Thursday, December 29, 2011

May 16, 1948 - Jews of Arab lands endangered

I've published an article on my Israel blog, "The Land and the People," giving the text of a New York Times article published on May 16, 1948, detailing the danger that Jews of Muslim and Arab lands were in with the establishment of the state of Israel. See Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands for the complete text.

Why not say 'sci fi'?

I used to be part of science fiction fandom, in my teens and twenties, and one of the things that drove us crazy was when people referred to sci fi (pronounced sci fye) instead of SF. I think it was mostly a matter of defining boundaries - we the real science fiction fans knew the correct word to use, while the mundanes (our name for non-SF fans) didn't know what real science fiction was and called it sci fi. Calling it sci fi was a way to belittle the literature (and by extension, us).

Normblog provides a more elegant and literary reason:
Readers, I'm here to tell you that I've now thought of an argument in favour of my prejudice preference. 'Sci fi' is supposed to abbreviate 'science fiction', but it is spoken as if it rhymes with 'hi fi'. What kind of sense does that make? If I say 'in the circs', I wouldn't pronounce 'circs' to rhyme with, say, 'larks', so that it came out 'sarks'. If I say 'peeps', I don't rhyme it with 'hopes' and call them 'popes'. And so on, you get the picture. Accordingly, 'sci fi' ought to be said as if the second syllable was the beginning of the word 'fiction'. But no one says it like that. It would sound silly, as if it had been interrupted by a sponge suddenly being thrust into the mouth of the speaker. From now on I'll be urging this silly pronunciation upon all who say 'sci fye', in the hope of shaming them towards the more elegant 'SF'.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The semester is OVER!!

I finally handed in my grades tonight - at 10:00 p.m., the deadline. What a relief! Next Wednesday I'm driving to Cambridge to see my family for a few days, and then on January 8 I'm flying to Israel for my sabbatical - I'll be there until the end of July.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ron Paul, Anti-Semite

Eric Dondero, a former staffer for Ron Paul, has just published a statement on a right wing site - Right Wing News - trying to exonerate Paul of racism and homophobia, but concentrating on Paul's foreign policy isolationism, his opposition to the existence of Israel, and his callousness about the lives of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. He does a really lousy job of exonerating Paul of racism and homophobia (in part by retailing a couple of stories about how Paul recoiled from physical contact - like shaking hands - with his gay male campaign supporters).

Paul's views on Israel and Jews

Is Ron Paul an Anti-Semite? Absolutely No. As a Jew, (half on my mother’s side), I can categorically say that I never heard anything out of his mouth, in hundreds of speeches I listened too over the years, or in my personal presence that could be called, “Anti-Semite.” No slurs. No derogatory remarks.

He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.

Again, American Jews, Ron Paul has no problem with. In fact, there were a few Jews in our congressional district, and Ron befriended them with the specific intent of winning their support for our campaign. (One synagogue in Victoria, and tiny one in Wharton headed by a well-known Jewish lawyer).

On the incident that’s being talked about in some blog media about the campaign manager directing me to a press conference of our opponent Lefty Morris in Victoria to push back on Anti-Jewish charges from the Morris campaign, yes, that did happen. The Victoria Advocate described the press conference very accurately. Yes, I was asked (not forced), to attend the conference dressed in a Jewish yarlmuke [sic], and other Jewish adornments.

There was another incident when Ron finally agreed to a meeting with Houston Jewish Young Republicans at the Freeport office. He berated them, and even shouted at one point, over their un-flinching support for Israel. So, much so, that the 6 of them walked out of the office. I was left chasing them down the hallway apologizing for my boss.
On Paul's isolationism and Jews during WWII
On one other matter, I’d like to express in the strongest terms possible, that the liberal media are focusing in on entirely the wrong aspects regarding controversies on Ron Paul.

It’s his foreign policy that’s the problem; not so much some stupid and whacky things on race and gays he may have said or written in the past.

Ron Paul is most assuredly an isolationist. He denies this charge vociferously. But I can tell you straight out, I had countless arguments/discussions with him over his personal views. For example, he strenuously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that “saving the Jews,” was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often times brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks of Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just “blowback,” for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.

I would challenge him, like for example, what about the instances of German U-boats attacking U.S. ships, or even landing on the coast of North Carolina or Long Island, NY. He’d finally concede that that and only that was reason enough to counter-attack against the Nazis, not any humanitarian causes like preventing the Holocaust.
The conclusion I draw from these remarks is that Ron Paul represents a revival of the staunchly isolationist, anti-semitic conservative movement that existed in this country before the Second World War. He would be in good company with Charles Lindburgh and the America First Committee. No matter the number of black or Hispanic staffers he's hired, he still hold old-fashioned racist views, and he fully shares in the homophobia of the American religious right. I wonder what Andrew Sullivan, anti-Israel gay conservative, will make of these words from Dondero. I wonder what the evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party will make of Dondero's exposure of Paul's anti-Israelism and anti-semitism. This statement by Dondero deserves the widest possible publicity.

Update (December 27, 2011): See Jeffrey Shapiro on the Big Government site today reaffirming Paul's remark that he would not have entered WWII "to save the Jews." While this is an unpleasant thing for him to say, it seems to me that at the time a lot of people were saying this (and others were thinking it). And of course the US did not enter the war to end the Holocaust - if we had, we should have declared war against Germany in the summer of 1941 (after the German invasion of the Soviet Union) rather than after we were attacked by Japan in December. And of course, once we entered the war, it took rather a long time to persuade Roosevelt to do anything special to save European Jews (other than trying to win the war), with the establishment of the War Refugee Board in 1944. Roosevelt could have authorized US action long before then to vigorously try to save Jews in Nazi Europe, not through military action (which would have been quite difficult before D-Day), but by doing the things the WRB did - send agents to Europe to negotiate with Nazi satellite regimes, to threaten them, and to pay them off. But that is another subject.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is this apartheid?

Separation Wall at Abu Dis, Jerusalem
Israel gearing for effective separation of East Jerusalem Palestinians (Haaretz).
Last week, a new border crossing was opened in East Jerusalem's Shoafat neighborhood, to little fanfare. Two days later, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asserted that Israel should relinquish Palestinian neighborhoods of the capital that are beyond the separation barrier, despite the fact that their residents carry Israeli identity cards.

Some people view these events as two pieces of the same puzzle. A third piece is the resumption of work on separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
Separation Wall at Abu Dis
(Also published on my new Israel blog - The land and the people, which I'm setting up to write for when I'm going to be in Israel for my sabbatical - January-July 2012).

