Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ramsay Clark

(Ramsay Clark defending Saddam Hussein at his trial for crimes against humanity - cartoon lifted from

In the last couple of days I've gotten a lot of referrals for people looking for information about Ramsay Clark. I would guess that this is because of the posting of Saddam Hussein's letter on the internet. The letter, written in response to his death sentence, apparently refers to those who supported him, including Clark, who was on his defense team.

Clark is also noted for defending others accused of crimes against humanity and genocide - for example, he defended Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Seventh-Day Adventist minister who was convicted of involvement in the Rwandan genocide. A Feb. 20, 2003 New York Times article provides more information:
A Protestant clergyman and his son, a physician, were convicted yesterday of genocide and sentenced to prison by the United Nations tribunal dealing with the Rwandan killing frenzy of 1994, in which members of Hutu gangs killed an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsi and moderate Hutu over three months.

The Rev. Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, 78, the former head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in western Rwanda, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for aiding and abetting genocide. His son, Dr. Gérard Ntakirutimana, 45, who worked at the church's hospital, received a total sentence of 25 years for the same charges and for shooting two people to death.

With the verdict, Mr. Ntakirutimana became the first clergyman to be convicted of genocide by an international tribunal....

The three judges, led by Eric Mose of Norway, found that the pastor and his son had led attackers to the Mugonero Adventist church and hospital complex in Kibuye, where hundreds of unarmed Tutsi families, including Adventist ministers and their relatives, had sought refuge from the violence. The judges found that father and son also joined and guided vehicle convoys carrying attackers to nearby towns.

The judges, who dismissed other charges against the two, said that during the attacks, the physician had shot one man at close range in the hospital courtyard and another who had taken refuge at a school. ''As a medical doctor, he took lives instead of saving them,'' Judge Mose said in the court's summary.

Ramsey Clark, the former United States attorney general, who was defense counsel for the elder Mr. Ntakirutimana, called the verdict ''a tragic miscarriage of justice.'' He said both men would appeal.

The clergyman's case first gained attention in March 2000, when he became the first person handed over by the United States to an international tribunal....

Mr. Ntakirutimana is not the first member of the clergy to be held on genocide charges. Church workers, including two Catholic priests, have been convicted by local courts in Rwanda. In Belgium, two Rwandan nuns received long prison sentences for crimes against humanity for collaborating with Hutu militias.

But this case became known above all because of the astonishing letter that six Tutsi pastors wrote to him while they were at the church compound caring for refugees. The letter begged him for help, saying, ''We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.'' The group was indeed killed. During the trial, the letter was used as a prosecution exhibit. A witness, the son of one of the six clergymen, said the letter had received a cold reply saying nothing could be done.

While those accused of crimes against humanity and genocide also deserve competent legal counsel, Clark's wholehearted partisanship for those accused of such crimes is a revolting spectacle.

A statement issued by his office on November 29, 1996 on the International Tribune for Rwanda explains something of his enthusiasm for these cases:
Excerpts From A Statement On The International Tribunal For Rwanda

The International Tribunal for Rwanda is an extension of colonial power in Africa, which can threaten every African leader. There was never such a court during the colonial wars in Africa which could punish European powers for atrocities against the African people, or against apartheid leadership in South Africa; or the U.S. for its aggressions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Panama, or Iraq, or the U.S.S.R., or Russian Federation in Afghanistan, Chechnya, East Europe, or the Baltic states.

The Tribunal is foreign power intervention taking sides to maintain its control over the majority Hutu through Tutsi surrogates. No country should surrender an accused to such a Tribunal until it is a permanent court that will deal equally and fairly in all cases worldwide against the powerful not only the weak, and act on truth alone, not political interest. The International Herald Tribune on November 23-24 reported on the slaughter of 298 Hutus in a Seventh Day Adventist Church after their return from the exile abroad. This Tribunal cannot protect these Hutus, or tens of thousands of others. Do the rich and powerful countries really believe they can do justice, or help Africa by prosecuting a select few while arming all sides to kill Africans and millions of Africans face starvation? It is their earlier interventions that have created these conditions.

Ramsey Clark, November 29, 1996

In response to these sentiments, Ken Harrow of Amnesty International wrote:
What an irony that Ramsey Clark would evoke the weak and the helpless in his defense of a man accused of genocide, would turn the blame outside Africa to absolve one who might well have assumed the guilt for the worst of crimes. Africa does not need any more defenders whose defense functions to deny Africa agency, responsibility for actions committed by Africans. It does not need Westerners to tell it that the powerful West is only and always responsible for crimes committed in Africa. The really weak and helpless victim here is justice, and the International Court is the first modest attempt to extend the concept of justice beyond national borders. Considering the crimes of our century committed by xenophobic nationalists, and the continuing crimes committed in the name of national interest, it is time for enlightened people to throw their support to international institutions based on premises of equity. ken harrow

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Snow in Jerusalem

Once again, it is snowing in Jerusalem - and for once, I think that it is snowing more heavily there than here in Ithaca, where we now have a desultory lake-effect snowfall right now. (We've gotten hardly any snow this year thus far).

For links to more photos of today's snow in Jerusalem, see Elms in the Yard, a Jerusalem blog.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Religion Exhibit in Iran

Kamangir (an Iranian now living outside the country) has a link to a fascinating art exhibit in Tehran called "Godly religion." The image below, which he also reproduces, displays symbols of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

Iran cartoons

David Horsey (of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) has a wickedly good recent cartoon about the Iran Holocaust-denial conference.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Neturei Karta and the Holocaust

The NPR report last night on the Iranian Holocaust conference included an interview with members of the Neturei Karta sect who attended the conference.
SHUSTER: Iran's government kept the list of participants secret until the last minute, so it was something of a surprise to see several ultra orthodox Hasidic Jews taking part. This small Hasidic group from New York follows the teachings of the Satmar Rabbi, who preached it was against God's will to establish a nation on earth for the Jews.

These anti-Zionist Jews condemn what they call the Holocaust religion, and they talked of the so-called Holocaust, although one from Britain acknowledged that there is sufficient evidence to prove that the Nazis killed millions. But these orthodox Jews argue that Palestine does not belong to the Jews and should be returned to the Palestinians.

Rabbi Dovid Weiss tried to explain why some Jews of his community might want to deny the Holocaust.

Rabbi DOVID WEISS: People who question, many that come from embitteredness because of the Zionists using the Holocaust to brazenly and offensively oppress a people. So people start questioning. Just like they said Palestine was a land without a people and they were liars, maybe they're liars about here.

I must say that of all the vile people who are attending this conference, I think that the Neturei Karta are the most vile. How dare they associate with people who would be happy to wipe out all of the remaining Jews on earth? And what do other people in the Satmar community think about them - survivors of the Holocaust or people whose families were wiped by the Nazis? Whatever they think about the State of Israel, wouldn't they recoil in disgust from associating with Holocaust deniers and blatant antisemites? For those who can stomach reading it, take a look at the speech given by one of the Neturei Karta representatives, Aharon Cohen (I am deliberately not giving him his rabbinic title as he has disgraced it by his collaboration with the enemies of the Jewish people).

Should we negotiate with Iran?

So this is the Iran that the Iraq Study Group wants us to negotiate with about Iraq?

Tony Blair said:
During his monthly news conference today, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, held out little hope of engaging Iran in constructive action in the Middle East, and expressed revulsion at the Holocaust conference, calling it “shocking beyond belief. It’s not that I’m against the concept of reaching out to people,” Mr. Blair was quoted by Reuters as saying, in a reference to efforts to include Iran in peace efforts. “The trouble is, I look around the region at the moment, and everything that Iran is doing is negative. You only have to see what is happening in Iran in the past couple of days to realize how important it is that all people of moderation in the Middle East try to come together and sort out the problems,” he continued. “I mean, they hold this conference yesterday which — you know, maybe I feel too strongly about these things — but I think it is such a symbol of sectarianism and hatred toward people of another religion. I find it just unbelievable, really.”

Attendees at the Iranian Holocaust conference included "Holocaust deniers, discredited scholars and white supremacists from around the world, who made presentations questioning whether Nazi Germany used gas chambers to exterminate some six million Jews and millions of other 'undesirables,' as well as other aspects of the historical record of the Holocaust." David Duke, former KKK leader, "asserted that the gas chambers in which millions of Jews perished did not actually exist."

