few hours, but now, thank G-d, she is perfectly healthy." The entire ceremony [in Hebrew] may be heard on the Arutz-7 website....
[I checked the Arutz-7 website and it appears to have been taken down].

A Christian Science Monitor article, A world of trinkets and tombs reported on how the dybbuk exorcism had become part of the Shas election campaign. In a previous election, that of 1996, Shas used another technique taken from the world of Jewish ritual power - amulets - to induce people to vote for them.
Just days before national elections in 1996, Shas distributed thousands of amulets - religious good-luck charms - in the form of mystic prayer keepsakes personally written by Kabalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie. The nonagenarian Mr. Kadourie is the spiritual mentor of Shas - sort of their living patron saint. Followers say he is the only Kabalist in this generation with the power to write amulets that include the secret names of angels and arcane abbreviations that can protect a house from evil. But these particular amulets were given out to recipients with the instruction that Kadourie wanted people to vote for Shas - and for Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu. In an election upset in which Mr. Netanyahu won by only 0.5 percent of the vote, the amulets provoked outrage among secular Israeli politicians. Last fall, a judge ruled that the distribution of such items at election time constituted gift-giving and was thus illegal.

This time around, Shas's campaign distributed and screened two videotapes at rallies in the weeks before the May 17 election. The tapes, say some analysts and Shas activists, contributed to the party's electoral triumph. One was of a recent exorcism by a Kabalist rabbi with close ties to Aryeh Deri, who resigned recently as leader of Shas, after he was convicted on charges of fraud and bribe-taking during his tenure as a government minister. The rabbi, David Batzri, has declined all requests for interviews. But his son, a young rabbi who has permission to speak on his father's behalf, was willing to explain their philosophy in a meeting at their new four-story yeshiva in Jerusalem. "We didn't prevent anyone from taping [the exorcism] because we knew that seeing it could make all the world believe in life after death," says Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri. The need for exorcisms is rare, he says, and as such, it was the first time his father ever performed one. "My father didn't want this tape to focus on politics or Deri, but to prove the existence of the afterlife," says Mr. Batzri. "We don't get involved in politics, but it's true that Shas is a spiritual movement. And if someone sees this tape, he may become a more spiritual person and, naturally, vote Shas. Many people who saw this tape said they [decided] to vote Shas." Despite that, he says, he and his father don't support the use of amulets or candidate endorsements before elections. Although his father studied with the premier Kabalist himself - Rabbi Kadourie - Batzri says they shun any direct involvement in politics.
Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri's claim that this was the first exorcism his father had ever performed appears to be false, because an earlier article from the Jerusalem Post (August 8, 1996) reported that he had advertised for a mass exorcism of dybbuks in 1996.
A GROUP of kabbalists are to gather next week to conduct a mass public prayer to exorcise "dybbuks" from people suffering from mental and emotional problems. This will be the first time such prayers are held in public. The prayers will be conducted on Monday in Yeshivat Hashalom in Jerusalem, which is headed by Rabbi David Batzri, a leading kabbalist. The date marks the yahrzeit of Batzri's grandfather, Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya, who was known for his ability to heal people with severe emotional problems.
I will be visiting Israel later on this month so the possibility of terror attacks is more on my mind than usual. I'll be there for almost three weeks to visit friends, tour around a little, and get some research done at the National Library in Jerusalem. Our semester is about to end, so I have the time to do some traveling. While there I expect to continue working on an article that I gave a presentation on at the Society of Biblical Literature conference last month.

What follows is an abstract of my SBL paper, ""He Shall Not Look at a Woman": Gender in the Hekhalot Literature."

The Hekhalot literature contains many ascetic prescriptions that the mystic must follow to invoke angels or enter the hekhalot – prescriptions which imply that the world of the Merkabah was a male-only world. The male adepts must avoid any contact with women, including not looking at women and not eating food prepared by women. A distant contact with menstrual impurity suffices to recall Rabbi Nehuniah b. Ha-Qanah from his Hekhalot vision. This paper examines the Hekhalot requirements of ritual and sexual purity that prohibited the male mystic’s contact with women, and the concomitant assumption in the Hekhalot texts that only men can engage in mystical practices. It attempts to answer the following question: Why were there no female Hekhalot mystics and why was the visionary experience "gendered male" in the Hekhalot literature? This question arises because the comparative evidence from early Christianity and early Islam differs so much from the Jewish sources. Early Christian texts present literary expressions of women's ability to receive revelation from angels. In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will have a son; in 1 Cor. 11–14, Paul refers to both women and men speaking "the tongues of angels. The Montanists’ female prophets received wisdom from angels. Women participated in early Christian ascetic and monastic movements. The woman mystic Rabi'a, whose teachings are revered by later Sufis, was a prominent figure in early Sufism. Why, in contrast, were Jewish women’s mystical experiences not recorded and their absence required from Hekhalot circles?
Despite the hopeful signs after the death of Arafat that another window for peace is opening, Hamas is doing its best to prevent any peaceful possibilities with its latest attack - 5 IDF soldiers killed in Gaza tunnel blast.

On another note, the E. Jerusalem terror cell suspected of committing the Cafe Hillel bombing (on Emek Refaim) in September 2003 has been seized. This was the attack in which Dr. David Appelbaum and his daughter Naava, along with five others, were killed.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

This is an utterly fascinating story from the Jerusalem Post - B'Tselem and the IDF: Unlikely partners - the Israeli army has been hosting lectures by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which relentlessly criticizes the army.

Publicly, the army has long followed a practice of either responding to some of B'Tselem's flow of allegations with a robust defense of its actions, or choosing to ignore them. Privately, and remarkably, however, it has gradually been exposing more and more of its soldiers directly to their B'Tselem critics.

B'Tselem staff have been delivering lectures to the IDF, at the Military Educational Academy at Har Gilo, south of Jerusalem, on a sporadic basis since the mid 1990s. But over the past two years, precisely as B'Tselem's critiques of the army have reached new heights, the frequency of such lectures has increased dramatically.

In close coordination with senior officers from the IDF's Educational Corps, B'Tselem staffers now lecture at least two or three times a month to a broad spectrum of IDF soldiers including Border Police, the officers who staff the District Coordination offices handling entry permits for Palestinian civilians, officers training for the Educational Corps, and members of a new checkpoint unit.

Would that the U.S. army was sponsoring similar lectures by Amnesty International and the International Red Cross!
On a much lighter note than the previous two posts: if you've ever had a hankering to own the Ark of the Covenant, a small scale model is now available for only $12.95: Welcome to Archie McPhee Online.
More evidence of prisoner abuse by American troops in Iraq, this time by Navy SEALS: Navy Probes New Iraq Prisoner Photos.
This is disgusting -- Israeli officer: I was right to shoot 13-year-old child.
An Israeli army officer who repeatedly shot a 13-year-old Palestinian girl in Gaza dismissed a warning from another soldier that she was a child by saying he would have killed her even if she was three years old.
More on this from Ha'aretz: Officer on tape says he 'confirmed kill' of Gaza girl
Channel Two's documentary show Fact broadcast last night the army communications network tape recording of the real-time events, including videotape, in which R. is heard explicitly stating he "verified the kill." The tape showed that the soldiers at the outpost kept firing at the girl even after she had been identified by soldiers as "about 10 years old."