Photos of the Separation Wall at Abu Dis were taken when I went on a tour of East Jerusalem sponsored by Ir Amim, in the summer of 2010.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and the Iraq War

I've been reading all of the obituaries and encomia of Christopher Hitchens, and realizing when I started paying attention to him - after the September 11 attacks. Terry Glavin writes -
“OK, that’s a confrontation between everything I like and everything I don’t like,” he remembered saying to himself. Writing in the Boston Globe a year later, he put it this way: “On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan ... on the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism.”
But Hitchens quickly noticed that something else had happened that day, and he’d resolved that he wasn’t going to shut up about it. The bloody spectacle had opened up a deep rot down in the structural foundations of the political culture that had nurtured him, first as a young Luxemburgist pamphleteer at Oxford, then as an acid-witted chronicler for obscure Trotskyist journals, and later, as something extraordinary in American culture: a popular, prize-winning, hard-left public intellectual.
By the morning of Sept. 11, Hitchens had established himself as an essayist, literary critic and a formidable Washington correspondent for such venerable liberal American journals as the Nation, Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair. What he saw in the meaning of Sept. 11 was not just this: “You couldn’t really have wanted a better and more dynamic and radical confrontation.” It was this: “And the American left decides: ‘Let’s sit this one out.’ That’s historical condemnation. To be neutral or indifferent about that, it’s just giving up.”
This is as close as you can get to any paradigmatic truth about any of the important political debates and controversies that were to rage and churn through the first few years of the 21st century, a decade of vile hatreds and hysterics that consumed the Left and rendered much of the liberal American mainstream an ugly caricature of itself.
I agree with Hitchens that the "American left decides to sit this one out," something that I experienced in futile arguments here in Ithaca, New York, a bastion of reflexively left-wing thinking (Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, where I work). I remember in the summer of 2002, being told by a local left-wing political activist that a local candidate for the New York Assembly should be voted for because she had opposed the NATO intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo (as if this had anything to do with whether she would be a good member of the Assembly!). He said this as if it was universally accepted that this was the only proper way to think - to leave the people of Kosovo to the tender mercies of the Serbian nationalists. I was in Israel during this time (spring of 1999), following the news, and came to the conclusion then that it was better for NATO to intervene than to stand idly by. I couldn't imagine why someone who purported to be on the left and on the side of oppressed people would oppose the NATO bombing. I realized slowly that this was part of the idiotic "anti-imperialism" of fools that had overtaken the left - the assumption being that everything that the US does outside of its borders is wrong, to be condemned, and is part of American imperialism, leading to the truly disgraceful sight of people on the left consorting with vile dictators. But that was okay, since they were opposing American imperialism!

Today is also the day when the last American troops leave Iraq. I was a supporter of the Iraq War at the beginning - I believed the claim that Iraq had WMDs and was prepared to use them (being persuaded by among other things Colin Powell's presentation at the UN). Once it became clear that Iraq in fact did not have WMDs I began to have my doubts - and then more so when it also became clear that the US had no plan for what to do once we succeeded in conquering Iraq - remember the unrestrained looting and destruction after the invasion? Remember Rumsfield saying, "Stuff happens," and doing nothing? And then there came the horrible scandal of Abu Ghraib and the other prisons in Iraq where American soldiers tortured and humiliated Iraqi prisoners, and the feeble defenses of torture by the Bush administration. I am glad that we have finally withdrawn all of our soldiers. We have left behind us a devastated nation - although we are certainly not responsible for all of that devastation, since Saddam Hussein did his level best before the US invasion to destroy his own country, first by invading Iran and fighting with it for eight years, and then invading Kuwait and being defeated by the allied coalition in 1991. But even then we had a role in helping him to kill his own people - the first president Bush, after encouraging the people of Iraq to rebel against Saddam, stood idly by as Saddam's troops brutally killed thousands of Shi'ites and Kurds who began to do what he had urged them to do.

So should I have opposed the Iraq War at the beginning? In hindsight, yes, although if we had not invaded Iraq in 2003, would we still be imposing sanctions on the country which were strangling it economically and further impoverishing its people? I remember the bitter protests against the sanctions by people on the left-wing before the invasion. The sanctions were denounced as evil, as child-killing, and there were people who went to Iraq then, while Saddam was still ruling the country, to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq. I was also dumbfounded by this response - how could western leftists act in such a way as to put themselves on the same side as Saddam Hussein, who by this point had probably killed about 300,000 of his own people (remember the hundreds or thousands of mass graves discovered after the conquest of Iraq?). It could be argued that they went in to support the people, not Saddam - but do you think that if they had openly opposed him, they would have been allowed into Iraq? No, of course not.

The situation of Iraq long before the war in 2003 was a real challenge to the leftist assumption that everything the US did was wrong and that any foreign ruler who opposed the US was an anti-imperialist. Saddam Hussein *was* an imperialist - he invaded two of the countries neighboring Iraq in order to gain benefits for Iraq.

One of the strengths of Christopher Hitchens is that he did in fact stand with the people of Iraq against Saddam - he was a long time supporter of the Kurds. Surprisingly, when I tried to argue that the invasion of Iraq did in fact help the Kurds, this did not move the people I knew who opposed the war - they could not admit that perhaps the war, for all of its cruelty and stupidity, had actually benefited some of the people of Iraq, who had been the victims of attempted genocide.

I don't know how to end this essay. My thoughts and feelings about Iraq are still very mixed - I can't come to a single, unambivalent statement about the war and what we should have done. Certainly what we did do was horrible, cruel, and bloody - but on the other side, Iraq is no longer ruled by Saddam Hussein.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead

I've just read the announcement in Vanity Fair that Christopher Hitchens has just died of cancer. I have nothing particularly profound to say about him, except that I found his writing about his struggle with cancer to be immensely moving and also terrifying in his open confrontation with death. In his last column for Vanity Fair, he wrote:
I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.

These are progressive weaknesses that in a more “normal” life might have taken decades to catch up with me. But, as with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less. In other words, the process both etiolates you and moves you nearer toward death. How could it be otherwise? Just as I was beginning to reflect along these lines, I came across an article on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. We now know, from dearly bought experience, much more about this malady than we used to. Apparently, one of the symptoms by which it is made known is that a tough veteran will say, seeking to make light of his experience, that “what didn’t kill me made me stronger.” This is one of the manifestations that “denial” takes.

I am attracted to the German etymology of the word “stark,” and its relative used by Nietzsche, stärker, which means “stronger.” In Yiddish, to call someone a shtarker is to credit him with being a militant, a tough guy, a hard worker. So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.
May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Political attack on study abroad in Israel

California State University is considering reestablishing its study abroad program in Israel, while a group of Cal State faculty and administrators has written an Open Letter to the administration calling for this attempt to be stopped, on the grounds of danger, possible discrimination against some CSU students, and of course the apartheid charge. They also think that it would be one-sided to establish a study abroad program in conjunction with Israeli universities without also establishing a similar program with Palestinian universities. It might be a good idea to establish a similar program with Palestinian universities (Bard College has established a joint program with Al-Quds University in Jerusalem), but the absence of such a program should not prevent the reestablishment of the Israel study abroad program.

The University of California restarted its formal study abroad program in partnership with the Hebrew University in 2009.

I certainly hope this attempt to cut off student opportunities to study in Israel is ignored. David Klein, who teaches at CSU Northridge, and was the main author of the letter, argues that "cutting off engagement with Israeli universities is an exercise of academic freedom, not an abridgement of it: 'We’re choosing not to have relationships with institutions that participate in apartheid, in the same way that in the lead-up to World War II, universities broke off relations with universities in Nazi Germany.'"

Notice the rhetorical slip here - from the evil of apartheid to the evil of Nazi Germany. Does Klein think that Israel is trying to exterminate the Palestinians?