Other well known Holocaust deniers also attended:
Among those attending the conference was Robert Faurisson, an academic from France, who said in his speech that the Holocaust was a myth. Mr. Duke invited conference participants to stand in honor of Mr. Faurisson and applaud him for standing up for his beliefs. Bendikt Frings, a psychologist from Germany, said Monday that he had come to the conference to thank Mr. Ahmadinejad for initiating discussion on the subject. And Frederick Toben, from Australia, said Mr. Ahmadinejad had opened an issue “which is morally and intellectually crippling the Western society.”

I don't see how we can have anything to do with this regime. If we negotiate with them over Iraq, we'll simply being playing into their hands and negotiating from a point of weakness.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Conservative teshuvot on homosexuality

The Rabbinical Assembly has now posted the teshuvot on its website: Rabbi Roth's teshuvah, "Homosexuality Revisited," and the teshuvah by Rabbis Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner, entitled, "Homosexuality, Human Dignity, and Halakah," both of which were accepted by the Committee on Law and Standards. They have also posted "The Halakhah of Same-Sex Relations in a New Context," by Rabbis Geller, Fine and Fine, which was ruled a takkanah and thus needed more votes to pass. It was not accepted by the Law Committee. They have also posed "A Concurring Opinion to Levy," by Rabbi Weiss, but have not posted Rabbi Leonard Levy's responsum itself as yet.

The responsa are currently on the home page of the Rabbinical Assembly under "Hot Topics," but I imagine they will eventually migrate to the Teshuvot page, which includes many other responsa on various topics, including the responsa that were written in 1992 on the subject of homosexuality. (They are under the category of הלכות אישות, interpersonal relations).

The website also includes responsa on a number of interesting contemporary issues, such as "Tatooing and Body Piercing" (a responsum by Rabbi Alan Lucas under the halakhic heading of "Idolatry and Sorcery"), which rules that Jews who have been tatooed or who have piercings are permitted to receive synagogue honors or to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Tatooing is an explicit prohibition from the Torah, but there is no Torah prohibition on piercing.

The issue of whether a minyan can be constituted via the internet is also considered, in a responsum by Rabbi Avram Reisner entitled "Wired to the Kadosh Barukh Hu: Minyan via Internet." (This is in the category of Blessings).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Iran and Christian naivete

While looking for something else on the web, I found this amazingly naive view of President Ahmedinejad of Iran authored by the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, National Council of Churches USA. A delegation from the National Council of Churches visited Iran in September 2006 and met with Ahmedinejad.
The meeting was so tightly structured that there was no room for individual questions. However, Robb Davis who chaired the meeting asked several tough questions on behalf of the group.

In the debrief meeting that followed, I said to my colleagues that I was very disappointed with his answers to two questions: one on the holocaust and the other on the State of Israel. However, I was pleased with his answers to the nuclear question. President Ahmadinejad came across as a deeply religious person and I am inclined to believe him that his nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes.

Just because someone is a religious person, does this mean that we do not question his motives? Why not connect his statements that the Holocaust is a myth and Israel should not exist with Iran's nuclear ambitions? Shouldn't his transparent hostility and insincerity on these two issues lead us to doubt his veracity when he claims that Iran has no nuclear ambitions?

Jimmy Carter's "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid"

A BOOK REVIEW: Jeffrey Goldberg has just reviewed Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in the Washington Post. He quotes from several statements made by Carter that seem to indicate Carter's adherence to classical Christian judgements on Jews and Judaism:
Jimmy Carter tells a strange and revealing story near the beginning of his latest book, the sensationally titled Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. It is a story that suggests that the former president's hostility to Israel is, to borrow a term, faith-based.

On his first visit to the Jewish state in the early 1970s, Carter, who was then still the governor of Georgia, met with Prime Minister Golda Meir, who asked Carter to share his observations about his visit. Such a mistake she never made. "With some hesitation," Carter writes, "I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government."

Jews, in my experience, tend to become peevish when Christians, their traditional persecutors, lecture them on morality, and Carter reports that Meir was taken aback by his "temerity." He is, of course, paying himself a compliment. Temerity is mandatory when you are doing God's work, and Carter makes it clear in this polemical book that, in excoriating Israel for its sins - and he blames Israel almost entirely for perpetuating the hundred-year war between Arab and Jew - he is on a mission from God.

I think it is very telling that Carter a) had this conversation with Golda Meir, and b) tells the story in his book. If he is trying to convince American Jews or Jewish Israelis that he is an "honest broker," then he has failed by continuing a long-time Christian trope. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophets excoriate the people of Israel and their leaders for their sins, in the most blood-curdling terms. But the prophets never place themselves outside of the people of Israel. They are part of Israel and are criticizing it out of love. When Christianity began to become a separate religion, one of the rhetorical moves that Christians made was to take the prophetic rebukes of Israel and refer them to the Jews of their time, without acknowledging that the prophets were criticizing their own people, whom they were part of and whom they loved. They were engaging in a "Christianization" of the prophets.

Carter also dissolves the distinction between the Jews of the first century and Israelis of the 20th century:
Why is Carter so hard on Israeli settlements and so easy on Arab aggression and Palestinian terror? Because a specific agenda appears to be at work here. Carter seems to mean for this book to convince American evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel. Evangelical Christians have become bedrock supporters of Israel lately, and Carter marshals many arguments, most of them specious, to scare them out of their position. Hence the Golda Meir story, seemingly meant to show that Israel is not the God-fearing nation that religious Christians believe it to be. And then there are the accusations, unsupported by actual evidence, that Israel persecutes its Christian citizens. On his fateful first visit to Israel, Carter takes a tour of the Galilee and writes, "It was especially interesting to visit with some of the few surviving Samaritans, who complained to us that their holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities - the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier."

So now the Israeli authorities=the Jewish religious leaders of the first century, whom the New Testament holds guilty of the death of Jesus? As Goldberg says, "a man who sees Israel as a lineal descendant of the Pharisees could write such a sentence." And only a man who considers the Pharisees the hypocritical villains would connect the contemporary state of Israel with the ancient Pharisees. One wonders if Carter realizes that he's not just insulting the leaders of Israel, but also all Jews everywhere, since contemporary Judaism, in all of its forms, is based on rabbinic Judaism, which grew out of the Pharisaic movement of the Second Temple period.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

More on Gay Conservative Rabbis

Josh Yuter, in A Conservative Compromise lays out the alternatives open to JTS and discusses the very careful press release JTS issued yesterday about the decisions from the Law Committee. His discussion focuses on the question of whether JTS will decide to ordain gay people as rabbis. He also raises the question of what kind of sexual activity might be permitted to gay or lesbian rabbinical students.

JTS, however, is not the only Conservative seminary, and the administration and faculty of each seminary are free to make their own decisions about whether to ordain openly gay people. The University of Judaism will be admitting openly gay students.

He also says that "at no point did the CJLS permit homosexual behavior." And following from this, he says, "Furthermore, assuming JTS does in fact decide to admit homosexuals I'd be curious to see how they follow the CJLS ruling. Since even the most lenient CJLS position still prohibits homosexual intercourse, would JTS admit openly sexually active students in defiance of the CJLS? I'm sure JTS could initially adopt a don't ask don't tell policy, but assuming someone's private activities do become public, how would JTS adhere to their commitment to Conservative halakha?"

This discussion is leaving out several important points:

1) Not all gay people are men. Lesbian sex, of whatever type, is not even discussed in the Torah. The one talmudic discussion of it is only in the context of whether a woman who engages in some kind of sexual activity with another woman would then be disqualified from marrying a man from the priestly caste. Maimonides in his code, the Mishneh Torah, disapproves of it and says that men should make sure that their wives stay away from women known for engaging in these activities. If the only prohibited activity is anal intercourse, then this is something that women can very easily avoid engaging in.

2) Not all sex that two men engage in with each other is anal intercourse. There are lots of other ways to have a good time. In a discussion many years ago that I had with Shlomo Ashkinazy, one of the men interviewed in "Trembling Before G-d," Sandi Dubowski's movie about gay and lesbian Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, he suggested that what gay men needed to avoid is anal intercourse, not other sexual activities.