The October 5 event took place around 7 in the morning, when a soldier on duty at the outpost spotted a "suspicious figure" about 100 meters from the outpost. Soldiers immediately began firing at the figure while R., the outpost commander, together with some officers and soldiers, left the outpost and took up a position behind a sand rampart next to the outpost.

The soldiers said they thought she was planting a bomb. The girl's family said she was on her way to school when she was shot. According to the indictment, R. charged the girl after she was shot and fired two rounds at her from close range. He began walking away, then turned around and shot her again.

"The accused stood similarly to the way he stood when he shot her twice - pointed his weapon downward and shot, this time on automatic, approximately 10 bullets until he emptied his magazine," the indictment says. It is not known whether the girl was already dead when he shot her. At the time, Palestinian hospital officials said the girl was shot at least 15 times, mostly in the upper body.
Here's another Ha'aretz article on the same horrible incident Analysis / Absolutely illegal:
But that is far from the key question in the case. At least from the moral aspect, the main question is why the company commander and his soldiers fired at the girl who was 100 meters away from the outpost, was not armed, was not a danger to the soldiers inside the protected outpost, and when at least some of the soldiers knew that it was a little girl. A soldiers is explicitly heard saying "it's a little girl," and that she is "scared to death." Nonetheless, the shooting went on. Moreover, R. himself reports later that he shot "the girl."

No less important is the tone of the voices on the tape. Officers trying to explain what happened constantly said that the areas is dangerous, and that the soldiers were under threat. But that does not come across in the voices of the soldiers. They don't sound worried or pressured, but almost apathetic. They seem to be shooting because those are the orders - to shoot at anyone who comes close, even if some know it's only a girl, and there is no sense of fear. It seems, at least, that the order to shoot is blatantly illegal, and therefore the soldiers should have refused it. The question becomes, therefore, why only the company commander is being prosecuted, and only for illegal use of his weapon and not for manslaughter at the very least.
And so is this: Torture Can Be Used to Detain U.S. Enemies.
U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of foreigners as enemy combatants are allowed to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to keep them imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government conceded in court Thursday.

The acknowledgment by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle came during a U.S. District Court hearing on lawsuits brought by some of the 550 foreigners imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The lawsuits challenge their detention without charges for up to three years so far.

Attorneys for the prisoners argued that some were held solely on evidence gained by torture, which they said violated fundamental fairness and U.S. due process standards. But Boyle argued in a similar hearing Wednesday that the detainees "have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court."
And so is this: Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo.

The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."

Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners' mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators, the report said, sometimes directly, but usually through a group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators, the report said.
So tell me, what does differentiate us from our enemies?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Anti-semitic editorial from the Duke University student newspaper

Via Bloghead, an anti-semitic editorial from the Duke University student newspaper, The Jews . The author, using classic anti-semitic tropes, objects to Jews and others organizing on the Duke campus against the latest conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

One part of his argument seems to be calling, in an underhanded way, for the return of the "Jewish quota" for American elite colleges and universities:
It is well known that Jews constitute the most privileged “minority” group in this country. Among the top 10 universities, Jews enjoy shocking overrepresentation: Only the California Institute of Technology has an undergraduate Jewish population below 10 percent, and four schools have particularly stark Jewish advantages—Harvard (30 percent), Yale (23 percent), UPenn (31 percent) and Columbia (25 percent). Keep in mind that, at best estimate, no more than 3 percent of all Americans are Jewish.
Another part condemns Jews for gaining acceptance in the United States because we are now seen as "white":
While Jews undoubtedly lay claim to a long history of racism and genocide that continues across the world today, this characterization does not transport perfectly to the United States. After World War II, overt anti-Semitism gradually subsided, in part because of American response to Hitler’s murderous regime, but largely due to Jewish association with whiteness and the privileges white skin affords. In short, Jews can renounce their difference by taking off the yarmulke. Clearly, this is not a luxury enjoyed by all minority groups.
He continues by condemning President Clinton for appointing two Jews as Supreme Court Justices, and to argue that Jews "have the right to move seamlessly between the majority and minority."
When former President Bill Clinton nominated his first two judges to the Supreme Court, both were Jews.  Remarkable in the slightest? No, of course not. But the American public still can’t get over Clarence Thomas’s cultural heritage, after being appointed by Bush 41. To be Jewish is to have the right to move seamlessly between the majority and minority, without constraint. Thus, Jewish-American appropriation of the “oppressed” moniker is disingenuous, belying the reality of America’s social hierarchy.
This vile editorial, which displays some of the classic arguments of both rightwing and leftwing anti-semitism (right: there are too many of those Jews in our universities; left: how dare those Jews pretend they're oppressed?), is a depressing example of the entrance of classic anti-semitism into the elite American university. I haven't followed this controversy in detail, but this certainly is a mournful sign of the times.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Another chilling Nicholas Kristof op-ed on Darfur - As Humans Are Hunted. He says that the Sudanese government was unwilling to give him a visa, so he snuck over the border from Chad.
The area is desolate and throbs with malevolence, with villages burned and abandoned and survivors hiding from the Janjaweed and the Sudanese Army. Tearing across the desert in a pickup truck, I see more gazelles than humans. When survivors see my vehicle, they tend to hide. And, frankly, when I see a man, my impulse is to hide as well. That makes interviews difficult....

It's progress that the world has denounced the genocide without waiting the customary 10 years before wringing its hands in regret. But there are many other steps the United States could take: a no-flight zone, an arms embargo, an asset freeze on businesses owned by Sudan's ruling party, and greater teamwork with African and Islamic countries to exert more pressure on Sudan.

President Bush is already in the forefront of the world leaders who have addressed the slaughter in Darfur, and he has done far more than President Clinton did during the Rwandan genocide. But there is so much more the United States can still do.

Mr. President, you pride yourself on your willingness to stand up to evil - so why do you remain so passive in the face of such evil?
Here in Ithaca I see the first public stirrings of concern. Professor John Weiss of the History Department at Cornell made a documentary over the summer about the genocide in Darfur, which will be shown next Tuesday, October 19, at 4:30 in the Willard Straight Hall Cinema. Cornell Hillel is also exhibiting photographs at Cornell next week "to raise awareness and promote discussion."

At the same time, there will be a panel discussion sponsored by the Institute for African Development: Ali B. Ali-Dinar, African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania will speak on "Genocide in Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan". The web site says that he is the 'the founder of "Darfur Information Center', an on-line source for information about Darfur region of western Sudan." This will be in Auditorium D, Goldwin Smith Hall at Cornell.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Our intrepid Secretary of State makes his views known: Powell Says Saudi Women Should Have Vote. He says: "It is a decision for the Saudis to make, Powell said, but 'in every society in the world women have to be able to play their full role.'"
I am struck by this story, in which the Saudi government claims it can't organize local elections with women participating,
Saudi Women Can't Vote, Run in Elections
, while in Afghanistan many women voted in the Presidential election (about 40% of the voters were women, apparently). When watching the news story yesterday, there were many shots of long lines of women voting, or of women officials dealing with the ballot boxes. If the Afghans, living in a poor, still war-torn country, where women are definitely not equal to men, can manage to organize women's voting, then what excuse do the Saudis have? And these people are our allies!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Via another Jewish blog, I just found a new and very delightful blog by a Renegade Rebbetzin. For obvious reasons she's anonymous, but she writes beautifully and is also very funny!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The sad cost of Israel's attacks in Gaza: The High Cost of Israel's Gaza Mission: Innocent Victims. And why does Sharon not evacuate all Israeli settlers and soldiers as rapidly as possible from Gaza? Why must the withdrawal happen next summer? And how many more people, Israelis and Palestinians, will have to die before Israelis leave Gaza?