Zeev Maoz, a UC Davis professor who has taught a summer study abroad course in Israel, "offered a different interpretation. 'They’re raising the notion of academic freedom, and what they’re advocating is putting limits on academic freedom,' he said. 'To me, this is the epitome of hypocrisy.'"

I agree with Maoz. Klein and his supporters are using their own academic freedom in order to prevent others to exercise their own academic freedom to study and teach in Israel. That is the epitome of the BDS campaign.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Another discussion of JANT

I just discovered another discussion of JANT, by Walter Russell Mead - Faith Matters Sunday: The Jewish Discovery of Jesus. He doesn't, however, review it, because he hasn't gotten it yet from Amazon. I'll be curious to hear what he thinks of it once he has a chance to read the commentaries and essays.

And here's some more:

From the JPS Blog - Rachel Broder discusses the book.

Joe Winkler on Jewcy again mentions the book, but hasn't read it yet.

A discussion on Project Quinn by Jessica Youseffi.

A very nice review of the book at Ancient Hebrew Poetry (John Hobbins).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More reviews of JANT

Messianic Jewish Musings has just published a review of JANT - Jewish Annotated New Testament.

An anti-semitic review of the book at Maurice Pinay Blog: Anti-Christ "New Testament" published. His perspective seems to be extreme traditionalist Catholicism (which rejects the Second Vatican Council); he also advertises books by Michael Hoffman, a notorious Holocaust denier.

Discussion forum at the Center for Inquiry presents a range of interesting perspectives - Here comes the Jewish Jesus.

Jim West of Zwinglius Redivivus mentions the book favorably, but doesn't have a full review.

New York Times article on the Jewish Annotated New Testament

Good New York Times article on A Jewish Edition of the New Testament.

Some highlights:
The book she [A.J. Levine] has just edited with a Brandeis University professor, Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” (Oxford University Press), is an unusual scholarly experiment: an edition of the Christian holy book edited entirely by Jews. The volume includes notes and explanatory essays by 50 leading Jewish scholars, including Susannah Heschel, a historian and the daughter of the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel; the Talmudist Daniel Boyarin; and Shaye J. D. Cohen, who teaches ancient Judaism at Harvard....
And yours truly, who wrote the article on Divine Beings.
So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus’s birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that “early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil.” He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a “magos.”

Because the rationalist Philo uses the Greek word “magos” derisively — less a wise man than a donkey-whisperer — we might infer that at least some educated Jewish readers, like Philo, took a dim view of magi. This context helps explain some Jewish skepticism toward the Gospel of Matthew, but it could also attest to how charismatic Jesus must have been, to overcome such skepticism.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My response to panel on Religious and Mystical Experience at SBL

I participated in a panel jointly sponsored by the Religious Experience and Esotericism and Mysticism sections of the SBL, giving a response to three papers - by Frances Flannery, Istvan Czachesz, and Jim Davila.

If you would like to read my paper, it's after the jump.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jewish Voice for Peace at AAR/SBL

I spent the morning going through the book exhibit, and came upon a booth for Jewish Voice for Peace, where I argued with them for a long time. Not much enlightenment on either side - we were really talking past each other (not that I expected anything else). They are here trying to get people to support their divestment from TIAA-CREF campaign. I argued that punitive measures like this are guaranteed to alienate most Jews both in the U.S. and in Israel, but they kept saying that divestment had an effect on getting rid of apartheid in South Africa. I objected to the comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa, and we disputed over the issue of Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset. They issued a rejoinder that even in the Iranian parliament has one token Jewish representative. I didn't bother arguing that Israel is nothing like Iran. I agreed with them on some of their diagnoses of the problems (settlement building, Bibi's intransigence, the perverse map of the separation wall which shuts whole Palestinian towns off by surrounding them with a wall - Kalkiliya and Walaje spring to mind) - but not on the solution. It was frustrating, and I felt angry that they were even here at AAR/SBL. I've been going to annual meetings since 1985, and I don't remember ever seeing a booth on political issues - even in the heyday of anti-apartheid campaigns or protests against the Iraq War.

Jon Haber of Divest This! has many times described the disruptive effect of groups like JVP, which try to bring Middle Eastern politics into organizations that basically have nothing to do with them, in order to push their own agenda. They drag their own agenda into unrelated groups, and cause nothing but discord and bad feelings. This is in sharp contrast to groups like J Street or the American Task Force for Palestine, which work openly to persuade people of their political views in the political arena. They lobby Congress or the President, they hold conferences of various kinds, they organize local chapters that engage in letter-writing or citizen lobbying. They do not try to take over groups that have nothing to do with the Middle East to further their own ends.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Reconstructing Practice from Texts" - Esotericism and Mysticism session at SBL

Yesterday morning I went to the fabulous first panel sponsored by the Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity section of the SBL (we used to be called the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section), where the presentations were fascinating and very wide-ranging. The two I found the most interesting were April DeConick's, “'The road for souls is through the planets': The Mysteries of the Ophites Diagrammed" and Cordula Bandt's "The Tract 'On the Mystery of Letters' in Context of Late Antique Jewish, Gnostic and Christian Letter Mysticism."

Here are the abstracts:

April's paper
This paper will reexamine the Ophite Diagram presented by Origen in his treatise against Celsus (6.21-40). I will make a detailed reading of the text and argue that the Diagram is exactly what Celsus and Origen claimed it was, a map of the soul’s journey through the planets. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that the prayers correlate to a Neopythagorean ascent pattern. I will conclude with the argument that Origen has preserved for us a piece of an Ophite initiatory handbook, that is the map, prayers and seals used in the intermediate initiatory rite when the soul practiced the death journey through the heavenly realms.
 Cordula's paper
Speculations on letters play an important role within Late Antique mystical and magical tradition. Letters are regarded as smallest units of speech, but on a more esoteric level they are also understood as tools to gain spiritual progress or even influence reality. Names of angels and heavenly powers which are nonsense clusters of letters, composed by combining them according to certain rules, occur as prominent means of protection and power in early and later Jewish mysticism as well as in Gnostic texts, which are preserved in original or as quotations in polemical writings by the Church fathers. However, in orthodox Christian tradition references and responses on the symbolism of letters are rather rare, despite Christ's famous saying in the Book of Revelation "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). Nevertheless, exactly this cryptic dictum inspires the remarkable tract "On the mystery of Letters" which was composed probably by a Christian monk in mid-6th century Palestine. This tract is thoroughly rooted in orthodoxy, but presents an astonishing variety of interpretations of the Greek alphabet, revealing hidden secrets by close examination of certain features of the letters like name, shape, numerical value, position in alphabet, pronunciation etc. In 2007, I published the editio princeps of this unique work, accompanied by a German translation and analysis of its content. In order to give a wider public access to this still quite little known text, I am currently preparing an English version of my book. My paper at the SBL Annual Meeting 2011 will focus on similarities between Jewish and Gnostic letter mysticism in the first centuries of the Christian era and the tract "On the mystery of letters". I will show how the author transforms rather heterodox ideas into a truly orthodox approach towards the alphabet. I will also discuss why mainstream Christianity at this time seems to be reluctant to involve into mystical letter speculations.
Bandt has also published her dissertation "On the Mystery of Letters" and the Bryn Mawr Classical Review has a very laudatory review of the book. (The title is Der Traktat "Vom Mysterium der Buchstaben," Kritischer Text mit Einführung, Übersetzung und Ammerkungen. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 162. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007).

