Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ron Paul, Neo-Nazis, Racists, and Evolution

I've been following some of the blogosphere discussion about Ron Paul's connections to the American far right - among others, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Christian Reconstructionism (not to be confused with Jewish Reconstructionism!), as well as his anti-evolution and crank medicine views.

A few days ago LGF posted a photo of Paul together with Don Black and his son Derek Black ( Ron Paul's Photo-Op with Stormfront) - thanks to Deborah Lipstadt for the reference. Don Black is the owner of Stormfront, a neo-Nazi web site. Don Black has donated $500 to the Ron Paul campaign, and Paul is refusing to give it back.

On Paul's racist statements, see Ron Paul's racism. Paul has been a guest on the radio program of the Council of Conservative Citizens (what the White Citizens Councils turned into) - see The Company Ron Paul Keeps.

Another good blog article, which mentions his connection to Christian Reconstructionist Gary North, is Orcinus. For those who don't know who Gary North is, he's the son-in-law of R. J. Rushdoony, the founder of the movement. See this article by Walter Olson in Reason Magazine on Christian Reconstructionism - Invitation to a Stoning. Gary North was briefly on Paul's congressional staff in the 1970s.

Orac of Respectful Insolence has done a great job of laying out Paul's crank medical beliefs - Ron Paul, Quackery Enabler. Another of the ScienceBlogs crew has posted a video on Paul's rejection of evolution - Ron Paul Rejects Evolution.

What I want to know is why Ron Paul is still considered to have any legitimacy as a Presidential candidate? Why haven't all of these connections been pursued in stories about Paul on NPR, CNN or in the New York Times? Most of the stories I've read or heard about him have mentioned his opposition to the Iraq War, but haven't discussed who his most devoted supporters are, or even alluded to his adherence to the gold standard and opposition to the Federal Reserve Bank - a standard of far-right wing rhetoric. Is it because they simply don't take him seriously? He doesn't have a chance of becoming the next President of the United States - but that doesn't mean that we should ignore his connections to the far right wing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Photos of Sunnier Days

Since I'm feeling melancholy about the short days, I thought I'd post some nice photos of sunnier days. The first two are of Sodom Pond in Adamant, Vermont - I visited there in late summer this year.

Trees on Sodom Pond

Water lilies on Sodom Pond

This next one is from the fall, going home from Vermont - Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain

The next one is from Israel - just along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Rekhes ha-Sulam

This one is from the women's section of the Kotel, in Jerusalem.

Praying on a hot day

The last rose blossom of the fall in my garden.

Yellow Rose of Ithaca

End of the Year

Just some thoughts on the ending of the (secular) year.

I was just walking to my local coffee shop (Gimme!) and thinking about how the end of the secular year feels different than the end of the Jewish year. The secular year (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) ends in darkness - the days are so short that (here in Ithaca) the sun rises around 7:30 a.m. and sets around 4:30 p.m. Daylight feels like a rare treasure - and an even rarer treasure is a sunny day (Ithaca is in one of the cloudiest regions of the U.S.) Since this is a college town, Ithaca empties out during the break between semesters. My street has a couple of houses occupied by students or recent graduates, and they have disappeared for the vacation. Even the other people have gone away for a few days. On Christmas Day there were hardly any cars on the street. Ithaca was very quiet - hardly any cars passed along the street during the day (which I mostly spent grading exams....) It feels like a melancholy time.

Only if I go to Israel at this time does it feel that I can escape from this melancholy. The days are slightly longer, and there isn't the enormous focus on Christmas that pulls in all the energy in the U.S. And even New Year's Eve isn't a big deal - especially in Jerusalem, where the rabbinate threatens hotels who want to have New Year's parties. They say that they'll pull their kashrut certificates if they observe "Yom Sylvester," which is the Israeli name for the secular New Year (named, according to this Wikipedia article, after Pope Sylvester I, who died in 335 on December 31). I think in the years that I've been in Israel at this time I've only gone to one or two Sylvester parties.

The Jewish New Year, on the other hand, doesn't have the same melancholy associations. The days are getting shorter, but they're still pretty long in Ithaca. Everything's still growing, the flowers are in bloom, and there's lots of good local vegetables in the Farmer's Market. The school year is beginning, so everyone's still hopeful that they're going to get good grades this year. The end of the old year is the month of Elul, which isn't a month to look back over the previous year, but a month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. One does engage in introspection to prepare for Yom Kippur, which can involve a melancholy focus on one's shortcomings and outright sins against other people - but after Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, which is an unalloyed happy holiday. And in Israel, it often means adorning the sukkah with garish decorations that most Israelis don't realize were actually intended to be Christmas decorations.