Friday, October 08, 2004

Thursday, October 07, 2004

One of the stories on Israel Radio was about the hundreds of people who showed up to donate blood for the wounded from the terror attacks in Egypt. One young man was quoted saying that he had to go to donate blood because he had himself visited the places that had been attacked - it could have easily been him or his friends who were victims. The Sinai desert, especially the beach resorts, are favorite places for Israelis to go on vacation. On one trip I made to Israel a friend convinced me to go to Sinai with her. We stayed at a rather run-down resort at Nuweiba, in a hut by the sea, and went snorkeling together. It was beautiful but the accommodations were rather uncomfortable. Also, it was during Passover (a favorite time for Israelis to visit Sinai, paradoxically enough), and I had to carry a lot of matzoh with me. Apparently one of the attacks last night was near Nuweiba, at a place called Ras al-Shaitan.

It's not known yet who the attackers were - some organization called the "World Islamic Organization" took responsibility, but this organization is not known. The Israeli newspapers were raising the possibility that Hamas or possibly Al-Qaeda were responsible for the attacks.
I've been listening to Israeli Radio's "Reshet Bet" (their news and music station) for more news on what's happened in Egypt - if you want to listen, go to Reshet Bet and click on "Bet Live" - it will make a connection via Windows Media Player.

Note: of course, it's in Hebrew. There are English broadcasts from Israel Radio available on line, but you couldn't get them live because they are much less frequent.
I was about to go to synagogue tonight for the Simhat Torah service when I heard on the radio that there had been a terrorist attack at the Taba Hilton Hotel - At least 35 dead in three Sinai explosions. I watched the ABC television news and saw a rather disgusting report that attempted to blame this attack on the current fighting in Gaza - despite the fact that an attack like this would have taken quite a lot of planning and that on September 9 the Israeli security services "published a severe terror threat, warning Israelis against travelling to Egypt and Sinai."

Perhaps the ABC bureau chief in Jerusalem was getting his opinion from the Egyptian government spokesman, who "linked the blasts to the Israeli military operation against the Palestinians in the neighboring Gaza Strip, where 84 Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli offensive that began on Sept. 29 to stop militants from firing homemade rockets into Israel. 'I think the explosions are very related to what is going on in Gaza,' Rady told AP. 'We condemn these attacks, which have harmed many people...I think it is very probable that there is a link between these three explosions.' he added. 'It is very unlikely they happened by chance.'" This, of course, completely ignores the fact that the Israelis had warned long before the Isareli offensive in Gaza.

The terrorist attack definitely put a damper for me on the Simhat Torah service - I kept thinking about the people who had been killed and injured in Egypt. It made it harder to have the proper spirit of celebration.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I found another interesting Saudi blog (via Mahmood's blog) - Saudi Jeans. It's written by a college student in Riyadh. Thus far, highly recommended.

On another topic - I didn't watch the Kerry-Bush debate, but I did listen to much of it - and it certainly sounded to me as if Kerry was speaking better and more clearly than Bush. And now Newsweek is reporting that he's gained back his losses in the polls since the Republican Convention. May this continue to be true!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

I just read the NYTimes magazine article in today's newspaper about political weblogs - and was disgusted to discover that they only pay attention to the high-profile left-wing blogs. They don't even mention Little Green Footballs, which was one of the blogs that was instrumental in proving that the memos Dan Rather had received about President Bush's service in the National Guard were faked. Much as my liberal heart wishes the memos had been real, they weren't, and Dan Rather and CBS blew it.

I certainly don't always agree with LGF (and certainly not with many of the commenters there), but on the other hand, this is just ridiculous! The article is crowing about how wonderful the left-wing blogs are and how they are acting like right-wing talk radio in their political impact - but how can you just ignore the importance of the right-wing blogs as well? This was not a news story, it was advocacy journalism masquerading as a news story. Charles Johnson at LGF is absolutely correct to say, "The New York Times, with help from Matthew Klam, is trying to make us all disappear." I have thought for many years that the NYTimes Magzine has gone way down hill from its glory days, but this is a particularly egregious example. As far as I'm concerned they should stop pretending it's a newsmagazine, and turn it into what they obviously really want it to be - a style magazine that operates as an appendage to the fashion industry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

For those of you interested in the Zayed Centre in the United Arab Emirates Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica.com has a long report on how the UAE government is trying to pretend that never had anti-semitic speakers or sponsored anti-semitic conferences. The Centre has been closed down for a while, but in its heyday it ran a conference on "Semitism," i.e., the evil things that Jews do that has to be combated by "anti-semitism."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

I am apparently Purple and Proud of It (washingtonpost.com), as Richard Cohen argues in the Washington Post.

I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush or, as someone here told me, to consider his possible reelection as a reason to leave the country. In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue, pushing me by revulsion into a color I otherwise would not have. For instance, I have just read Nicholson Baker's novel "Checkpoint," an audacious and repellent work about whether the assassination of Bush would be warranted. What concerns me is not one man's loss of perspective but the milieu, the zeitgeist, that produced it. Lots of people must have told Baker he had a capital idea -- a book that just had to be published -- and with alacrity. He was Paul Revere in print.

I bump into these anti-Bush alarmists all the time. Recently an extremely successful and erudite man I much admire told me he viewed the upcoming election as something akin to September 1939, the time when World War II started and, among other things, European Jewry was all but snuffed out. I add that bit about the Holocaust because the man I was talking to had been born a European Jew. I could hardly believe my ears.

This is not the place to examine why Bush is so hated by some people, though the war in Iraq surely takes pride of place. But even before that particular war, I heard people denounce the one in Afghanistan, that Taliban-controlled horror that harbored Osama bin Laden. These people are infected with a corrosive doubt about their own country. A recent Pew Research Center poll found, for instance, that 51 percent of Democrats agreed with the proposition that "U.S. wrongdoing" contributed to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (only 17 percent of Republicans agreed). Those are astounding numbers, an indictment not really of America (for what?) but of those people who compulsively blame their own country for the faults of others. You can believe that U.S. support of Israel and the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, but the term Pew used was "wrongdoing." In this respect, these people and Osama bin Laden are in agreement.

The demonization of Bush is going to cost John Kerry plenty if it hasn't already. It so overstates the case against Bush that a levelheaded listener would be excused for thinking that there isn't one in the first place. It squeezes the middle, virtually forcing moderates to pick which bunch of nuts they're going to join. It's hard to know whom to loathe more -- religious zealots who would censor my reading and deny me the fruits of stem cell research or fervid hallucinators who belittle Saddam Hussein's crimes (or even Sept. 11) and wonder, in the throes of perpetual adolescence, whether the assassination of the president would not amount to a political mercy killing. It's all pretty repugnant.