I'll post more about them later. In a few minutes I'm heading over for our second session, which we are doing together with the Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity section.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm in San Francisco for the SBL

I arrived in San Francisco earlier this evening for the AAR/SBL conference. I just noticed that both April DeConick of Forbidden Gospels and Jim Davila of Paleojudaica had blogged on their attendance at the conference. We are part of the Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity section, which has two meetings at the SBL this year, one at 9:00 tomorrow morning, the second on Sunday at 1:00. Tomorrow's session is on the theme of Reconstructing Practice from Texts (in Convention Center 2011). Sunday's session is on Praxis and Experience in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mysticism (in Convention Center 2018). I'll be responding to the papers on Sunday. Jim just wrote that he's going to be participating in another panel tomorrow, S19-212b - Engaging the "Wired-In Generation": Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age. It's from 1:00-2:30 in Convention Center 3002.

This is the first time in several years that the AAR and the SBL are meeting together - I'm looking forward to going to some AAR sessions as well as SBL sessions, especially those sponsored by the Study of Judaism section of AAR.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strange places in China

Noah Schachtman of Wired's Danger Room has called attention to a bunch of strange structures out in the Chinese desert. After the jump, there are some pictures of them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stephen Sizer's debate with Calvin Smith

Joseph W reports on Rev. Stephen Sizer's debate with Dr. Calvin Smith last night, in particular focusing on Sizer's closeness to the Iranian regime: Stephen Sizer on his links with Iran’s Khomeinists: “I’ll go anywhere to share the gospel”.

Dr. Smith has just written to let me know that the recorded debate has now been uploaded to Vimeo - here is the link.

Has the Church Replaced Israel? (TV debate) from Calvin Smith on Vimeo.

A rather opinionated assessment of the debate by Moriel Archive.

Gev of the Rosh Pina Project has some harsh words for Rev. Sizer's performance at the debate -
Stephen Sizer is a master at speaking a different way with a different message to different audiences. A prime example is last night’s debate he had on Revelation TV with Calvin Smith, Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School, UK. Sizer conceded most of the theological ground to Smith and sought to seem as reasonable and as nice as possible. I just felt like he was grooming his audience for some nefarious purpose.

Last night he concluded that he wanted to “learn from his Messianic brothers” however to an audience of largely non-Christian Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporters he called Israeli Messianic Jews, who support their country, an abomination! He later issued an “apology” when he was caught out, but blamed the naughty Zionists who filmed him for putting him under-pressure and hence he came out with that howler....
Sizer couldn’t keep to the theological topic that was billed in the debate and launched a tirade against Israel’s injustices but ignores, and sometime worse, he rationalises the violence and minimises the murderers of Jews by calling them political prisoners,  as we reported here.
Sizer’s elastic-sided ethics stretch so far as to allow him to promote a new blog site as if he had nothing to do with it, when it fact he started it. We reported this here.
In conceding to Calvin Smith that the Jews were still God’s chosen people and God has not finished with them, Sizer sang a different tune to the one he sang in Malaysia for a Viva Palestina meeting he addressed. He said in an interview to Shahanaaz Habib of the Star Newspaper that the idea that the Jews were God’s Chosen people was “absolute rubbish”. We reported this here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who tarnished Penn State's reputation?

I wondered whether there might be student response at Penn State last night to Paterno's firing. Well, there was, and it turned into a riot. Penn State Students in Clashes After Joe Paterno Announcement.

The New York Times reports -
After top Penn State officials announced they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.
One student said:
“We got rowdy and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”
The Board "started this"? They "tarnished a legend"? How about - Joe Paterno's turning a blind eye to hideous crimes started this? How about Joe Paterno tarnished his own "legend."

I look forward to the day when colleges and universities, along with the NFL, decide that it has to run its own farm system, rather than relying on American colleges and universities. Somehow baseball has managed to succeed without this kind of massive subsidy from our supposed higher education system.

TV Debate between Calvin Smith and Stephen Sizer

Dr. Calvin Smith has a brief report on his debate last night with Rev. Stephen Sizer on his blog - Calvin L. Smith: That TV Debate. He will be uploading video of the debate eventually to his website. If anyone would like to comment on the debate, I'd be interested to hear it. (I did not hear it, since I'm in the US and was at work when it occurred).

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Violence and sex, money, and war

Some random thoughts, in no particular order -

The scandal at Penn State is really unbelievable. When I read the story yesterday about how graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary had caught assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in the act of anally raping a 10 year old boy in the locker room, I was appalled - and then even more appalled to learn that McQueary did nothing to stop the rape, left, called his father, then reported it to Joe Paterno, the head coach, who sent the report up the line, with no one calling the police, or apparently even learning the name of the young victim. Today, the university's president, Graham Spanier, stepped down from his job, and Joe Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees of the university.

Students at the university have been holding large rallies at Paterno's home, in support of him. Why? Apparently, football, the American religion, can't be questioned, even if the sainted head coach covers up the grotesque crime of child rape.


Is the world economy about to go into freefall again? Now it's Italy's turn to totter at the abyss. And maybe France's.... When will the EU leaders get their act together?
Italy, a central member of the euro zone and its third-largest economy, struggled to find a new government as anxious investors drove Italian bond rates well above 7 percent and the markets tumbled worldwide. And although critics have warned of just such an escalation for months, European leaders again were caught without a convincing response....

And of course the fear in Paris is that France will be next. Mr. Sarkozy’s government just announced another set of budget cuts and tax increases in the face of lower growth, to keep to its promises to cut its own budget deficit. But on Wednesday, the spread of 10-year French government bonds over their German equivalent rose to a euro area high of around 140 basis points. “Contagion” is not just a movie.

Iran apparently is much closer to getting a nuclear weapon. Should we do anything about it? Should Israel do something about it? An Israeli attack on Iran would very probably lead to a regional war, with thousands of missiles being launched from Lebanon and Gaza at Israel. I hope there's not a war - I'm going to Israel in January for seven months (I'm on sabbatical), and I'd rather not spend the time in a bomb shelter!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Another Gaza flotilla

This morning I received an email from my favorite correspondents, US Boat to Gaza, informing the world that boats are now sailing to Gaza. From the press release:
At this moment, two boats are in international waters in the Mediterranean heading to Gaza.  One boat, the Saoirse from Ireland, includes parliamentarians among its passengers.  The other, the Tahrir, carries representatives from Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Palestine.  The U.S. Representative on the Tahrir, Kit Kittredge, was a passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope mission in Athens in July.  A journalist from Democracy Now is on the Tahrir also. Civil society organizations in Gaza await their arrival, and look forward to the delivery of letters collected from thousands of U.S. supporters in the To Gaza With Love campaign.  
It appears to me that this time around, they kept the sailing completely quiet before the boats reached international waters, in order to prevent what happened this summer from happening again, when the boats were basically stuck in Greek ports, under heavy pressure from Israel and the US. (I hope Israeli intelligence knew they were sailing!) Also, the boats sailed from Turkey, which supports the attempt to break the Israeli embargo on Gaza. (See article from Haaretz, which confirms that they kept the plan quiet so they wouldn't be stopped; apparently the Turkish authorities insisted that they send fewer people on the boats than they had originally planned).