3) From my knowledge of JTS' policies, they frown on all premarital sexual activity. This raises the question of whether, if they choose to admit gay students, will they require those students to be in committed relationships if they wish to be involved sexually? (As they would require of heterosexual students).

"Little Mosque on the Prairie"

I heard something about this on NPR but I thought it was a joke - but there is going to be a new show - a sitcom - on Canadian television about Muslims living in a small Canadian town.
"Little Mosque on the Prairie” ventures into new and perhaps treacherous terrain: trying to explore the funny side of being a Muslim and adapting to life in post 9/11 North America. Its creators admit to uneasiness as to whether Canadians and Americans can laugh about the daily travails of those who many consider a looming menace.

“It’s a question we ask ourselves all the time,” said Mary Darling, one of the show’s three executive producers and an American who has lived in Canada for the last decade. “If 9/11 is still too raw, it might not work,” she said.

There is the other side of that coin too — what will Muslims think? — which the show’s creators usually summarize in one long sentence that mentions the uproar prompted by Salman Rushdie as well as the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.

This concern stems from the almost automatic presumption that “to look at Muslims in an entertaining way is going to be controversial because they will riot in the streets,” said Al Rae, one of the show’s writers, who noted that he does research by bouncing potential scenarios off cab drivers here. Or as Amaar, the young man detained in the opening airport scene, puts it sardonically, “Muslims all over the world are known for their sense of humor.”

The strongest insurance against outrage from the faithful is that “Little Mosque” is the brainchild of Zarqa Nawaz, a Canadian Muslim of Pakistani origin whose own assimilation, particularly after she left Toronto for Regina, Saskatchewan, 10 years ago, provides much of the comic fodder.

I hope the show is picked up by an American network - it sounds like it will be hilarious.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's about time! Gay Conservative rabbis

It's about time! The Committee on Law and Standards of the Conservative movement, which decides on halakhic issues for the movement, has approved three teshuvot on the issue. One teshuvah, authored by Rabbi Elliott Dorff, argued that the movement should ordain gay people and should permit rabbis to officiate at same-sex marriage or commitment ceremonies. On the other hand, he argued that the biblical prohibition of anal sex (Lev. 18:22) should still be upheld.

A second teshuvah by Rabbi Joel Roth was also approved, arguing that gay people should not be ordained and rabbis should not be permitted to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. A third teshuvah, even more conservative than Rabbi Roth's, authored by Rabbi Leonard Levy, was also approved - Rabbi Levy argued that homosexuality is an illness that can be "cured." The most liberal teshuvah, by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, was ruled a takkanah, which meant that it needed 13 votes to be adopted - which it did not receive. The three opinions listed above were each approved by six votes or more. The texts of each responsum have not been released, but for a look at earlier opinions considered by the Law Committee, the texts are available here.

What this means is that the institutions of the Conservative movement, including the four seminaries (two in the U.S., one in Israel, and one in Argentina) are free to make a decision that follows any one of the three accepted responsa. They can now decide whether to admit or reject gay people based on their own considerations. The Ziegler Rabbinic School of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles has already announced its intention to admit openly gay people. The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City has just embarked a on study process before deciding what to do.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (the association of Conservative synagogues) issued the following press release:
NEW YORK, Dec. 6, 2006— United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents more than 750 Conservative synagogues, with 1.5 million members, today welcomed the movement’s decisions on gay men and lesbians and moved toward changing its own hiring policies.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a voting member of the Law Committee that made today’s ruling, issued the following statement:

“The decisions of the Conservative Jewish movement’s Law Committee, which allows individual synagogues and other institutions the flexibility to embrace the policies they believe are most appropriate for their community, afford Conservative Jews the opportunity to now be even more welcoming of the broad diversity in our community. Today’s decisions reaffirm the importance of Jewish law, halacha, in our everyday lives. Regardless of how one feels about this specific issue, the decisions reached today are founded in the deep and abiding respect for halacha.

“I no longer have any reason to believe that halacha stands in the way of fully engaging gays and lesbians in our organization. Based on that conclusion, I see no reason why we should not revise our hiring policies so we may consider applicants for United Synagogue jobs no matter what their sexual orientation may be. United Synagogue’s leadership will discuss the issue at our next scheduled meeting.

“Although I have the greatest respect for the Law Committee decisions, I don’t agree with the recommendation that gay men and lesbians are best advised to find ‘restorative therapy’ to change their sexual orientation.”

Rabbi Epstein's statement indicates that the United Synagogue will now accept gay applicants for positions.

The acceptance of Rabbi Dorff's responsum also means that individual Conservative rabbis are now free to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. (They are not required to do so, but if they want to, they can, without incurring the disapproval of the movement).

Another interesting occurrence is that four of the members of the Committee on Law and Standards have resigned from the Committee: Rabbi Roth, Rabbi Levy, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz and Rabbi Joseph Prouser. Rabbi Rabinowitz's earlier responsum was accepted in the 1992 deliberations of the Law Committee as the basis for its consensus statement, which decided that "avowed homosexuals" should not be ordained as rabbis.

UPDATE: According to a comment on Kesher Talk, the rabbis who resigned from the committee "expressed the view that the permissive teshuvah accepted by the Committee went beyond the bounds of halakhic process. The CJLS members have asked them to reconsider."

FURTHER UPDATE: Some interesting Jewish blogosphere discussions: J Spot, Failed Messiah, Velveteen Rabbi, Oy Bay.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More on Henry Ford

Just plugging "The International Jew" into Google comes up with several on-line publications from anti-semitic groups. It's also possible to buy it on (which is pretty obnoxious). ("Mein Kampf" is also for sale on Amazon - for obvious reasons I'm not furnishing any links to these books!). The first result on Google is for what appears to be an anti-semitic Christian group in Australia, then something called "JR books online" - I wasn't able to figure out what this group was. Jewwatch also makes an appearance. A website called "Radio Islam" also has it on their website, as does a very strange site called "Reactor Core."

I also stumbled my way onto a discussion of the America First movement - which opposed U.S. entry into the Second World War before Pearl Harbor. Charles Lindbergh was the most prominent spokesman for America First, but our old friend Henry Ford was one of the founding members.

Ahmedinejad and Henry Ford

I've been reading the book Henry Ford and the Jews by Neil Baldwin, which is about how Ford promulgated Jew-hatred throughout the United States (and the world) in his publication, the Dearborn Independent. Articles were published decrying Jewish control of everything - the press, the Federal Reserve Board, etc., and they liberally plagiarized from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ford eventually issued an official "apology" in 1927, but the books that anthologized the articles, "The International Jew," are still being published (they're in the public domain, so anyone can publish them). I am reminded of this theme of Jewish control by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's latest public letter, this time to the people of the United States. Along with his usual vitriol about the Zionists' wicked oppression of the Palestinians (which began not with the Six Day War in 1967, but with the establishment of the state of Israel), he has this to say:
What has the blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? It is regrettable that for the US administration, the interest of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world.

What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural, and media sectors?

This last sentence reveals that Ahmedinejad is not talking about the Israeli government, but about Jews in general. For him, "Zionist"=Jew. And the Jews are guilty, as they were in Ford's publications and the Protocols, of sinister control of banking, finance, and the media.

Jimmy Carter

Today, in the mail, I received the most recent of many pleas for money that have come from the Carter Center. I have never given any money to the Carter Center, and after Jimmy Carter's performance on the Lehrer report on November 28, there is not a chance in the world that I will ever give money to anything associated with Jimmy Carter. To see the transcript of the interview, see here: Jimmy Carter interview. Carter castigates the Israelis for not negotiating with the Hamas government after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped this summer (and two other Israeli soldiers were killed). Judy Woodruff, who was interviewing him, asked him about the Israeli refusal to negotiate with Hamas on the basis that Hamas did not recognize Israel's right to exist. He answered her question with this obfuscating reply:
The day after the election, I went and met with Mahmoud Abbas, who is the leader of the Palestinians. He's their president. He's the head of the PLO, which is the only organization, by the way, that the United States or Israel recognizes, the PLO, in which there's not a single Hamas member. Hamas has nothing to do with the PLO.