But some of us cherish moderation, recoil from conspiracy theories and would like, if possible, to stick to the facts. We may dislike Bush's policies, but we do not vitriolically hate the man, think he stole the election or blame our own country for the crimes of Sept. 11. We are the proud Purples -- once the royal color, now the tattered banner of common sense.

I don't like many of President Bush's policies, and certainly don't agree with his prejudices (for example, his insistence that we need an amendment to the Constitution to protect the U.S. from gay marriage), but I do not hate him as an individual person.
Rabbi Yossi Dayan, who said that he would be willing to perform the Pulsa Denura ceremony against Prime Minister Sharon, may be indicted for inciting to murder, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I named this weblog "Mystical Politics" in part to discuss the nexus between mysticism and politics. For the most part, I have sometimes discussed mysticism, and often politics, but rarely together. Today a news story from Israel expresses the connection between them very acutely. The Pulsa Denura curse is back, this time potentially targeting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. A rabbi from Kiryat Arba, a settlement next to Hebron, is calling for Sharon's death.

Rabbi says would hold Kabbalah ritual calling for PM's death
By Haaretz Service

Jerusalem police are stepping up their probe of phoned threats to murder Prime Minister Ariel Sharon if the Gaza disengagement plan is not called off. On Tuesday night Rabbi Yossi Dayan, a former member of the outlawed Kach party, declared on Channel 2 that he would be prepared to carry out a ceremony putting a curse on Sharon.

The ceremony, called Pulsa Denura, was carried out before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

Dayan, a resident of Kiryat Arba, said that he would be willing to conduct the ceremony if other rabbis instructed him to do so, and added that when he was asked to perform the ceremony against Rabin, he did so. The rabbi said that the security services and the police had questioned about this. "We are forbidden from talking now. We cannot pray. We cannot think. We cannot feel," Dayan said. "The head of the Security Service, [Avi] Dichter says that there are people wishing that Sharon would die. I am among them. What? Can't I wish?" he said.

Following Dayan's statements, the Judea and Samaria police are initiating an investigation against him of incitement to murder. Ilan Franco, chief of the capital's police, said priority has been raised of investigations into telephone threats against Sharon and Yonatan Bassi, who is in charge of implementing the disengagement plan. Franco also said that the police were tightening the security around the offices of the Disengagement Directorate in Jerusalem. He added that the police are also making preparations for securing the Temple Mount against extremists as the date for the implementation of the disengagement plan approaches.

"We intensified the security around the Temple Mount, security that was already in place. We certainly took into account the fact that extremist elements on both sides, not necessarily Jews, will seek to carry out an attack, in an effort to block the diplomatic process," Franco said.

Police and State Prosecutor officers are also continuing to examine the statements made and posters carried during the rightist mass rally in Jerusalem on Sunday for illegal incitement. "We culled banners during the rally that we thought should be examined by the Prosecutor's Office. If the prosecutor sees fit to instruct us to do so, we will initiate an investigation into the matter," Franco said.

When I read this, I went to the Lexis-Nexis database to try to find out about the Pulsa Denura curse carried out against Prime Minister Rabin before his assassination.

In the November 16, 1995 issue of the Jerusalem Report, in an article obviously written before Rabin's death, Peter Hirschberg reported on the ritual directed against Rabin, which was also invoked earlier, during the 1991 Gulf War, against Saddam Hussein. Although he does not name him in this article, Rabbi Yossi Dayan was apparently the rabbi who conducted the ceremony against Rabin, as this Reuters story points out.

YITZHAK RABIN DOES NOT have long to live. The angels have their orders.

Suffering and death await the prime minister, or so say the kabbalists who have cursed him with the pulsa denura - Aramaic for "lashes of fire" - for his "heretical" policies. "He's inciting against Judaism," says the Jerusalem rabbi who, clad in tefillin, read out the most terrifying of curses in the tradition of Jewish mysticism - opposite Rabin's residence on the eve of Yom Kippur.

"And on him, Yitzhak son of Rosa, known as Rabin," the Aramaic text stated, "we have permission... to demand from the angels of destruction that they take a sword to this wicked man... to kill him ... for handing over the Land of Israel to our enemies, the sons of Ishmael."

The rabbi, who won't have his name published but identifies himself as a member of the far-right Kach movement, says the curse generally works within 30 days. That put the expiry date - for Rabin or the curse - in early November.

For Jewish mystics of both North African and East European descent, curses taken from the tradition of "practical Kabbalah" are heavy weaponry - not to be used every day, but certainly available in wars, religious struggles and even political battles. Not only the ultra-Orthodox but many traditional-leaning Israelis regard them with the utmost seriousness.

Curses like the one against Rabin, explains sociologist Menachem Friedman, an expert on the ultra-Orthodox, are ways for the powerless to deal with impotence. "Magic," explains Friedman, "isn't used by the regime or the group in power. It's used by the powerless. When they do abracadabra ceremonies it shows that they're terrified. Magic gives them a sense of power."

Invoking the pulsa denura is a perilous undertaking, for if the ceremony is not performed in a strictly prescribed fashion, it can strike the conjurers themselves.

Before Rabin, the last person so cursed was Saddam Hussein. One day during the 1991 Gulf War, as Scuds rained down on Israel, a minyan of fasting kabbalists gathered at the tomb of the prophet Samuel just outside Jerusalem. There they entered a dark cave, where one of the holy men placed a copper tray on a rock and lit the 24 black candles he'd placed on it. As the mystics circled the candles, they chanted the curse seven times, calling on the angels not merely to visit death upon "Saddam the son of Sabha," but to ensure that his wife was given to another man.

That done, small lead balls and pieces of earthenware were thrown on the candles and the shofar was sounded. "The black candles," explains Yediot Aharonot journalist Amos Nevo, who documented the ceremony, "symbolize the person being cursed. When they're put out, it's as if the person's soul is being extinguished." Lead, he says, is for the ammunition in the war against the cursed one, earthenware symbolizes death, and the shofar opens the skies so the curse will be heard.

Saddam Hussein is still alive, although in prison, but Rabin is dead.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Friday, September 10, 2004

Once again, Sudan: The Passion of the Present reports superbly on what is happening in Darfur. My friend Gary Farber also has links to a very interesting article by Alex de Wall in the London Review of Books for August 5, 2004: Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap. One of the interesting points that the author makes is that the distinction between "Arabs" and "Africans" that often comes across as a "racial" distinction is relatively new in Sudan itself (new meaning in the last 20 years), as a result of political and ideological changes. He says, "Despite talk of 'Arabs' and 'Africans', it is rarely possible to tell on the basis of skin colour which group an individual Darfurian belongs to. All have lived there for centuries and all are Muslims." I am reminded of the "racial" distinctions between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, created in large measure through Belgian colonial policy in the early 20th century. Or of what happened when Yugoslavia was falling apart - people who under the Communist regime had married people of other religions or ethnic groups who now had to choose which one they belonged to, because they had to know which side of a war to fight on.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

On the day that we Americans are mourning over 1,000 Americans, mostly soldiers, who have died during the Iraq War, the AP reports that Thousands of Iraqis Estimated Killed. As with Vietnam, we mostly gaze inwards at our own losses, but to know the true cost of this war, we must notice all of the Iraqi dead as well.