Reuters reports:
The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said. Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only "we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers."

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a "provocation," she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast. Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.
There is, apparently, an unidentified boat following the Canadian one, about which @PalWaves says, "The #Tahrir captain is 99% sure it's Turkish Coast Guard following them, still trailing." I hope not - the worst thing would be a confrontation between the IDF and any part of the Turkish military.

UPDATE: apparently it was *not* the Turkish Coast Guard, and the Israeli Navy intercepted them yesterday (Nov. 4) and led them to Ashdod port. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Goldstone debunks the "Israeli apartheid" slander

I don't have the time to say much about this right now, but Richard Goldstone (of Goldstone Report fame or infamy) has just written an op-ed piece for the New York Times, entitled Israel and the Apartheid Slander, which demolishes the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state.
One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies. In Cape Town starting on Saturday, a London-based nongovernmental organization called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a “hearing” on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. It is not a “tribunal.” The “evidence” is going to be one-sided and the members of the “jury” are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jews and Halloween

Inspired by Jared's post on zombie Halloween, I decided to do some investigation about Jews and Halloween. I grew up, like most American children, celebrating Halloween by going out in a costume and trick-or-treating. This was in the 1960s, before parents got involved in taking their children, and I remember on at least one occasion being chased by some older kids - we were also warned not to take apples, lest they have razor blades in them. I also remember how much fun it was, how much candy I collected (and then ate), and the one year that a neighbor created a haunted house, including the darkened room with spaghetti in a tray that we were told was intestines. I was never told anything about a Jewish attitude towards Halloween (but then, I didn't grow up in a very religiously Jewish home).

So what do religious Jews have to say about Halloween? Should Jewish children "trick-or-treat"? Should Jewish houses welcome children in to give them candy? I now live in a neighborhood in Ithaca that is very child-friendly, and lots of people trick-or-treat - parents even driving in with their children  from neighboring towns to go from house to house. If you don't want to take part, you have to make sure that there are no lights on at any doors, or just leave for the evening.

An article in My Jewish Learning, by Rabbi Michael Broyde (who is Orthodox), argues that Jewish children should not go out and collect candy on Halloween. He writes, quoting a newspaper article:
"According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Halloween originated with the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, a day on which the devil was invoked for the various divinations. 'The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day', Britannica says, 'and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins ... and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about.' In the early Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church instituted All Hallow's Eve on October 31 and All Saints Day on November 1 to counteract the occult festival. It did not work. All Hollow's Eve was simply co-opted into the pagan celebration of Samhain."
Since Halloween is rooted in a pagan holiday, he argues that Jews should not celebrate it. He concedes that the vast majority of Americans who celebrate it do not know of its pagan origins and do not celebrate it in order to observe Samhain, yet he still thinks it should not be celebrated by Jews. This is because of the injunction not to imitate the customs of the Gentiles (Leviticus 18:3: “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws” ). Rabbi Broyde writes:
Tosafot [a medieval Talmud commentary] understands that two distinctly different types of customs are forbidden by the prohibition of imitating Gentile customs found in Leviticus 18:3. The first is idolatrous customs and the second is foolish customs found in the Gentile community, even if their origins are not idolatrous. Rabbenu Nissim (Ran) and Maharik disagree and rule that only customs that have a basis in idolatrous practices are prohibited. Apparently foolish--but secular--customs are permissible so long as they have a reasonable explanation (and are not immodest). Normative halakhah follows the ruling of the Ran and Maharik. As noted by Rama [Rabbi Moshe Isserles, c. 1525-1572]:
"Those practices done as a [Gentile] custom or law with no reason one suspects that it is an idolatrous practice or that there is a taint of idolatrous origins; however, those customs which are practiced for a reason, such as the physician who wears a special garment to identify him as a doctor, can be done; the same is true for any custom done out of honor or any other reason is permissible."
Rabbi Isserless is thus clearly prohibiting observing customs that have pagan origins, or even which might have pagan origins. His opinion, the most lenient found in normative halakhah, is the one we follow.
Rabbi Broyde believes, therefore, that Jewish children should not go out and collect candy on Halloween. What about giving out candy?
The question of whether one can give out candy to people who come to the door is a different one, as there are significant reasons based on darkhei shalom (the ways of peace), eva (the creation of unneeded hatred towards the Jewish people), and other secondary rationales that allow one to distribute candy to people who will be insulted or angry if no candy is given. This is even more so true when the community--Jewish and Gentile--are unaware of the halakhic problems associated with the conduct, and the common practice even within many Jewish communities is to "celebrate" the holiday. Thus, one may give candy to children who come to one's house to "trick or treat" if one feels that this is necessary.
Magical images from Sefer Raziel
For a more journalistic, and non-halakhic discussion of Jews and Halloween, see the article in the Baltimore Jewish Times - Jews and the Halloween Dilemma.

For an article on Jews and magic/the occult, see this article in Tablet Magazine from two years ago: Under a Spell.

An interesting article by a Reform rabbi on Halloween - the comments are also interesting - Is Halloween Good for the Jews?

Ancient Zombies for Halloween

A great post by Jared of Antiquitopia on Ancient Zombies (his Halloween post):
As everyone begins preparations for the most important religious holiday of the year--Halloween (what else would it be? Yom Kippur? Easter? Diwali? Ramadan?)--I thought I would provide some seasonal cheer for your undead pleasure.

While the jury is still out on whether or not Jesus was a zombie, who did come from the dead and encourage us to drink blood and eat flesh (although drinking blood lends itself to a more vampiric reading), zombies appear to be as old as civilization itself. The earliest reference I know of occurs in Mesopotamian stories of the Descent of Ishtar and, perhaps a bit more well-known, the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jewish Annotated New Testament just published

I just received an email from Marc Brettler, the editor, that the Jewish Annotated New Testament has just been published. I contributed the article on "Divine Beings." There are going to be two sessions at the SBL about it - one a panel discussion, one a reception (see below).

Some blog commentary on it:
Annotated Jewish New Testament, first impressions, on the BLT blog.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament – First Impressions on the Baker Book House Church Connection.


Publication of Jewish Annotated New Testament and Jewish/Christian Relations
4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Room: 3009 - Convention Center

Theme: Sponsored by the Oxford University Press
The Jewish Annotated New Testament is a complete edition of the New Testament in the New Revised Standard Version, with scholarly comment and contextualizing essays by Jewish New Testament scholars, Greco-Roman historians, and theologians. It aims to open up new perspectives on this text for Jewish and Christian readers, and for all who are interested in expanding their reading of the New Testament.