So all in all, I prefer Rosh Hashanah to the secular New Year. But on the other hand, we've now started the long process of lengthening the days - it's much too subtle to realize now, but by February the days are palpably longer. (And we need that, since by February we are very tired of winter, and there are still a couple more months of it).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

John Strugnell Dies at 77

I just found this out by reading Paleojudaica: John Strugnell Dies at 77; Scholar Undone by His Slur. I studied with Strugnell when I was an undergraduate and a graduate student at Harvard in the 1980s. I took his course on "Intertestamental Literature" when I was a senior, and we spent most of the semester reading 1 Enoch (in the then new Old Testament Pseudepigrapha translation). I wrote a paper for the course on the Apocalypse of Abraham - it was one of the first papers I wrote as a student on ancient Jewish mysticism. As a graduate student, I took the New Testament seminar with him in 1986 or 1987 when the topic was 4QMiqtzat Ma'aseh Torah. It hadn't been published yet - in fact, we were very lucky to be able to study it, as Strugnell was the Dead Sea Scrolls editor who had been entrusted with its publication, and this was still in the days before all of the scrolls were released to be studied by any scholar. I remember going to the AAR/SBL that year and getting into a conversation at breakfast one day with a scholar from another university who asked me if I had a copy of Strugnell's transcription, because he wanted to look at it! When I went to Israel in 1987 for two years, I would periodically go visit Strugnell at the Ecole Biblique and we would talk about ancient Judaism. I wasn't aware of his negative opinions about Judaism until the whole scandal broke in 1990. At some point during these years I was talking to him in his Harvard office and agreed with him that the most interesting parts of ancient Jewish literature were the wierd ones, like the pseudepigrapha or the mystical texts. He was always very helpful to me and I was sad when I heard about his opinions on Judaism. Nonetheless, he had many accomplishments as a scholar, including teaching many undergraduate and graduate students how to read ancient Jewish texts in a careful and analytic manner. Whatever his feelings about Judaism as a religion, it did not affect how he related to me as a Jewish student or how he taught me about ancient Judaism.

Update - This is Jim Davila's encomium of Strugnell, with which I agree - John Strugnell. He says that "many of his friends and students, myself included, signed a statement in his defense which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991." I also signed this statement.

The "Red One" and Hanukkah

Last night in shul, instead of singing Adon Olam at the end, we sang a couple of stanzas of Maoz Tzur - the first and the last, both of which refer to the Hanukkah story. But in my Birnbaum siddur (Orthodox) there is a fifth stanza (which Birnbaum unhelpfully does not translate, but says that it is later than the rest of the piyyut). I took a look at it tonight trying to figure out what it said. Here's a rough translation:
Reveal your holy arm and bring near the day of salvation.
Enact the revenge of your servants against the evil kingdom.
The time has lengthened, and there is no end to the evil days.
Destroy the red one (Admon) in the deepest shadow,
and establish for us the seven shepherds [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David]
The "red one" is a pun on the name Edom (the ancient kingdom, which in rabbinic interpretation referred first to the pagan Roman empire, then to the Christian Roman empire, and then to Christianity as a whole).

(Translation help from the Orthodox Union website - Maoz Tzur).

Useful information on this stanza from Dov Bear A question for my conservative friends. He sees an analogy between the Hellenists denounced in the fourth stanza and modern-day right wing Jews who are trying to get close to evangelical Christians because of their common stance on various social issues like homosexuality or abortion. He said last year:
In 2006 we have our own Hellenizers, men like Daniel Lapin who rejoice at finding common ground between Judaism and the most backwards and least tolerant of Christians. Unfortunately, this common ground is almost always achieved by diluting Judaism. Our positions on abortion or homosexuality or any of the moral issues that animate appeasers like Lapin are richer and more complex and more ambiguous than the Evangelical's absolute 'No.' As readers of the Rabbis are aware our thinking on evolution and the age of the universe is also more accomodating than Christianity's. Samson Rephael Hirsch, for example, was famously flexible about evolution. And the Tiferes Yisroel thought Adam's children married pre-Adamic 'men.'

I just took another look at Lapin's website and found some truly mind-boggling statements by him. Here's one (from the "Ask Rabbi Daniel Lapin" section):
I belong to a messianic congregation and we're learning and following our Jewish roots. There are a few Jews in our congregation, and we often have a Rabbi come to speak. We asked those who were Jewish what [ed. behaviors] they felt Christians do that is most offensive to Jews. The response was the [use of the] symbol of the cross and/or wearing a cross. I wear both a Star of David and a Cross. I never thought I was offending my Jewish brethren. Is not the cross the ‘tav’ in the Hebrew language? Is the cross really offensive? I won't wear my cross if I'm offending my Jewish brethren. Should I get rid of my cross?