A year ago, I supported this war. But then, a year ago, I thought that there would be no Iraqi insurgency right now, and that the U.S. military would not have lost control of important cities in Iraq like Fallujah. I thought that we were genuinely bringing a better life to Iraqis. Even though it seemed that there had not been weapons of mass destruction, the war was still justified by the fact that it destroyed a horrible dictatorship.

Now, I am not so sure. I cannot imagine turning the clock back to the regime of Saddam Hussein -- but what are we doing in Iraq? Do we have any goals? It seems that the Bush Administration is just hoping that things will turn around. I hate to say it, but this is starting to remind me of Vietnam.

My parents were initially supportive of the Vietnam War - I remember talking to them at the time (I was 12 at the time). In 1968 my mother turned against the war and worked for Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign. I'm starting to understand how her thinking turned around.
This self-criticism is very good, in reaction to the mass killings at the school in Beslan, Russia - School Siege in Russia Sparks Self-Criticism in Arab World - but one wonders if there would be the same reaction if Hamas had besieged an Israeli school and killed an equal number of children and their parents. I notice that in this article, it says that "A Palestinian columnist, Hassan al-Batal, wrote in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Ayyam that the 'day of horror in the school' should be designated an international day for the condemnation of terrorism. 'There are no mitigating circumstances for the inhuman horror and the height of barbarism'" at the school, he wrote. Has he ever condemned terrorism against Israeli civilians (for example, the two recent bus bombings in Beersheva?). If any of my readers have evidence that he has, I would be happy to post it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I was watching a PBS Nova program tonight on how the World Trade Center towers collapsed. I was marveling again at the people who had the presence of mind to videotape what was happening - especially the people who videoed the planes crashing into the towers. And I thought again about those who deny that the planes were hijacked, and who blame Israel for the attacks.

Carol Valentine, the notorious Holocaust denier who put up the site Come and Hear to demonstrate the wickedness of the Talmud, has many articles on her web site Public Action that purport to prove that Al Qaeda did not carry out the attacks and that it's the Mossad's fault. This article, Operation 911: NO SUICIDE PILOTS, claims to show that the four planes hijacked on 9/11/01 were actually piloted by robots and were not passenger planes.

LGF calls our attention to another version of this vicious slur.

For a slide show of the towers and the attack on them, see this LGF slide show.

And here are a series of stories from 9/11/01, collected last year by LGF.

The Black Day provides a different slide show of photographs from 9/11/01.

The New York Times has put online all of its Portraits of Grief, biographies of all the 9/11 victims that originally appeared in the newspaper in the months after the terrorist attacks.

CNN has a very useful site of all their stories about the terrorist attacks and the fight against Al Qaeda, including links to the 9/11 Commission report.

The lies and anti-semitism of the conspiracy theorists should not blind us to those who perpetrated these attacks and who still want to attack the United States. One does not have to accept what the Bush administration says about Iraq or the war on terror (for example, Vice President Cheney's ridiculous charge today that it will encourage Al Qaeda to attack again if Kerry is elected President) to recognize that we are, in fact, at war.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

On this same note of why certain things become causes -- the Catholic Worker in Ithaca has taken up the issue of the separation fence in Israel/Palestine. In the last week of August, they erected a sham "wall" on the Ithaca Commons with slogans on it, saying things like "end Israeli apartheid." I wish someone here could explain why this has become one of the "causes" of the local Catholic Worker group, especially because they deal with it in such a one-sided way. (on the wall was also written a slogan about something like "angels in Palestine") Why, for example, has the Sudan not become an issue for them?
This story -- The Scene: 52 Hours of Horror and Death for Captives at Russian School -- is truly horrifying. I don't know how the story is going to shake out -- i.e., how much the Russian security services are responsible for the high death toll, and how much the terrorists themselves -- but in any case this makes me feel that our world is sliding further into barbarism. Of course, there's also what the Russian government and military have been doing to the people of Chechnya over the last ten or so years - also truly horrifying, and with a much higher death toll, thus far.

I wonder why our good American left and right have not gotten exercised about what's happening in Russia and/or Chechnya. Is it simply because the U.S. is not involved, except through inaction? Why is it that certain causes become "fashionable," while others, in which thousands or millions of people die, remain totally unknown to most people except those who read the page 18, bottom of the page stories in the New York Times or Washington Post?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Passion of the Present reports that the UN has concluded that the Sudan has done nothing to stop the Janjaweed in Darfur from killing, raping, and driving people out of their homes. The report, however, does not recommend sanctions against Sudan, instead calling for a peace-keeping force of African Union troops to make humanitarian aid possible.

This is how genocide happens. Power politics between states prevents any action to help people in mortal danger. Does anyone remember the Evian Conference, in 1938? That was the conference where the U.S. and European countries discussed what to do with the Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, and with Jews who desperately sought to flee those countries. No state raised its immigration quotas to permit more Jews to enter. In fact, during the 1930's, the US immigration quotas for Germany were filled only one year to allow Jews from Germany to enter.

There's a poster available from Passion of the Present about the genocide in Darfur, plus a fact sheet.

Monday, August 30, 2004

According to Ha'aretz, the suspected arsonist of Paris Jewish center is Jewish.

PARIS - A man suspected of setting a fire that destroyed a Jewish community center in Paris last week is a Jewish former employee who was taken into police custody early Monday, a police spokesman said. The suspect, who was described as being in his 50s, was about to be fired, a police source said, and apparently wanted to avenge himself.

No official identification of the suspect in custody or explanation of his motive has so far been provided, but Army Radio said he may have been mentally unbalanced.

The arson attack on the community center, committed on August 22, was thought to have been carried out by neo-Nazis because anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas had been scrawled on the wall of the building. The fire provoked widespread outrage in France and prompted last week's three-day visit to Paris by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to discuss the French campaign against anti-Semitism. Shalom had demanded that French authorities react more harshly to anti-Semitic acts.

However, because of a number of clues, investigators had come to suspect that the fire may have been an "internal affair," rather than a racist act.

Saturday, August 28, 2004


Originally uploaded by reb-lesses.
I've just discovered how to upload pictures to my blog -- and here's a recent photo of my cat Zachary, in front of coneflowers on my lawn.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Neo-Nazis in Paris Burn a Jewish Community Center

This article on anti-semitism is France is very disturbing.

Fire swept through a Jewish community center in eastern Paris in the early morning hours on Sunday after arsonists broke into the building and scrawled swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans inside. It was the latest in a wave of neo-Nazi acts across the country....

Much of the neo-Nazi activity in France this year has been concentrated in the eastern region of Alsace, traditionally a German-speaking area along the German border. Officials there say Alsace's neo-Nazi movement is an extension of a broader movement in Germany. On Saturday, about 3,000 people took part in a neo-Nazi march in the German town of Wunsiedel, about 250 miles from Alsace, to commemorate the death, in 1987, of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess....