Amy-Jill Levine, Vanderbilt University, Panelist
; Marc Zvi Brettler, Brandeis University, Panelist
; Adele Reinhartz, University of Ottawa, Panelist

The Jewish Annotated New Testament Reception
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Room: Atrium Lobby - Marriott Marquis

Monday, October 17, 2011

The release of Gilad Shalit and the 405 bus attack in July, 1989

I was visiting Israel in the summer of 2006 when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, and I remember the two-week mini-war that his kidnapping caused (and which has since been forgotten, since that was also the summer of the Second Lebanon War). I wrote a blog post then, but haven't written anything else about Shalit since then.

In my subsequent visits, I was puzzled by the emotion that my Israeli friends felt about Shalit, and about the many signs posted everywhere calling for his return home. As Ethan Bronner in the New York Times has noted, most Israelis see Shalit as being almost a member of their families - a son or brother who is missing in an unknown location, held by ruthless killers. I still don't quite get the emotion, since I'm not Israeli and don't have the same visceral connection to him. The only thing I can really compare it to in the United States is the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-1980 - I remember watching "Nightline" with Ted Koppel, with the banner on the screen, "America Held Hostage." Even then, it was nowhere near as personal.

I do, on the other hand, feel more personally about some of the terrorists who are being released in return for Shalit, one in particular - Abd al-Hadi Rafa Ghanim, who attacked the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv bus 405 on July 6, 1989.

I was living in Jerusalem at the time. The bus was on its way to Jerusalem, and had just passed Abu Ghosh. The terrorist grabbed the steering wheel and drove the bus into the abyss. The road is very steep at that point in the climb up to Jerusalem, and there is a deep fall into the valley at that point. The bus tumbled into the ravine and sixteen people were killed, some of them being burned alive.

The attack was a horrible shock to everyone. Anyone living in Jerusalem had taken the 405 to and from Tel Aviv. It was so easy to imagine being on that bus as the terrorist wrestled the steering wheel out of the driver's grip. I remember taking the bus after that and peering out, trying to discover where the attack had occurred.

The Jerusalem Post article published the next day on the attack (retrieved via LexisNexis) is available after the jump:

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Why did Yasser Arafat deny the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem?

Interesting article on Palestinian Jewish Temple denial and where it comes from, by Yitzhak Reiter in the American Interest. He explains why Yasser Arafat asserted in the 2000 Camp David peace negotiations that "the Temple never existed in Jerusalem, but rather in Nablus." Longstanding Muslim tradition never denied the existence of Solomon's and Herod's Temples in Jerusalem, but instead assumed them. It's only since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that denial of the existence of those temples had spread among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs is dead

I just saw on TPM that Steve Jobs has just died. I find myself quite sad, which surprises me, because the death of public figures usually doesn't touch me. But I feel a quite personal attachment to Apple Computers, as many people do, I suppose, because I've owned an Apple since 1985, when I started graduate school at Harvard. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on a typewriter (which meant that I had to retype it several times....), and vowed that for graduate school I would get a computer.

I remember reading a little booklet on how to choose a personal computer, and the Macintosh seemed much better than the clunky PCs with DOS machines - I liked the more intuitive interface, with icons, and WISYWIG, and different fonts. (I spent several years as a typesetter and was definitely into fonts). I've had one ever since, going from the Macintosh 128K, then to an upgrade to a 512K. I then went to Israel for two years and first used my roommate's DOS machine (I still have 5 1/2 inch floppy around somewhere) and then the next year rented something in a heavy metal box that ran Wordstar. When I returned to the US I bought another Macintosh (bequeathing the 512K machine to an old roommate) - I don't remember which one now. The next time I went to Israel I brought a rather heavy laptop - 5300 something. I wrote my doctoral thesis on this one, and ended up printing out the whole 450 page behemoth on an Apple Stylewriter (which I had bought in Israel the previous year).

Eventually I got an iMac, then a better laptop, and now my MacBook. I still feel the same fondness for Apple Computers, and I hope that the company continues to prosper and build more fantastic computers and other devices.

R.I.P., Steve Jobs.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Hussein Ibish on Atzmon and Mearsheimer

Excellent discussion by Hussein Ibish on Gilad Atzmon and John Mearsheimer: self-criticism, self-hate and hate.
Why Mearsheimer found Atzmon compelling in spite of these attitudes, even if they are largely concealed, implicit or downplayed in his book, is a very disturbing question. Ever since he and Walt began criticizing the role of the pro-Israel lobby (Jewish power in Israel and the United States being a subject that deserves serious interrogation of the kind being done by Peter Beinart, among others), Mearsheimer (far more than Walt) has been developing an outright vendetta with the Jewish mainstream that, I fear, has become deeply personal and therefore distorted.
Last year he gave a dreadful speech at the Palestine Center in Washington in which he abandoned his long-standing good advice to Arab and Muslim Americans to develop an alliance for a two-state solution with peace-minded Jewish Americans. Instead, he counseled Palestinians and their allies that Israel would never agree to the creation of a Palestinian state and that because of demographics and other factors, Palestinians would ultimately prevail, and that in effect they need do nothing to achieve that victory (save, he noted, engaging in the kind of violence that might rationalize another round of Israeli ethnic cleansing). In response to that worst of all possible advice, I dubbed him the “Kevorkian of Palestine,” because I believe he was preaching a form of assisted suicide. He was repeating the siren song Palestinians and other Arabs have been telling themselves about Israel and Zionism since the 1920s: that demographics are destiny and steadfastness alone would secure a victory over the Israeli national project. To say that history has proven this logic incorrect, and led from defeat to defeat, would be a gross understatement.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Debate between Calvin Smith and Stephen Sizer on Israel - November 9

Conor O'Riordan submitted a comment (to an old post of mine) about an interesting debate coming up on November 9 in the UK.
Live televised Debate: Israel and The Church: Replacement or fulfillment?
Place: Revelation TV London UK in front of a studio audience
Date: November 9th 2011
Time: 9 pm to 10:30 pm UK time (please adjust for local time) broadcast live via SKY TV in Europe and live streaming worldwide at this link:

Participants: Calvin L Smith and Stephen Sizer

Defending the position that the nation of Israel as it exists since 1948 still has a place in end time Biblical prophecy will be Calvin Smith, principal of Kings Evangelical Divinity School.

Opposing this and giving a different Biblical view on Israel and the Church will be Stephen Sizer ,who is vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water Surrey UK and founding member of the Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism.

E-mails and texts will be intermittently read out and tallied to ascertain which position garners most support from the public.

Note: Viewers in USA with a ROKU BOX can now watch Revelation TV and so view the debate through this medium.

Revelation TV is the most popular UK Christian television station

Dr Calvin L. Smith

Dr Calvin L Smith is principal of Kings Evangelical Divinity School, editor of the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics, author of numerous books including The Jews, Modern Israel and The New Supercessionism. He lectures in theology and hermeneutics. He is an academic researcher conference and Church speaker.

Stephen Sizer

Stephen Sizer is senior pastor of Christ Church, the community church of Virginia Water in Surrey UK. He is a founding member of (ISCZ) Institute for the study of Christian Zionism. He is a member of the advisory council of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. He co-authored the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism signed by the heads of Churches in Jerusalem. He has an extensive international ministry teaching regularly in Churches, seminaries, and universities in the USA, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
Update - Dr. Smith has posted about the upcoming debate on his blog.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who else endorsed Gilad Atzmon's "The Wandering Who?"