And after I met with Abbas to talk about a unity government, which he rejected, then I met with a Hamas leader. He's a medical doctor who was elected. He's now in prison, by the way. But he said -- when I insisted that they recognize Israel, he said, "Mr. President, which Israel are you talking about? Are you talking about the Israel that's occupying our land? Are you talking about the Israel that has built a wall around our people? Are you talking about an Israel that deprives us of basic human rights to move from one place to another in our own land?" He said, "We can't recognize that Israel."

But later, the prime minister of the Hamas government, Haniyeh, said, "We are strongly in favor of direct talks between Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PLO and the head of the government, and the prime minister of Israel, Olmert." And he said, "If they reach an agreement in their discussions that's acceptable to the Palestinian people, we will accept it, also. Hamas will."

Carter ignores uncomfortable facts that he doesn't want to acknowledge, including the very recent Hamas refusal to recognize Israel's right to existence (it's been one of the stumbling blocks in the current Palestinian talks over a unity government). He has a very annoying mixture of naivete and sanctimony. I'm reminded again of why I decided not to vote for him in 1980 - when his UN ambassador Andrew Young met with Arafat, when it was official U.S. policy not to talk to the PLO, a policy that I certainly agreed with at the time, since the PLO was at that time as intransigent as Hamas is today. And with the title of his new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," he certainly indicates where his sympathies lie.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dennis Prager & Muslims

Andrew Sullivan pointed to an amazing article by Dennis Prager on how dangerous to America it will be if Keith Ellison (newly elected Democratic Congressman from Minnesota, who is the first Muslim elected to Congress). Apparently Ellison has said that he will take his oath of office on the Qur'an, not on the Bible, which seems reasonable, since he is not a Christian or a Jew. Prager says: "Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress." Prager then says, "When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11." Amazing! A man swearing the oath of office on a Qur'an is worse than the Al-Qaida terrorists who killed 3,000 people on September 11!

I had been under the impression that the Constitution forbids religious tests for office, which is what Prager is suggesting. Article VI of the Constitution reads: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Notice that it says nothing about whether the person has to take the oath of office while holding or resting his hand on a book.

UPDATE: The Anti-Defamation League has issued a forthright denunciation of Prager - good for them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Harry Reid

I guess this is a fact that more politically-minded people probably know - but Harry Reid, new Senate Majority Leader in January, is also a Mormon. It's interesting that his religion is not nearly the issue that Mitt Romney's is.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Heavenly Mother

I clicked on one of the links that Andrew Sullivan provided in his discussion of Mormon undergarments, and came across a fascinating website on Mormonism. One Mormon doctrine that I did not expect to find at all is that Mormons believe there is a Heavenly Mother alongside a Heavenly Father, and that together they produce the spirits of human beings.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejects the idea found in some religions that the spirits or souls of individual human beings are created ex nihilo. Rather it accepts literally the vital scriptural teaching as worded by Paul: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." This and other scriptures underscore not only spiritual sibling relationships but heirship with God, and a destiny of joint heirship with Christ (Rom. 8:16-18; cf. Mal. 2:10).

Latter-day Saints believe that all the people of earth who lived or will live are actual spiritual offspring of God the Eternal Father (Num. 16:22; Heb. 12:9). In this perspective, parenthood requires both father and mother, whether for the creation of spirits in the premortal life or of physical tabernacles on earth. A Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Heavenly Father. This concept leads Latter-day Saints to believe that she is like him in glory, perfection, compassion, wisdom, and holiness.

Elohim, the name-title for God, suggests the plural of the Caananite El or the Hebrew Eloah. It is used in various Hebrew combinations to describe the highest God. It is the majestic title of the ultimate deity. Genesis 1:27 reads, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them" (emphasis added), which may be read to mean that "God" is plural.

Mormons believe that God the Father has a body like human beings, as does God the Son, while the Holy Spirit is a spirit.
Latter-day Saints perceive the Father as an exalted Man in the most literal, anthropomorphic terms. They do not view the language of Genesis as allegorical; human beings are created in the form and image of a God who has a physical form and image (Gen. 1:26). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit" (D&C 130:22). Thus, "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24) in the sense that the Holy Ghost, the member of the Godhead who deals most often and most directly with humans, is a God and a spirit, but God the Father and God the Son are spirits with physical, resurrected bodies. Latter-day Saints deny the abstract nature of God the Father and affirm that he is a concrete being, that he possesses a physical body, and that he is in space and time.

On the idea that God the Father and Mother produce human spirits:
The Father, Elohim, is called the Father because he is the literal father of the spirits of mortals (Heb. 12:9). This paternity is not allegorical. All individual human spirits were begotten (not created from nothing or made) by the Father in a premortal state, where they lived and were nurtured by Heavenly Parents. These spirit children of the Father come to earth to receive mortal bodies; there is a literal family relationship among humankind. Joseph Smith taught, "If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves" (TPJS, p. 343). Gods and humans represent a single divine lineage, the same species of being, although they and he are at different stages of progress.

When I read this, I am reminded of the Shiur Qomah texts, which describe (the male) God in extremely anthropomorphic terms, as well as of the Enoch literature, in which Enoch ascends to heaven alive and is transformed into the highest angel (eventually gaining the name Metatron in the Hekhalot texts). It would be fascinating to learn what the intellectual/religious influences were upon Joseph Smith and other founders of the Mormon church, and whether they knew of the Enoch books or the other pseudepigrapha.

Andrew Sullivan and Mormonism

Andrew Sullivan has raised the question of whether Mormons are Christians, in connection with the probable Presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney (soon-to-be ex-Governor of Massachusetts), who is a Mormon. Among other things, he says in response to an e-mail: "And the inspiration for Mormonism's radically innovative understanding of the message and life of Jesus - Joseph Smith's "discovery" - is so alien to mainstream Christianity (and so transparently loopy) that I don't consider Mormons Christians. This is not to say I don't support their religious freedom or their right to play a full part of American politics and society. But they're not Christians as I understand Christianity" (italics mine). He later says that, "they are Christians of a very different stripe than most others."

His main discussion then turns to the racial politics of the Mormon church, and the fact that until the late 1970s black men could not be part of the Mormon priesthood (which is open to all men - and no women, a fact not noted by Sullivan). He thinks that this fact will probably cause problems for Romney should he run for President (and he might be correct, considering how troublesome George Allen's racist past - and present - was for him in his recent failed run for re-election to the Senate in Virginia).

He then, in a couple of recent postings, turns to the vital issue of Mormon undergarments (which adult Mormons wear after having gone through a ceremony in a Mormon temple), and publishes a photo of what they look like. He defends himself against a Mormon critic who was offended by his publication of the photo with these words: "My policy on this site is to publish reality, within certain boundaries of religious respect. If I can publish a cartoon of Muhammad, I can sure publish tasteful pictures of Mormon underwear."

I'm disturbed by the way that he's bringing up Romney's Mormonism. The racial history of the church seems relevant to me, as does the stand of the Mormon church against gay marriage or abortion - or in fact its stance on any political issue. But why engage in polemics against the idea that Mormons are Christians, or call Mormonism "transparently loopy"? Those of us who are not Christians sometimes raise our eyebrows at various aspects of Christian doctrine as taught by the Roman Catholic Church or the various Protestant churches - but our making fun of Christianity is not a reasoned argument against it. It seems to me that Sullivan is trying to make a principled argument that questions Romney's fitness for the presidency based on some of the doctrines, or former doctrines, of the LDS church. Engaging in mockery or calling Mormonism "loopy" doesn't advance his argument, and makes him sound bigoted.

Heroism in Darfur

Nicholas Kristoff recounts several moving stories of heroism in Darfur:
When the janjaweed militia attacked Fareeda, a village here in southeastern Chad near Darfur, an elderly man named Simih Yahya didn’t run because that would have meant leaving his frail wife behind. So the janjaweed grabbed Mr. Simih and, shouting insults against blacks, threw him to the ground and piled grass on his back.

Then they started a bonfire on top of him.

But his wife, Halima, normally fragile and submissive, furiously tried to tug the laughing militia members from her husband. She pleaded with them to spare his life. Finally, she threw herself on top of the fire, burning herself but eventually extinguishing it with her own body.

The janjaweed may have been shamed by her courage, for Mr. Simih recalls them then walking away and saying, “Oh, he will die anyway.” He told me the story as he was treated at a hospital where doctors peeled burned flesh from his back.