But the rise in neo-Nazi acts is particularly disturbing to Jews in France, who are already concerned about increasing anti-Semitism among the country's Arab youth. They fear that both anti-Semitic strains are growing....

According to statistics from the Interior Ministry, there have been 135 acts of physical violence against Jews so far this year and 95 against Arabs and other ethnic groups, though there are nearly 10 times as many Arabs as Jews in France.
As Velveteen Rabbi reminds us, we are now in the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah in the calendar. (Rosh Hashanah falls on the first and second days of Tishrei, the month after Elul). As I look out my window tonight, I can see the moon, a little less than half of it lit up. Rosh Hodesh Elul (the New Moon and beginning of Elul) was last Tuesday. This month is traditionally a time of preparation for what in English are inelegantly called the High Holidays, but in Hebrew are called the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. The Days of Awe mark the turning of the year, when Jews are supposed to investigate their deeds and engage in teshuvah, or repentance. During Elul, traditionally, penitential prayers called selichot begin to be recited, the shofar is blown every morning, and a psalm is added to the liturgy: Psalm 27. It contains many beautiful lines, including,

One thing I ask of God,
Only that do I seek:
To live in the house of God
All the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of God,
To frequent his sanctuary.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

I like the new "Navbar" feature on Blogger -- pretty neat, in my opinion. While I've been gone, my brother seems to have started his own blog: My Popular Music Tastes. Not much there thus far, but I have high hopes.

Other news: the fall semester is fast approaching, so I have to get down to work on my course planning and syllabi. This fall I'm teaching two of my usual courses: Hebrew Scriptures and Jews in the Modern World, and a new course, Jewish Magic and Ritual Power. For the last course, it's definitely been hard to find a textbook! I'm having the students buy Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition, published in 1939, and a much newer book by J. H. Chajes, Between Worlds, about spirit possession among Jews in the early modern period. The rest of the reading is translations of primary texts, ranging from biblical prohibitions of "magic" (kishuf, the story of the raising of the shade of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 28), to the various rabbinic discussions of what kishuf is, demons, various kinds of healing, etc., and then onto to various texts and material objects: amulets, spell formularies (like Sefer ha-Razim), Babylonian incantation bowls, and the like. We'll be starting off by considering the question of what "magic" is -- is there something definite that that term defines? Or is it always used ideologically? Are there other more useful concepts to deal with this corpus of material? Etc. It should be fun, although we'll have to see how much the students are capable of taking in and comprehending.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Good article in the Economist aboutThe conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
According to Passion of the Present, the Janjaweed are burning children alive. I simply do not understand this. How can someone deliberately burn a child? Passion of the Present then goes on to talk about how various nations (including the U.S.) are poised to begin doing something -- if only there is the political will. We need to contact our Representatives and Senators, thank them for voting for the genocide resolutions, and urge them to keep the pressure on the administration to act, not merely try to get UN resolutions passed.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Another really excellent Washington Post editorial on Darfur -- 'Realism' and Darfur. It ends with this powerful statement: "Perhaps there are other arguments for 'caution' in the face of Darfur's genocide, and we invite President Bush and other leaders to come forward and explain them. According to officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development, up to 30,000 people in Darfur have died violently, 50,000 have died of disease and malnutrition, and the death toll is likely to reach at least 300,000. The reasons for non-intervention had better be as powerful as those astonishing numbers."

Having just visited the Holocaust museum in Washington makes me remember the pathetic lack of response to the plight of European Jews before and during WWII -- the voyage of the St. Louis, for example, with over 900 Jewish refugees, which sailed to Cuba, only to be turned back there, and which was refused entry into the U.S. as well, or the Evian conference, in which virtually no countries offered to take in German Jewish refugees. We have all these bad examples of inaction before us -- why do we have to replicate them today?

Friday, July 30, 2004

I must say that I agree with Andrew Sullivan about Kerry's speech last night. I was dismayed by what he said both about the war in Iraq and the war against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism -- as Sullivan says, "not good enough." Edwards the night before gave me the feeling that the Democratic Party gets it about the war on terrorism -- but I did not get the same feeling from Kerry. I will vote for him - but with the anxiety that if he is elected, he will in fact not go after the terrorists with the same passion that President Bush expresses. It seems to me that if this election is really about national security, then Kerry did himself and the Democrats a disservice last night by not making the same strong statement as Edwards did the night before.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Jim Moore at Sudan: The Passion of the Present argues that the closed society of Sudan breeds terrorism as well as genocide. He points out that Osama bin Laden was headquartered in Sudan from 1991 to 1994, and argues that bin Laden's businesses and other organizations are still operating there. He says, "Sudan has become a kind of low-tech Swiss-banking center for criminal organizations, including Al Qaeda. For example, in September of 2002 the Washington Post reported that large quantities of gold had been transferred from Pakistan to Sudan by Al Qaeda."

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

And in case you still don't believe it's genocide in Darfur -- Villagers burned alive in Sudan atrocity
A great editorial in today's Washington Post, asking How Many More Deaths in Darfur? The editorial criticized the European Union for a weak and reluctant response.

The Europeans know that the killings in Darfur probably constitute genocide, as Congress recognized last week, but they shrank from calling it that. They suggested they might increase their support for the African Union's cease-fire monitors in Darfur, but stopped short of calling for a force large enough to protect civilians from the government-backed militia. They declared qualified support for "imminent" sanctions, but assigned responsibility for imposing these to the U.N. Security Council, which is hamstrung by the threat of a Chinese veto. They advertised the aid that they have given, but they failed to note that the U.N. relief appeal is less than 50 percent funded and made no mention of the detailed request for helicopters that the U.N. staff had presented to them the previous week. More than 30,000 people are thought to have died in Darfur already. How many deaths will it take?

When will we start actually helping the people of Darfur, rather than just talking about it?
Sheik Zayed's gift for a chair in Islamic studies at Harvard Divinity School has been withdrawn.

Students and Jewish organizations had criticized the Harvard Divinity School for accepting the donation, which was made in 2000, because they objected to the sheik's support for a policy research organization, the Zayed International Center for Coordination and Follow-Up in Abu Dhabi, one of the seven states in the United Arab Emirates.

Speakers at the center had included an Arab scholar who has written that Jews use human blood to make pastries and a French author who claims that Israel masterminded the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as well as American officials like former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Vice President Al Gore. It was closed last summer by the government of the United Arab Emirates, which said that the center had engaged in a discourse that "contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance" espoused by Sheik Zayed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

As it happens, I did not go to the "die-in" on Thursday at noon, but instead spent the day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum website has a page devoted to Darfur. They have declared a "genocide emergency" in Darfur and will be opening a special exhibit on Darfur on August 2. Given the large number of visitors who come to the museum every day, I think this will be a very effective educational and political statement.

I was very impressed by the museum. I have been to other museums that tell the story of the Holocaust -- Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York City, which has an excellent permanent exhibit on Jewish life in Europe before the Second World War, as well as exhibits on Jewish life since 1945. One of the interesting aspects of the museum was the attempt to go beyond the impact on the Jewish community and show how the Holocaust affected other people -- for example, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses.