There's been several blog posts recently on John Mearsheimer's endorsement of Gilad Atzmon's book, The Wandering Who, but there are several other remarkable (or appalling) blurbs on the book:

1) Richard Falk has a blurb on the front cover of the book: "Gilad Atzman has written an absorbing and moving account of his journey from hard core Israeli nationalist to a de-Zionized patriot of humanity and passionate advocate of justice for the Palestinian people. It is a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all (especially Jews) who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon and discuss widely." Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University, author of over 20 books, and United Nations Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestinian Territories. It appears that he has now also decided that he should be ashamed of his Jewish identity. He appears to be a frequent contributor to Counterpunch.

2) James Petras - not a surprise (he is the inventor of the phrase "Zionist Power Configuration" as the new term for the international Jewish conspiracy - we've got to move on from the Protocols, after all. He is a frequent contributor to Counterpunch). He writes: "‘Gilad Atzmon's The Wandering Who is a series of brilliant illuminations and critical reflections on Jewish ethnocentrism and the hypocrisy of those who speak in the name of universal values and act tribal. Relying on autobiographical and existential experiences, as well as intimate observations of everyday life, both informed by profound psychological insights, Atzmon does what many critics of Israel fail to do; he uncovers the links between Jewish identity politics in the Diaspora with their ardent support for the oppressive policies of the Israeli state. Atzmon provides deep insights into “neo-ghetto” politics. He has the courage - so profoundly lacking among western intellectuals - to speak truth to the power of highly placed and affluent Zionists who shape the agendas of war and peace in the English speaking world. With wit and imagination, Atzmon’s passionate confrontation with neo-conservative power grabbers and liberal yea sayers sets this book apart for its original understanding of the dangers of closed minds with hands on the levers of power.This book is more than a “study of Jewish identity politics” insofar as we are dealing with a matrix of power that affects all who cherish self-determination and personal freedom in the face of imperial and colonial dictates."

3) Alan Hart: "THE WANDERING WHO? is a magnificent title for this challenging and incredibly controversial book. Author Gilad Atzmon quotes Israel Shahak: “The Nazis made me afraid to be a Jew and the Israelis make me ashamed to be a Jew.” In what Gilad calls this Study of Jewish Identity Politics is the explanation of why he, too, is ashamed to be a Jew."

4) Robert Wyatt: "A seriously funny writer and the wittiest musician since Ronnie Scott…We’re lucky Gilad Atzmon is around. "

5) Karl Sabbagh: "A book by a professional saxophone player, a philosopher, and an anti-Zionist Jew promises to be an unusual read, particularly since they are all the same person. Gilad Atzmon’s book, The Wandering Who? is as witty and thought-provoking as its title. But it is also an important book, presenting conclusions about Jews, Jewishness and Judaism which some will find shocking but which are essential to an understanding of Jewish identity politics and the role they play on the world stage."

6) William Cook: "Atzmon’s insight into the organism created by the Zionist movement is explosive. The Wandering Who tears the veil off of Israel’s apparent civility, its apparent friendship with the United States, and its expressed solicitude for Western powers, exposing beneath the assassin ready to slay any and all that interfere with its tribal focused ends." He is professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California and author of Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy, The Rape of Palestine, The Chronicles of Nefaria, and The Plight of the Palestinians

7) Samir Abed-Rabbo: "The Wandering Who? is a pioneering work that deserves to be read and Gilad Atzmon is brave to write this book!’" According to the Zero Books website: "He is director of the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Brattleboro, Vermont and the former Dean of The Jerusalem School for Law and Diplomacy."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews

There's been a lot of depressing and discouraging news lately in the US - awful flooding just south of where I live in Ithaca (the flooding of Binghamton, Owego, and Candor by the Susquehanna River as a result of the torrential rains brought by hurricane Lee, leaving devastation behind), the horrible state of the American economy, the fear that the European economy is about to take a dive which will bring us down with it, Obama's decreasing popularity and the grim possibility of a Republican president being elected in 2012, not to mention the depressing news coming out of the Middle East - the storming of the Israeli embassy by a mob in Cairo, Turkey's prime minister Erdogan doing his best to stir up further hostility to Israel by threatening to escort any future flotilla to Gaza with Turkish warships, his expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Turkey, and now this disgusting statement: PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews.
The Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.

"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.

Such a state would be the first to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which sought a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews, said Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. National Security Council official.

Israel has 1.3 million Muslims who are Israeli citizens. Jews have lived in "Judea and Samaria," the biblical name for the West Bank, for thousands of years. Areikat said the PLO seeks a secular state, but that Palestinians need separation to work on their own national identity.

The Palestinian demand is unacceptable and "a despicable form of anti-Semitism," Abrams said. A small Jewish presence in a future Palestine, up to 1% of the population, would not hurt the Palestinian identity, he said. "No civilized country would act this way," Abrams said.

Israel has often complained of anti-Semitic views in Palestinian discourse. Palestinian media frequently publishes and broadcasts anti-Semitic sermons by Islamic religious leaders, while the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV shows programming for preschoolers that extolls hatred of Jews and suicide bombings, according to a 2009 State Department human rights report.

The PLO seeks a U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood when the U.N. General Assembly meets in New York City next week. Areikat said Palestinian negotiators have been stymied in peace talks with the Israelis because of the two sides' unequal status before international legal institutions such as the U.N. and the International Criminal Court, where Israel is a full member and the Palestinians are not. The Palestinians hope the increased pressure will push the Jewish state to agree to their demands.

"We are trying to preserve the concept of a two-state solution," Areikat said. "And to make the Israelis understand there will be consequences for their actions."

The Obama administration has promised to veto the statehood bid if it reaches the U.N. Security Council. "This shortcut is not going to create a Palestinian state," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said. "We continue to urge them and convince them that would be self-defeating."
I have supported the two-state solution since the late 1980s, when I first understood that in fact, there was a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. I heard Faisal Husseini (former PLO leader in Jerusalem, son of a distinguished Palestinian nationalist family) speak in 1988 and say that it was time for both peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to give up on their dream of possessing all of Palestine, and dispossessing the other.

I oppose racism both in the United States and in Israel, in my own small way - in Israel I believe that non-Jewish citizens should be treated equally before the law in all ways (which they are not), and I consider it a betrayal of the principles of the Israeli declaration of independence that Arab citizens are not treated equally. I feel the same way in the United States about our shameful history of slavery, Jim Crow, and continued discrimination against people of color.

What, then, should my response be when the PLO ambassador to the UN says that the future Palestinian state should be empty of Jews, even of Jews who agree to live peacefully under Palestinian rule? This is racism, pure and simple. I understand that a Palestinian state would not want to contain people who are actively fighting against it, which would be true of some of the settlers who live in areas that would come under Palestinian sovereignty - but that is far different from categorically stating that no Jews could live in a state of Palestine. Imagine the worldwide protest if Israeli prime minister Netanyahu had just announced that no non-Jews would henceforth be allowed to live in the state of Israel.