Kristoff doesn't state whether Halima lived or not, although since he doesn't mention her survival, I imagine that she sacrificed her life for her husband's. He tells another story of self-sacrifice, this time a sister leaving herself as a decoy for Janjaweed rapists so that her younger sister can flee:

One of the most inspiring people here is Suad Ahmed, a 25-year-old mother of two from Darfur. She lives here in the Goz Amir refugee camp, and last month she was collecting firewood with her beloved little sister, Halima, when a band of janjaweed ambushed them.

The janjaweed regularly attack women and girls — part of a Sudanese policy of rape to terrorize and drive away black African tribes — and Ms. Suad knew how brutal the attacks are. A 12-year-old neighbor girl had been kidnapped by the janjaweed and gang-raped for a week; the girl’s legs were pulled so far apart that she is now crippled.

But Ms. Suad’s thoughts were only for her sister, who is just 10. “You are a virgin, and you must escape,” she told her. “Run! I’ll let myself be captured, but you must run and escape.”

The local culture is such that if the little girl were raped, she might never be able to marry. So Ms. Suad made herself a decoy and allowed herself to be caught, while her sister escaped back to the camp.

Ms. Suad plays down her heroism, saying that even if she had tried to escape, she might have been caught anyway, for she was five months pregnant. Or, she says, maybe she and her sister both would have been captured.

In any case, however, the janjaweed beat Ms. Suad, and seven of them gang-raped her despite her pregnancy. “You black people have no land,” she recalls them telling her. “This land is not for you.”

People from the camp found Ms. Suad in the hills that evening, too injured to walk, and carried her back. Ms. Suad said she didn’t seek medical treatment, because she wanted to keep the rape as much of a secret as possible and didn’t even tell her husband, although he eventually found out along with a few others. He accepted that it was not her fault....

The gang rape and beating were excruciating, she says, but her sacrifice was worth it. “When my sister saw me brought back and saw what had happened to me, she understood,” Ms. Suad says. “She is very grateful to me.”

As Kristoff says earlier in the column: "Side by side with the most nauseating evil, you stumble across the most exhilarating humanity."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SBL 2007

I just returned from the SBL very late last night (it took 12 hours to drive from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge, MA, where I'm spending Thanksgiving with my family - an inordinate amount of traffic around Wilmington, Delaware caused about a 2 1/2 hour delay!). I had a good time and met some interesting people that I'll be in correspondence with soon. The session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section that I took part in was an interesting retrospective on our past ten years, and gave rise to many suggestions for what to do next. I also received some interesting suggestions on the paper that I gave on women and magic in 1 Enoch. My revisions for that paper will go into a longer paper that I'm working on now on the more general subject of women and magic in early Judaism, which I'm writing for a volume on women and magic in the ancient world.

I also went to some great sessions - including one with Susannah Heschel, talking about the Nazification of the theological faculty of Jena during the Third Reich. She has written about this earlier, and I hope that her research will lead into a book on the subject. I have a particular interest in this topic because of something that I discovered while doing dissertation research in the early 1990s. Theodor Hopfner, who was the author of a two-volume work on Greco-Egyptian magic published in the 1921 (Griechisch-ägyptischer Offenbarungszauber), went on to write a book entitled "Die Judenfrage bei Griechen und Roemern," published in Prague in 1943. I took the book out and was horrified to discover that it was an anti-semitic screed, based on the idea that the ancient Greek and Roman hatred of Jews for their "misanthropy" was a predecessor of Nazi racial anti-semitism. He emphasizes the revolting physical characteristics of Jews, including their degenerate sexual lives. I want to do some more research on Hopfner's career to figure out how he got from writing on revelatory magic in Egypt to searching for the roots of racial anti-semitism in the ancient world. He's the author of many other well-received books, including a translation of Plutarch's "On Isis and Osiris," originally published in Prague 1940-41 and reprinted in 1967, an edition of Iamblichus' "On the Mysteries," and a book on the animal cults of the Egyptians.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mircea Eliade's fascism

One of the more disturbing things that I learned late in my career as a graduate student in religion was about the early fascist activities of one of the great 20th century figures in the study of religion, Mircea Eliade. As an article in the New Republic (by Joseph Frank) which has just been posted on line says: "Mircea Eliade, the much-admired historian of religion ... was chairman of the department of religion at the University of Chicago from 1957 until his death in 1986. Eliade had been a strong supporter of the Iron Guard movement, the Romanian equivalent of the Italian fascists and the German Nazis, but he attempted throughout his later career to conceal and deny his affiliation with its ideas and his service in the pro-Axis Romanian government of Marshal Ion Antonescu during the war."

In the mid-1930s he began to support the Iron Guard openly: "In 1936 he began openly to support the Iron Guard; but his aim was 'to provide its ideology with a more solid philosophical foundation.' One is reminded of Heidegger's attempt to provide Hitlerism with what the philosopher considered a worthier intellectual grounding. Eliade carries on a continual battle against the ideas of the Enlightenment and traces the degeneration of Romania to its attempt to adopt such alien notions: 'Being a foreign importation, the democratic regime concerns itself with matters that are not specifically Romanian--abstractions like the rights of man, the rights of minorities, and the liberty of conscience.' Far better a dictatorship like that of Mussolini, which is always preferable to a democracy because, if the latter goes to pieces, it will 'inevitably slide toward the left' and thus toward communism."

In 1938, the Iron Guard movement was suppressed in Romania, and Eliade left the country, to become the Romanian cultural attache in London. He was then transferred to Portugal, and spent four years in Lisbon, full of admiration for the dictatorship of Salazar.

Eliade never repented of his fascist involvements, although he concealed them after the war. He kept a notebook throughout the war that is now in the University of Chicago library.
It is an astonishing document, revealing a self-adulation merging on megalomania and a fervent commitment to the triumph of Hitler, Mussolini, and Antonescu over the "Anglo-Bolsheviks." Comparing himself with Goethe, whose genius he admired, Eliade concludes: "My intellectual horizons are vaster." Despite the consolation of such reflections, he was terribly depressed by the course of the war. After the defeat of the Germans and their Romanian allies at Stalingrad (which he called "a tragedy"), followed by the invasion of North Africa and the British victory over Rommel, Eliade was upset to such an extent that he notes: "Insomnias, nightmares, depression."

For him, the triumph of the Allies meant "the abandonment of Europe to the Asiatic hordes." Even though Jews were being slaughtered right and left in his homeland, not to mention elsewhere--and Eliade's diplomatic position kept him perfectly well informed--not a word about any such events appears in his pages. As the handwriting on the wall became more and more legible, he resolved not to return home, but to take another tack. "I have decided to 'penetrate' Europe more deeply and with more determination than I have done until now," he writes. Several months later, he sees himself operating as "a Trojan horse within the scientific arena," whose aim was "scientifically to validate the metaphysical significance of prehistoric life." This is exactly how he behaved after Antonescu was overthrown and he was discharged from his position at the Romanian embassy. He had influential scholarly connections in Paris, particularly the cultural historian Georges Dumézil, and he used this influence as well as others to obtain temporary teaching appointments. He had begun to write his Treatise on the History of Religions in 1944 and his influential The Myth of the Eternal Return a year later; both appeared in French in the immediate postwar years, and launched Eliade on his way to international fame and a permanent post in Chicago.
In my undergraduate and graduate classes in religion we were assigned books by Eliade, including The Myth of the Eternal Return, and I was always disturbed by his treatment of Judaism - which was not openly anti-semitic but nonetheless did not cast Judaism in a very favorable light.

Joseph Frank analyzes this quite astutely:
Nothing blatantly anti-Semitic can be found in Eliade's postwar writings, but the prejudice is transposed into a much more scholarly key in his theory of religion. One of the cornerstones of his doctrine was that archaic man lived in a world of cyclical time, whose recurrences were marked by festivals of one kind or another in which "sacred time," the time of religious experience, was re-created. The modern world has largely lost this ability to relive "sacred time" because the Hebrews (as Eliade now calls them) broke with the cyclical time of "the eternal return" by linking God with linear time. "The Hebrews," he writes, "were the first to discover the significance of history as the epiphany of God," and this discovery of history ultimately led to all the ills of the modern world. Daniel Dubuisson, a French analyst of Eliade's views on mythology, concludes that this summary notion of history "especially invents a new accusation against the Jews, that of an ontological crime, a capital crime and without doubt unpardonable." Eliade thus remained true to himself in this erudite disguise during his later years, when his worldwide fame reached its apogee and his death was mourned with sanctimonious reverence.
Once this information about Eliade started to come out (I think I first read about his history in an earlier article in TNR in August of 1991), there was at least one session at the AAR discussing him. I certainly hope that his books are no longer a mainstay of undergraduate religion courses. I actually threw out some of his books that I owned - I didn't want anyone else to be exposed to his dubious ideas on the history of religion.