There is currently a temporary exhibit called Deadly Medicine, which traces the history of Nazi eugenics, forced sterilization, and the T4 program to kill handicapped people, men, women, and children, including the retarded and mentally ill. This program was the first to use gassing of victims and served as the prototype for the extermination camps. I had read about this history, but walking through the exhibit, seeing the devices used to measure people and place them into separate "races," and then going through a tiled room with photographs of children killed by the T4 program was chilling. I remember reading one quote from a man who had worked in one of the children's homes where they were not sent to be gassed, but instead were starved to death or injected with fatal substances. He called the place a "concentration camp for children." I must say that I find this incomprehensible. I know how people rationalized to themselves that what they were doing was for the sake of "racial hygiene" -- but I don't understand how they could face the children whom they were torturing or killing and go through with their actions. It seems to me that it goes against a deeply-seated human instinct to protect children.

After going to that exhibit, I went to the permanent exhibit, which traces the history of the Holocaust from the Nazi assumption to power to the liberation from the death camps. I could have spent the entire day in the exhibit, if I had had enough time, but instead I was able to watch and read only some of the information. For example, the exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto had a video loop that showed both still pictures and film of the ghetto. I kept looking at people's faces. In the section on the mobile killing units -- the Einsatzgruppen that followed the German army in the invasion of the Soviet Union -- there was a video made from film of the shootings. Who would film mass murder? I don't even understand why footage like this exists.

In the section of the exhibit devoted to the death camps, there were several unnerving and deeply chilling artifacts -- for example, a railway car of the same type used to transport prisoners to the death camps. The exhibit was set up to permit one to walk through the car -- I could not. I put my head in from both sides, instead. It was much smaller than I had expected, and if the doors had been closed, there would have been very little light, or even air coming in. There was a pile of shoes taken from prisoners at the Majdanek camp. There was the inside of barracks taken from Auschwitz. I remember reading when the Museum was being designed, that the intention was to find actual artifacts from that time and place. When I heard about this, the idea repelled me. It seemed to me that this meant that the museum visitors would be having some kind of vicarious experience of the Holocaust -- something both impossible and voyeuristic. However, I did not have that feeling in the museum -- instead, it seemed to me that the intention was to give Americans a fragment of the sense they would have if they visited the sites of the concentration camps in Europe: to visit a memory, not to re-enact it, even in imagination.

Monday, July 19, 2004

From the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: Genocide Threat In Darfur, Western Sudan.
For a vacation from our otherwise serious concerns, I recommend this op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times about Harry Potter: Harry Potter, Market Wiz. For an English fisking of this oh-so-French analysis of Harry Potter, see Steve Sachs'Harry Potter and the Running Dogs of Capitalism. And then, after that heavy lifting, I definitely recommend the latest Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," which is the best of three thus made.
For those of you who will be in Washington, D.C., this Thursday, there will be a die-in in front of the White House to protest the genocide in Darfur. Information from the flyer:


1,000 dying each day in Sudan
Rally and 1,000 person “die-in” to symbolize their tragic deaths



The demonstration is being organized by a coalition of religious and human rights leaders, including political conservatives and progressives. Some of the leaders include Rev. Walter Fauntroy, Rev. Joe Madison, Rabbi Jack Moline, Rev. Bob Edgar, Rev. Mark Thompson, Rep. Charlie Rangel, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Ben Cohen.

Sponsoring organizations include Res Publica, faithfulamerica.org, Sojourners, the National Council of Churches, TrueMajority.org and The Sudan Campaign, which includes groups such as Phillip Randolph Institute, American Anti-Slavery Group, American Jewish Committee (DC Chapter), Christian Solidarity International, Congress on Modern Pan-African Slavery, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Institute on Religion and Public Policy, National Black Leadership Roundtable, Salvation Army and Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom.

I will be in Washington later this week and will try to get to this protest.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

How to send a letter to the President and other public officials about Darfur, from the AJWS Action Center. AJWS is the American Jewish World Service.
I just had a strange blogging experience. I was checking my referrer logs, and found two Google searches for "Caffit Jerusalem" and "Caffit cafe," and also "Emek Refaim Caffit" -- all within the last few hours. I wondered why this had happened -- I wrote about Caffit in December, 2003, when I was visiting Israel, but not since then. It then occurred to me wonder if something had happened in Caffit, and when I turned to Ha'aretz, I learned that Would-be bomber turned back just before blowing up cafe.

A Hamas man intending to shoot his way into a popular Jerusalem cafe and then detonate a suicide bomb, stood before the popular restaurant last week wearing a gun and a explosive belt, then reconsidered and returned to the West Bank, it was revealed Sunday.

. . .Two days after the aborted Tuesday attempt, IDF troops killed the would-be bomber, Malek Nasser a-Din, in a gun battle at his home in Hebron.

Nasser a-Din reached Jerusalem's German Colony Tuesday afternoon after entering Israel through a breach in the separation fence in the Jerusalem region. He intended to shoot the restaurant's guards, then enter and blow himself up inside. But he reconsidered, and returned to the West Bank.

"The attempted suicide bombing was made possible by the fact that the potential bomber was able to enter the city in a spot where the security fence hasn't been built yet," Zalman Shoval, a foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Haaretz. "It was for different reasons, including luck, that he decided at the last moment not to blow himself up, but of course, Israel cannot rely on such fortuitous occurrences in the future."

Security forces have detained a number of others involved in planning the attack. Investigations revealed that Nasser a-Din picked up the explosive belt in Abu Dis, a village on Jerusalem's eastern border. He and an accomplice traveled together to the German Colony, where the bomber received the order to attack Caffit. He was seen throwing out an unidentified object on Tuesday afternoon, which initially raised suspicions.

For reasons not yet known, Nasser a-Din decided not to carry out the attack and threw away the explosive belt, which has not been found.

. . . This was not the first suicide bombing to target Caffit. Cafe staff foiled a prior incident when they overpowered another would-be bomber whose bomb failed to explode.

I had read in Ha'aretz last week that there had been a high security alert in German Colony neighborhood in Jerusalem, but they hadn't said why. Very scary.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has taken up the issue of Darfur at Staring Genocide in the Face. As Jerry Fowler said on June 24, 2004, "The time to act in Darfur is now. It’s now. The obligation to prevent genocide is a legal one and a moral one. Too often in the past, as this Museum starkly illustrates, warnings have been received and ignored and the result has been death and suffering on a massive scale. It’s time for us to stop saying “never again,” and start saying, “not this time.”
Once again, I recommend reading Sudan: The Passion of the Present to learn what is happening in Darfur and what we may possibly do to stop the genocide. They point to John Kerry's speech at the NAACP convention, where Kerry "called for the United States, with the United Nations, to lead an 'international humanitarian intervention' in the troubled region of Darfur, in the Sudan, where Arab militias have been killing and displacing villagers, driving some into neighboring Chad. 'This administration must stop equivocating. Those government-sponsored atrocities should be called by their rightful name - genocide,' Kerry said to cheers. 'That is a lesson of Rwanda. That is a lesson of World War II. That is a lesson of time.'"