The only Jews who might be offended by a cross are those whose Jewish identity is so rootless that their definition of being a Jew is someone who doesn't believe in Jesus or the cross. There is obviously a whole lot more about Judaism and what we DO believe rather than what we are NOT. Many Jews without a strong Jewish foundation in Torah knowledge react to a cross the way a vampire does (or so I'm told) . There is no letter in the Hebrew language that resembles a cross. Sometimes when people say I offended them, it doesn't mean I was really offensive it just means that their skin is too thin. Best wishes RDL
This is a remarkably unhistorical answer to give this undoubtedly well-meaning questioner. Historically speaking, Jews have been wary of the sight of the cross because of Christian Judeophobia. It doesn't have anything to do with whether one's Jewish identity is rootless. In fact, the Jews I've met who are the most wary of Christianity have been Orthodox Jews who won't even enter a church - and these are people who are very well-rooted in Judaism. The thing I don't understand about Lapin is why he works so hard to curry favor with evangelical Christianity (not just evangelical Christians as people he agrees with). It seems to me that it would be sufficient to say that he agrees with them on social issues and that he's willing to be in coalitions with them. It's not necessary then to deny the history of Christian anti-Judaism and claim that Jews who are still aware of it are somehow unJewish.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mitt Romney and Shatnez

I was just listening to Mitt Romney speaking on NPR (they interviewed him for tonight’s All Things Considered) and he said that he believed that the Bible was the word of God and that his goal was to obey all the commandments. [Why this is relevant to the presidential election is a whole other issue, but let’s take his statements at face value, because the NPR questioner was following up on a question in the most recent Republican debate where the candidates were asked their views on the Bible]. All I could think was – all the commandments? The prohibition of wearing garments made of linen and wool together? The laws of kashrut, including the prohibition of eating pork or shellfish? The commandment to let your fields lie fallow every seven years? The observance of the Sabbath, including the prohibition on kindling fire on the Sabbath? Paying your hired laborer every evening after his or her work is done? Circumcising all your male children on the eighth day after birth?

Somehow, I doubt that he really intended all of these commandments when he said that his goal was to obey them all. I suspect he doesn’t even know about the law of shatnez, and doesn’t particularly worry about whether he eats pork rinds. As a Jew, it drives me crazy when Christians (and in this case he qualifies as a Mormon) say that they believe the entire Bible is the word of God and must be obeyed, since they so definitely don’t obey all of the laws of the Hebrew Bible. Why not just say that? It’s actually part of basic Christian doctrine from the New Testament onward that the ritual commandments don’t apply to Christians. This is what Paul was so exercised about in Galatians. In order for Gentiles to become Christians they did not need to become circumcised or to keep kosher – what they needed was faith in Christ.

And why did he say this in the first place? Especially since he is a Mormon and has other holy scriptures that he follows – the Book of Mormon, another book called the Pearl of Great Price, and perhaps others that I don’t know about. I’ve been reading recently that Mormon doctrine holds that the Bible actually has errors in it – which would mean that in fact he wouldn’t believe that the entire Bible is the word of God. Humans introduced errors into it. Why doesn’t he say that?

I know, it’s obvious why he doesn’t say these things – he’s pandering to the religious right base of the Republican Party. And it’s that religious right that makes it necessary for the presidential candidates to engage in these stupid discussions about what they think about the Bible. I don’t care what they think about the Bible. I care about the policies they would put into practice – what do they think about health care? Iraq? Global warming? Poverty? The rebuilding of New Orleans? The Middle East peace process? Women’s rights? Yes, real issues that are the president’s business.

When the NPR questioner got down to the nitty gritty and asked Romney whether he thought the world was created in six days as it says in Genesis, he backed up and said that with all of the serious problems facing the U.S. and the world, there really wasn’t any point in discussing what portions of the Bible were from God and what they meant. He implied that it was the NPR questioner who had suddenly thought up this question to trip him up – when actually it’s his own party that has gotten itself so entangled in religion that such questions even come up in a presidential debate.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Romney will have to say on the question of faith on Thursday night when he gives his big speech – JFK redux. Except, of course, that he won’t be able to say all the great things that Kennedy said about the separation of church and state, because if he does, he will have lost the religious right of his party, which is necessary for his nomination. Nor will he be able to speak honestly about his own Mormonism, for the same reason, since he needs to blur the differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity in order to have any chance of getting a significant percentage of the evangelical vote.