Links to more interesting articles on Eliade and Fascism:

Politics of the Sacred: Eliade, Bataille and the Fascination of Fascism
Between the two World Wars, the rise of the fascist politico-religious movements proved a fateful return of the ‘collective effervescence’ that Emile Durkheim had placed at the core of the sacred. This article analyses the conception of the sacred in the work of two scholars, Mircea Eliade and Georges Bataille, who both responded to this phenomenon in their work. Their theories are scrutinized with an eye to their political implications: What political commitments underlie their theories? Do the theories contribute to the understanding of the fateful amalgam of religion and politics? It is demonstrated how, despite some important similarities, the two develop radically differing interpretations of the sacred. Eliade occults the political background as well as the violent ramifications of his idealized view of the sacred. Bataille, in his turn, does not shun a certain complicity with forces that fascism exploited, a complicity that does not correspond bit by bit with his overt statements of commitment. Still, from his writing emerges a dynamic conception of the sacred, undersood as a fundamentally ambiguous force, that helps to grasp the—also political—uses, abuses, as well a certain useless residue of the sacred.
The Politics of Myth: A Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell, by Robert Ellwood (1999)
Examines the political views implicit in the mythological theories of three of the most widely read popularizers of myth in the twentieth century, C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. 
The Politics of Myth examines the political views implicit in the mythological theories of three of the most widely read popularizers of myth in the twentieth century, C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. All three had intellectual roots in the anti-modern pessimism and romanticism that also helped give rise to European fascism, and all three have been accused of fascist and anti-Semitic sentiments. At the same time, they themselves tended toward individualistic views of the power of myth, believing that the world of ancient myth contained resources that could be of immense help to people baffled by the ambiguities and superficiality of modern life. 
Robert Ellwood details the life and thought of each mythologist and the intellectual and spiritual worlds within which they worked. He reviews the damaging charges that have been made about their politics, taking them seriously while endeavoring to put them in the context of the individual's entire career and lifetime contribution. Above all, he seeks to extract from their published work the view of the political world that seems most congruent with it.
An interesting interview with Norman Manea that touches on Eliade and Mihail Sebastian, The Great Work and the Compromised Man.
I want to broaden the scope a little and ask about the many intellectual figures that you name in your work, people who made terrible, unforgivable compromises. I’m thinking of the young Mircea Eliade, of Emil Cioran, of Constantin Noica, and under communism, of Paul Georgescu, “the flying elephant.” Do you think the work can stand independent of the writer? Or is aesthetic merit undermined by ideological compromise?

The work can and should stand independently, in my opinion. There are cases when the work still has merit, despite the shortcomings of its writer. Human beings are not perfect, and there is something redeeming in the human being who, imperfect as he or she is, nevertheless struggles for a perfect work and creates a masterpiece. In my opinion, this redeems the flawed person a little bit. I think that the work should be judged for itself, and the defects of the writer should never be ignored. We can think of the writer as a teaching example. He or she can help us understand difficult periods in human history; what the writer has to say should be dealt with, it should be debated. The great work and the compromised man are a human contradiction, and I am always for contradictions. They’re more interesting than coherences. Of course, sometimes, it’s very difficult to separate one from the other.

Totten on Lebanon

In amidst the fog caused by working too hard in the middle of the semester, I've poked my head out a bit and noticed comments like those that Michael J. Totten is making on the current situation in Lebanon. He says, "A perfect storm may be brewing in Lebanon." Since he correctly saw the conditions for the Israeli-Hizbollah war a couple of months before it actually broke out this summer, I think he's someone we should listen to.

It's scary to contemplate, especially considering what a mess Israeli politics is right now, what with Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praising President Bush for "the stability which the great operation of America in Iraq brought to the Middle East." (Yes, he really did say this, and only a day or so after the elections which even our President admits gave a "thumping" to his administration). What was he thinking? Does he really think that the American people want the U.S. military to remain in Iraq? Or that Americans support Bush in anything? (See discussion here by Amos of Kishkushim on how stupid Olmert's remarks were).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Magical knowledge in 1 Enoch

At the end of this week I'll be attending the Society of Biblical Literature conference, where I will be presenting a paper at the Wisdom and Apocalypticism section and participating in a discussion for the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section. My paper is called "They Revealed Secrets to the Their Wives: The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch." What follows is an abstract of the paper:
The Book of the Watchers expands upon the enigmatic story in Genesis 6:1-4 that tells of the "sons of God" (בְּנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים) taking human women for themselves. Gen. 6:1-4 describes the illegitimate crossing of boundaries between the divine and the human, enacted upon the bodies of human women. This paper focuses on how the Book of Watchers, later Enochic booklets, and the book of Jubilees reinterpret the biblical story so that the sin of the "sons of God" or Watchers (עירין) also includes the transmission of knowledge forbidden to human beings, especially to women. In particular, the Watchers teach women the heavenly mysteries of "sorcery and spells," among them methods of divination by observance of heavenly and earthly phenomena. These, however, are not the true secrets of heaven – they are the "rejected mysteries," which the Watchers ought not to have taught human beings. The Book of the Watchers sets up a gendered dichotomy between the Watchers' human wives and Enoch; women are recipients only of rejected mysteries, while Enoch learns the true secrets of heaven from the revealing angels when he ascends to heaven alive.

Two second century B.C.E. Enochic books, the Dream Visions of Enoch and the Epistle of Enoch, omit mention altogether of the notion that the angels teach human beings rejected heavenly wisdom. Jubilees, also from the second century B.C.E., initially treats the Watchers’ descent to earth positively, maintaining that their mission was to teach human beings. They sinned with women, however, and their positive mission was forgotten. The first century C.E. Similitudes of Enoch takes up the tradition of angelic teaching once again, but the human wives of the Watchers are not singled out as recipients of this knowledge. The key question is, therefore, why would the Book of the Watchers report that women in particular are recipients of magical knowledge from their angelic husbands? One possible framework for understanding may be found in earlier biblical traditions that associate magic with women, in particular the prophetic tradition that holds foreign women, especially foreign cities imagined as women, guilty of sorcery and divination. The scribal context of composition for the Book of the Watchers must also be considered, in particular the comparison with the Wisdom of Ben Sira, which posits a unique connection between women and evil.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"The fish stinks from the head"

I had not checked on the Israel news for a few days, what with the avalanche of Jewish holidays that just ended today, so I was quite surprised to discover that Police investigators recommend charging Katsav with rape and fraud. The President of Israel is being accused of "rape, sexual assault, eavesdropping, fraud, breach of trust, and improprieties in gift distribution." These accusations, which will probably form the basis of an indictment of Katsav, certainly prove the truth of the Hebrew saying that corruption comes from the top. It's definitely far more lurid and sensational than our latest political sex scandal in the U.S. involving Rep. Mark Foley.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Racist Graffiti

For my return to blogging, my first feature is a notice of resurging hate graffiti in one of the dorms at my place of employment.
On Sept. 4, Public Safety reported that swastikas were found drawn in permanent black marker on a bulletin board in Emerson. More swastikas appeared on stairwells and elevators Sept. 9, and again on Sept. 27 and 30, according to Courtney Bazan, residence director of Emerson Hall. Bazan said in the Sept. 30 case, the words “white power” were written on a vending machine in the Emerson laundry room. The Office of Public Safety said the graffiti incidents are not being classified as hate crimes.

Bazan said the swastikas were blatant.

“We had three in the elevator, and walking in there, I wanted to absolutely throw up when I saw them,” she said. “They’re not things that we take lightly.”
In one of my classes today, I led a discussion on the graffiti, and many issues were raised - does calling attention to racist graffiti simply gratify those who drew the swastikas? Were those who drew the graffiti racists? Or were they just drunken college students? Should the college do something about the graffiti (other than clean it off), and if so, what? What would motivate someone to do something like this? What role does alcohol play in offences like this? Is our campus really as diverse as the rhetoric makes it out to be? Where do people learn to do things like this - do they learn such prejudice at home? The usual questions that people ask when confronted with such expressions of hatred.