Congressman Charles Rangel was arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington on July 13 protesting the genocide in Sudan. He writes: "There's no reason the international community can't find the $350 million the UN needs to ship aid to Sudan. Surely, saving a million lives is worth more than the $89 million the U.S. has committed so far. Let's declare the situation the genocide that it is. We have to avert what threatens to become one of history's greatest catastrophes. What's happening is an atrocity, a crime and a sin. There can be no more excuses."

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Here is another devastating account of what is happening in Darfur, this time from an activist who traveled to the rebel-held areas of Sudan, where no aid is reaching hundreds of thousands of displaced people. John Prendergast, the author of Sudan's Ravines of Death, also provides evidence of mass graves of young men.

I was not prepared for the far more sinister scene I encountered in a ravine deep in the Darfur desert. Bodies of young men were lined up in ditches, eerily preserved by the 130-degree desert heat. The story the rebels told us seemed plausible: the dead were civilians who had been marched up a hill and executed by the Arab-led government before its troops abandoned the area the previous month. The rebels assert that there were many other such scenes.

The article ends by saying, "There has been a great deal of tough talk since the visits of Mr. Powell, Mr. Annan and others, but the United Nations Security Council so far has failed to act decisively. It is time to move directly against regime officials who are responsible for the killing. Accountability for crimes against humanity is imperative, as is the deployment of sufficient force to ensure disarmament and arrangements to deliver emergency aid. The sands of the Sahara should not be allowed to swallow the evidence of what will probably go down as one of the greatest crimes in our lifetimes."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A quick Google search found this speech, Homosexual Marriage?, that Senator Byrd made in 1996, during the debate over the Defense of Marriage Act. His speech ends with these words: "I say to my colleagues, let us take our stand. The time is now. The subject is relevant. Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female, as set forth in the Holy Bible. Else we, too, will be weighed in the balances and found wanting."

But on the other hand, to be fair to Senator Byrd, both John Kerry and John Edwards, who would vote against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, say that they are opposed to gay marriage -- but that it should be left to the individual states, not to the federal government. I doubt, however, that they would invoke the authority of the Bible to oppose gay marriage.
Ah, I should have read Sullivan first -- many of those senators who voted for cloture were nonetheless opposed to the amendment. According to his reporting of the Log Cabin Republicans' analysis -- Senators Warner, Gregg, Hagel, and Specter, who all voted for cloture, are against the amendment. I still wonder about Byrd -- I'll have to find out more about his position on this issue.
I was just taking a look at how the Senate voted on the marriage amendment -- for a complete list, see U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote. There were a number of senators who surprised me -- and mostly disappointed me. Senator Specter of Pennsylvania voted to cut off debate (which would then lead to a vote on the amendment itself). I had thought he was more liberal than that. Senator Byrd of West Virginia also voted to cut off debate -- so much for his "liberal" credentials for opposing the war in Iraq. The two other Democrats who voted for cloture were Miller of Georgia and Nelson of Nebraska. On the other hand, there were a number of Republicans who voted against the motion, including John McCain of Arizona, the two senators from Maine, Collins and Snowe. The vote was 48 yes votes and 50 no votes because Edwards and Kerry were off campaigning. They had said they would go back to Washington to vote only if the amendment itself were coming up for a vote.
I'm happy to see that the anti-gay amendment to the constitution has failed in the Senate on a procedural vote to cut off debate. As CNN reports, "Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage foundered Wednesday afternoon in the Senate when the proposal failed to garner enough votes to stay alive. After final arguments by the leaders of each party, the Republicans mustered 48 votes, 12 short of the 60 they needed to overcome a procedural hurdle and move the proposed amendment to the floor."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Amazingly enough, the French government is opposing UN sanctions against Sudan over Darfur.

"In Darfur, it would be better to help the Sudanese get over the crisis so their country is pacified rather than sanctions which would push them back to their misdeeds of old," junior Foreign Minister Renaud Muselier told French radio. France led opposition to US moves at the UN over Iraq. As was the case in Iraq, France also has significant oil interests in Sudan.

Mr Muselier also dismissed claims of "ethnic cleansing" or genocide in Darfur. "I firmly believe it is a civil war and as they are little villages of 30, 40, 50, there is nothing easier than for a few armed horsemen to burn things down, to kill the men and drive out the women," he said.

Human rights activists say the Janjaweed are conducting a genocide against Darfur's black African population. Those who have fled their homes say the Janjaweed ride on horses and camels into villages which have just been bombed by government aircraft, killing the men and raping the women.

(Full story at France opposes UN Sudan sanctions).

(Via Gary Farber at Winds of Change.
This very interesting article by Sefi Rachalevsky, called "Dangerous Judaism" discusses the halakhic ruling of "din rodef" and how certain right wing rabbis have applied it to those who would withdraw from Gaza or the West Bank. This is the same halakhic excuse that Yigal Amir used in killing Yitzhak Rabin.

. . .the execution of din rodef is mostly in the province of the individual rather than that of rabbinic rulings. The rulings provide the principle, but the individual is the one who conducts the execution in din rodef, not the court. Din rodef deals with a man chasing after another man and trying to kill him. Anyone who is capable thus has an obligation to intervene, without waiting for a specific ruling that goes beyond the declaration of principle. The pursuer must be stopped with a minimal amount of harm. As the halakha puts it: If the pursuer can be stopped by cutting off his hand, good. But if there is no choice and the only way to stop him is to kill him, then kill him. That is why it was so important for Rabin's assassin to explain that he had considered whether it would be enough to "merely" paralyze Rabin, but reached the conclusion that it would not be enough for the purpose.

Rachalevsky discusses the roots of din rodef as it applies to relations between Jews and Gentiles (rather than, say, to the case of seeing one person about to murder another and stepping to try to stop it).

The problem is that Rabbi Nebenzahl [the rabbi of the Old City, who ruled that "anyone who hands over parts of the Land of Israel to gentiles will be punished according to din rodef"] is correct in saying that the view that din rodef applies to those who give away parts of the Land to non-Jews - or to anyone else who wishes to harm Israel - is well-grounded in the halakhic literature. It is impossible to sweep this viewpoint away with the statement "a Jew doesn't murder another Jew," as people did before the Rabin assassination. Rabbi Nebenzahl's correctness is just the tip of the iceberg, so anyone who tries to bypass him and not deal with the sources will crash into his argument and be shattered.

The root of the matter is the long years of exile and suffering that the Jews underwent at the hands of non-Jews. Those years gave birth to extensive halakhic and kabbalist writings. Central portions of those writings turned the pain into secret vengeance that could not be actualized. Protected by their inability to take practical action for revenge, the great rabbis of Israel let loose with detailed descriptions of the inferiority of the "goyim" (non-Jews), the vengeance they deserve and what would be done both to them and to Jews who collaborate with them after the Messiah's arrival.

Rachalevsky calls for a revision of the halakhah in this matter out of the recognition that Jews are no longer powerless, but dwell in a sovereign country of their own with a powerful army. He says, "The Diaspora is not protecting us anymore. Everything in our time has become practical, programmatic, possible. Those who do not dare to conduct a thorough reform of holy Jewish texts,* out of an understanding of the enormity of the revolution in which the Jews have become masters of military might and sovereignty over their lives, will not survive."

*the original translation was "of the Jewish liturgy," which is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew original -- כתבים היהודיים המקודשים.