Two years ago, the college sponsored an "Erase the Hate" rally, which hundreds of students went to, in response to an earlier wave of racist and homophobic incidents and graffiti.

I think the institutional will is there to try to reduce such incidents as much as possible, but I suspect that even in the most progressive campus, it is impossible to completely get rid of racist expressions like this. Even if we were truly a more diverse campus, racially, religiously, and ethnically, there would still be students, staff, and faculty with racist beliefs. The problem then is to create enough pressure that people don't express such beliefs, either in words or in actions.

Monday, September 11, 2006

World visitors

One of the things that I find fascinating about the internet is, of course, how international it is. I've recently linked to Sitemeter, which can display recent visitors to a website on a world map. I just discovered visitors from the following countries:

Syria (Damascus) - looking for the poem "Rami's Wall."

Egypt - looking up "Enoch Metatron"

New Delhi, India - looking up "terrorism, islam & politics in india."

Hanoi, Vietnam - looking for "why terrorism has its origins from islam"

Someone from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation looking for "Carol Valentine"

Cluj, Romania - a discussion in Romanian or Hungarian which appears to be on Israel and the Pulsa Denura (I often get referrals from people looking for information on the Pulsa Denura). The same discussion was the link for someone from Szeged, Hungary, and another person from Budapest, Hungary.

Prague, Czech Republic - on the film "Memory of the Camps," shown on PBS.

Haguenau, Alsace, France - looking for Berakhot 3b

Lisbon, Portugal - Pat Robertson and Ariel Sharon

All in all, the subjects that led people to my blog aren't that surprising, since they include many of the topics that I write about - but it is still surprising to me how people from across the globe find their way to my blog.

5 Years Later

Last night I dreamt about the attacks on September 11 - actually, I dreamt about how to talk about them in my classes (which is something I didn't plan on doing). In my dream, I had an elaborate plan to talk about how different all the various views of September 11 are and how they reflect different interpretations of history.... but that's not what I want to think about now.

Last night I tuned in very briefly to the ABC production on "The Path to 9/11," but didn't watch it. I also didn't watch the documentary film on CBS - footage from the day itself, not a made for TV movie. I think I saw it when it was first shown in the fall of 2001. I just couldn't - it was too raw. I still remember clearly the first images on television that I saw that day.

I woke up late on September 11, 2001. I didn't have to teach until 5:30 p.m. that day, so I could afford to sleep in a bit. I woke up shortly before 9 a.m. and was lying in bed listening to the local news station. There was something strange on the news about a plane hitting a building in New York, but then the local host didn't say anything about it. I got up and went downstairs to turn on CNN. That's when I saw the Twin Towers burning. The second plane had just a hit a few minutes before. I was watching television when the plane hit the Pentagon a few minutes later. I watched the collapse of the two towers within the next hour. I remember standing and watching with my hands on my face - I could not believe what I was seeing. Eventually, I went to work, and people were wandering around in a daze. I cancelled my 5:30 class, because no one could pay attention - students wanted to try to reach their friends and relatives in New York (which was next to impossible that day, because the phone lines were jammed).

So no, I don't need a made-for-TV movie to remind me of what happened - it still unrolls in my mind the way it happened on that blue September morning, not so long ago.

W.H. Auden, on another day in September:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night....

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone....
From Auden's poem, "September 1, 1939"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

9/11 Revisionists

The fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is coming up on Monday, as everyone knows, and I've been thinking about how to write about them. Apparently some people see the terrorist attacks as a way to further their own crazy conspiracy theories.

Last night as I was driving to a friend's house, I saw a young man on the side of the road holding a sign which read: "9/11 - An Inside Job?" Also on the sign was a reference to a website - Since I was on the way to a Shabbat dinner, I tried to forget about this outrageous sign and focus on more pleasant thoughts.

Tonight I looked up the Prison Planet website, and found this wonderful trove of anti-semitic documents: Prison Planet - 9/11 Prior Knowledge Archive. I wonder if the young man holding his sign knew about the anti-semitism of his favorite website?

This was not the only occurrence of the 9/11 conspiracy theories in Ithaca. Our local newspaper, the Ithaca Journal, published an article by a Paul V. Sheridan also pushing the argument that there's no proof Osama bin Laden was connected to the 9/11 attacks. The Journal is not one of the most sterling examples of journalism produced by the Gannett chain, but their publication of this op-ed piece was definitely one of the low points in the Journal's history.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New State Department Travel Warning

The State Department has issued a new Travel Warning today for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, among other things warning of the possibility of terrorist bombings. I have to say that I continue to wonder why there are Travel Warnings issued on Israel (which among other things, can make it very difficult for colleges to permit students to travel there to study), while not at the same time having travel warnings on, for example, Turkey, where there have just been 5 terrorist bombings that have killed several tourists.

The State Department Consular Information Sheet on Turkey goes into considerable detail about various terrorist bombings that have been carried out there in recent years, including the Al-Qaeda bombings in November 2003, when the British Consulate, the HSBC bank, and two synagogues were struck by suicide truck bombs.

Yet the State Department does not warn American citizens against travel to Turkey by issuing a Travel Warning.

New York Times biases

I have always very steadfastly defended the New York Times against charges that it is biased against Israel, but the current New York Times bureau chief in Israel, Steven Erlanger, has just confirmed his own partial point of view in a panel recently organized in Israel about the international media's coverage of this summer's war: Journalists blame Israel for war coverage. I'm really quite astonished at the things that Erlanger admitted in public:
The New York Time's Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Steven Erlanger, expressed surprise that Israel's view of the war was different to that of its critics, and said that Israelis didn't "quite grasp how the war was perceived outside of Israel." He lamented the lack of "proportionality" in the war, adding: "This is a charge that came against Israel from the United Nations… the French, the Italians." The New York Times bureau chief also said that Israelis "were not interested in whether 1,000 Lebanese civilians needed to die," adding that the question of "whether Israel fought a proportional war is not much of interest here (in Israel)."
It sounds to me like Erlanger is complaining that Israelis don't have the same view of the war that he does - rather than trying to report both what happened and what Israelis thought about it. Is it his job to express his own editorial opinion? I don't think so!

Another thing that Erlanger said also astonished me, and in my opinion really confirms his own biases:
"While other panelists said Hizbullah placed dictatorial control over colleagues reporting from Lebanon, Ernlanger maintained that the only threat faced by his own colleague in Lebanon was posed by "Israeli missiles."
Isn't Erlanger aware of the Hizbollah-led guided tours of south Beirut, reported on by Anderson Cooper of CNN as well as others? Why is he deliberately ignoring evidence that other mainstream journalists have uncovered? It's not as if this point has only been made by the right-wing blogs like LGF. If the New York Times wishes to be seen as an impartial news source, the editors should really be questioning Erlanger quite harshly right now!

UPDATE, Tuesday, 10:53 PM: LGF also posted on this article - and I totally agree with Charles Johnson in this case. Whatever else one might say about LGF, he has done yeoman work exposing faked photographs and biased journalism during the war this summer.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dismal foolishness

A good posting by Michael Totten on Andrew Sullivan's blog about Israeli and Lebanese backlash against the foolish deadliness of Hizbollah and the Israeli government. It about matches my mood today.

Comfort ye, my people

I don't know if Israel or Hizbollah won this particular round of war between them. What would "winning" consist of, in any case? If Israel won, it still won't bring back to life the ca. 150 Israelis killed in the war, or the 1200 Lebanese killed in the war - civilian and fighters. Nor will it make the rubble in Lebanon suddenly turn back into buildings, nor the buildings hit by Katyushas in Israel suddenly be rebuilt, nor cause the forests of the Galilee set on fire by the Katyushas suddenly sprout anew as tall as they were at the beginning of the summer.

As far as the the current "Great Game" now being played between the U.S. and Iran is concerned, this is probably just a skirmish - on the way to Iran gaining nuclear weapons and the U.S. losing all of its rapidly diminishing influence in the Middle East. It is hard to believe that this war has made Israel safer, nor really diminished Hizbollah's strength, no matter how many fighters were killed or bunkers destroyed. I remember in Vietnam, the U.S. government always touted the number of Vietcong killed, as if this were a measure of victory.

For some sensible words, read Doron Rosenblum of Haaretz
But to both those who send us into battle in order to derive joy from our performance, and those among us who are thoroughly depressed by the results of the war, it must be said: Comfort, comfort, my people. With all the acute importance of military might, Israel cannot be solely a derivative of victories or tactical defeats on the battlefield. Its existence is far richer and far more meaningful and varied than that.

If the Israeli mentality is "inferior" to that of Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas in that it does not seek suicidal death, the virgins in Paradise and genocide for its neighbors; if Israel has pity on the lives of its sons, on its comfort, on the nurturing of its landscapes and even on bed and breakfasts, wineries and the pleasures of life, it is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary: We shall proudly bear our weaknesses as fragile, vulnerable human beings.

Israel is not Sparta, and this is a good thing. It was not established in order to be a spearhead against global Islam, or in order to serve as an alert squad for the Western world. It was established in order to live in it. And after the obvious is stated - with respect to the importance of might and strength - this too shall be said: Unlike some of its enemies, Israel has a far more means of existential solace - in vitality, culture and in creativity - than the planting of a flag of victory among the ruins.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Guns Of August

Richard Holbrooke's cautionary words - The Guns Of August.
Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay. Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily get pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even though the governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate that organization. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO's own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamic resistance.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Samir Kuntar

This is what Hizbollah represents, Harold Evans shows in an opinion piece arguing against the boneheaded leftists of the British Stop the War Coalition who carried signs proclaiming "We are all Hizbullah now" in a recent march:
Perhaps the London marchers do not know of Samir Kuntar. He is locked up in an Israeli prison. It was to secure his release by blackmail that Hizbullah guerillas crossed into Israel and kidnapped two Israelis, triggering the conflict. Samir Kuntar is emblematic of Hizbullah's values, their highest priority in any prisoner exchange, so let us hear about him from a woman who opposes his release. She is a social worker in Israel called Smadar Haran he met in 1979.

"It had been a peaceful Sabbath day. My husband Danny and I had picnicked with our little girls, Einat, 4, and Yael, 2, on the beach not far from our home in Naharyia, a city on the northern coast of Israel. Around midnight, we were asleep in our apartment when four terrorists from Lebanon landed in a rubber boat on the beach two blocks away.

"Gunfire and exploding grenades awakened us. Desperately we sought to hide. Danny helped our neighbour climb into a crawl space above our bedroom. I went in behind her with Yael in my arms. Then Danny grabbed Einat and was dashing out of the front door when the terrorists came crashing in. They held Danny and Einat while they searched for me and Yael.

"I will never forget the joy and the hatred in their voices as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades. I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space, so I kept my hand over her mouth. As I lay there, I remembered my mother telling me how she had hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

"The terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl's skull in against a rocket with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar. By the time we were rescued from the crawl space hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives I had smothered her"
This is a bone-chilling story - and these are the people that Israel is fighting against.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


In case any of my readers don't know about it, Israelity is a wonderful blog that is aggregating reports from other Israeli blogs about the war and also about various aspects of day to day Israeli life. Allison Kaplan Sommer, of An Unsealed Room started it, and now Sarah of Chayyei Sarah is working on the blog as well. The stories are often poignant and/or funny and really give the flavor of Israeli life.

Israel Cabinet approves wider war in Lebanon

The Israel cabinet today approved a ground offensive further into Lebanon, to get rid of the Katyusha launchers south of the Litani River. "It has also been agreed that the IDF will not enter Tyre, and the cabinet rejected a proposal by one of the ministers to target Lebanese government infrastructure, for fear this would undermine international support for Israel's moves." (Although is there any international support for Israel's moves, except from the U.S.? But I am glad that the idea to target the government infrastructure was rejected).

"The mood in Wednesday's cabinet meeting which addressed the situation in Lebanon was defined as difficult, even dismal. The meeting lasted six hours minus the half hour break which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used to speak at length with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice."

And the only thing which gives me any hope right now: "The foreign minister [Tzipi Livni] further noted that Lebanese President Fouad Siniora's idea to deploy the Lebanese army to the south was 'good in our eyes.' With that, she clarified that the Lebanese force must be reinforced by multinational troops with effective enforcement abilities. 'These forces are meant to replace Hizbullah in south Lebanon and not join them. The international community must help enforce this,' she stressed."

The Haaretz article gave other details:
The security cabinet approved Wednesday a broader ground offensive by the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon, authorizing troops to push at least up to the Litani River some 30 kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon border. The IDF's goal is to significantly reduce Hezbollah's short-range rocket launching capabilities. Most Katyusha rocket launches take place from within this area.

The cabinet authorized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to widen the offensive and to determine its timing. According to the decision, however, the two are not obliged to implement the decision.

The offensive would not begin for two or three days so as not interfere with ongoing efforts to broker a cease-fire at the United Nations, said one minister in the meeting.

Nine of the 12 ministers in the cabinet voted in favor of the move, while the other three abstained. There were no votes against the decision.

The left, in the form of Meretz and the Arab parties, harshly criticized the cabinet decision:
The political left in Israel slammed the Wednesday afternoon cabinet decision to widen the military ground offensive in Lebanon. Meretz MK Ran Cohen called the move "unfortunate and dangerous." He said continued operations will "increase the large number of victims and will not solve the problem." Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On added the decision "will distance the chances of a cease-fire and of quiet in the northern communities." Meretz Chairman MK Yossi Beilin said the cabinet "made a tragic mistake that is liable to unnecessary lengthen the war? Rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to leave Lebanon and let its army deploy in the south, Israel is entering deeper into Hezbollah's trap on the verge of a war of attrition on the ground."

Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh said the cabinet decision is "insanity testifying to military arrogance." He said Israel was closing the window of opportunity that was opened by the Lebanese government. United Arab List MK Talab al-Sana said, "Now is the time for diplomatic initiatives and not for military adventures."
When I first heard about the cabinet decision, I also felt dismal - how long is this war going to last? How much longer will people in northern Israel have to suffer from the rocket attacks? How much longer will Israeli soldiers be killed by Hizbollah fighters? How much longer will Lebanese civilians be caught between Hizbollah and the IDF?

I'm not a military strategist, so I can't really say whether this is a wise decision or not. It seems to have been made out of the understanding that a cease-fire is not going to happen soon, which would stop the Katyusha fire, and perhaps also out of a fear that even if there is a cease-fire, there would be no guarantee that Hizbollah wouldn't just start up again whenever it felt like. The plans to put some kind of international force in southern Lebanon seem to be going nowhere - the Lebanese government wants to put its own troops in and Hizbollah is opposed to foreign troops, although they say they'll accept the Lebanese Army. But could the Lebanese Army prevent Hizbollah from firing its rockets? Would it replace Hizbollah, or merely stand next to them, open to attacks by Israeli troops and air power?

I don't see anything good happening now.

Is this possible?

In today's Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis writes:
In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.
I certainly hope that Lewis is wrong. For one thing, I have not read any reports that claim that the Iranians currently possess nuclear weapons (at least not of their own making). On the other hand, they do possess other devastating weapons - but would they use them against Israel at the cost of Israeli retaliation? Perhaps Mr. Ahmedinejad is a believer in the close approach of the end-times, but do all those in power in Iran have such a time-line in mind?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Israeli women reservists called up

This is something I've never heard of before - I wasn't even aware that women had direct combat duties in the IDF. Ynet reports on hundreds of women reserve soldiers who have been called up to fight Hizbollah on the northern border. "In the past four years, the IDF has started integrating women into the reserves. In the current war, there are women manning positions such as anti-aircraft officers, rescue officers, fighters in gunner units, snipers, and the list continues. Of all the women called up for duty in these days, about half are in combat battalions – 14 percent are fighters, 21 percent are medics, 11 percent are combat officers, and the rest are in intelligence. On the northern border, a writer for Ynet met Anat Bershkovsky and Efrat Kaufman, a non-commissioned officer in a mortar unit that is shooting at Lebanon. The two started their reserve duty as instructors for reserve soldiers on a training base, but very quickly found themselves on the Lebanese border shooting mortars at Lebanon."