The ambassador's statement also highlights the utter hypocrisy of official Palestinian statements that they will not recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Israel is supposed to recognize a Palestine where no Jews can live, yet to refrain from declaring its own national identity?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I was trying to figure out what to write here on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, and I started looking through the collection of emails I have from immediately after the attacks. I found an email that I wrote to a number of my friends, and I find that it still expresses my feelings. I reproduce it here.
September 16, 2001

Dear friends and family,

These are some of my thoughts on the events of the last week....

Since the terror attacks in New York and Washington, I've been listening to the radio late at night (since I haven't really wanted to go to sleep). NPR has continually broadcast news since the attacks, and on each night, starting around 10:00 p.m., they've been opening up the phones for callers from around the country. Each night they've asked people a different question. On the first night it was: "how has everything changed since the attacks." On the third night it was, "what are you doing to survive – how are you coping with the attacks." I must say that I have a real hunger to hear the news, to know what's going on, and to hear what a variety of people are saying around the country. I'm very glad they haven't gone back to the regular schedule yet.

I woke up on Tuesday morning when I received a phone call from a friend inviting me to dinner the second night of Rosh Hashanah. I turned on the radio, and heard that a plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. I immediately jumped up and went downstairs to turn the television on. I then saw the replay of the second plane striking the second tower – the unbelievable scene that I'm sure you've all seen, of the plane going through the tower. I couldn't believe what I was seeing – and then a few minutes later, to hear that the Pentagon had been struck by yet another plane. I was in shock.

In the afternoon I had to go into the office to start getting ready for my evening class. I wasn't sure what to do. Had classes been cancelled? I arrived on campus, and found students wandering around, watching television, talking on the telephone, trying to reach family and friends, and talking to each other about their worries and fears. Classes weren't cancelled, but professors had the choice of whether to meet. On Tuesday night the class met very briefly – it was clear that students were not able to focus. One student was missing – apparently she was very worried about someone from her family. Another student just kept talking nervously. A third student stared into space.

On Tuesday night, the local Jewish community met at Temple Beth El downtown for a memorial service. This included the usual evening prayers as well as the Jewish prayer for the dead – "El Malei Rahamim" ("God who is full of mercy"). The Conservative and Reform rabbis both officiated – it was very moving.

The next day (Wednesday) three of my classes met, and we spent most of each class session discussing the attack the previous day. It was clear that my students were confused, and often didn't know the first thing about who Osama bin Laden was, or even where Afghanistan was. In my Jewish history class we abandoned our discussion of the wars of the Maccabees (second century B.C.E.) for a quick overview of Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and Islamic fundamentalism. I think that on Monday I will hand out some further information on these topics (including a map of central Asia) and then, I hope, proceed to talk about our planned class subjects.

On Friday at Ithaca College there was a service organized by the president of the college, Peggy Williams, and the chaplains: two Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jewish chaplain. Students also participated, as musicians (we have a great music school). We sang some songs, including Amazing Grace and a really beautiful round in Latin called "Ubi Caritas." The Jewish chaplain led us in the Kaddish. There is no Muslim chaplain, because there aren't very many Muslim students, but the regular imam (prayer leader) for the Jumaa (Friday) prayers was asked to speak. I'm glad he participated. The president of the college spoke. Many people came, about 2,000 (we have a total student body of around 5500). I heard that a similar gathering at Cornell drew 15,000 (out of a total population of 30,000).

Then, tonight (Saturday) I went to a candlelit vigil organized by the local Tibetan Buddhist monastery (only in Ithaca!) – the monks chanted in Tibetan, the rest of us held candles, we walked around the Commons downtown, and then dispersed. Interestingly enough, at both the Ithaca College service and the Buddhist prayer vigil there were American flags flying.

At the end of the Ithaca College service, after the official part was over, a group of student starting singing the Star Spangled Banner – which I had been hoping we would sing, because it just seemed appropriate – our nation has been attacked. I started crying – the first time I've really been able to cry all week.

I feel like I'm getting a grip on what love of country really is — it's not about beating our chests and saying "we're America, we're No. 1, we can beat you up!" – it's about all the people who volunteered to look for survivors in New York, all the rescue workers who died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, and all the people around the country who are organizing their own local prayer vigils and candlelit vigils and spontaneous singing sessions (like the amateur chorale singers who got together in New York on Thursday night at Lincoln Center and just started singing patriotic songs, and the crowd started getting larger and larger), all the people who are trying to donate blood, all the folks who are giving lots of money without thinking twice to help those who were injured in the attacks, those who lost family in the attack – etc. etc. I've never seen anything like this in my country, and I'm proud of it. I now have a better understanding of why people in Israel don't leave the country when they're in danger – it's their country and they love it for all of the specific ways in which Israelis do good things. And I love this country for all the specific ways that the vast variety of Americans manage to do good. I think that militaristic patriotism feeds off this more basic, open, pluralistic patriotism – but that we don't have to let it. The flag belongs to all of us, not just xenophobes, racists, and warmongers. I think we have to remember that.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Some online resources for the study of Jewish magic

From the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1904, which has been put on line: the article on Amulets is by Ludwig Blau.

From the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: Amulets and Talismans (by Avriel Bar-Levav). It includes pictures of several amulets on paper. In the same encyclopedia, see also the articles on Magic, Ba'ale Shem, and Demons.

Article on the finding of a Jewish amulet from the 3rd century CE in a child's grave in the Austrian city of Halbturn.

Article by Dan Levene on Aramaic incantation bowls. He discusses one of the bowls that uses the get formula to expel demons. Here's a link to a photograph of the bowl -

Virtual Magic Bowl Archive at the University of Southampton (created by Dan Levene).

Traditions of Magic in Late Antiquity online exhibit at the University of Michigan.

A printing plate for an amulet from Slovakia (1832). The amulet is against Lilith, to protect the mother and new-born child. From the website of the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

A short blog post on one of the Babylonian magical bowls held by the University of Pennsylvania museum (from Nippur - published by Montgomery).  It's a very nice photograph of the bowl.

Speaking of Montgomery, his Aramaic Incantation Texts (1913) is also now available from Google Books as a PDF download - very handy. The bowl mentioned in the blog post above is #2 in Montgomery's book.

My course on Jewish magic this semester

I just started teaching my course on "Jewish Folk Religion: Magic and Ritual Power." When I was putting in a book order for the course, I included Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition (1939) because it's a classic and much of it is still very useful. I found out from the bookstore that it's now available in its entirety from Google Books (for free) and that Sacred has also just put it online - at I think the Sacred Texts version is easier to use. Both versions have all of the illustrations as well as the notes.

For those interested in seeing the course syllabus, I've posted it as a Page (see link on right side) , leaving out the sections that are only of interest to the students in the course (like the rules for how to behave in the classroom), but including everything else.

It was interesting putting together the syllabus. I first taught the course in 2004, but I wanted to include more anthropological theory (it's now cross-listed with the anthropology department), so the first three weeks are devoted to theory. At the end of the course I'm going to include more about contemporary Jewish magic, principally in Israel. I found a good article by Zion Zohar on the invention of the Pulsa DeNura curse and its use in Israeli politics - "Pulsa De-Nura: The Innovation of Modern Magic and Ritual" (Modern Judaism 27 [2007] 72-99). I'd like to find more articles in English about other manifestations of Jewish rituals to gain power in contemporary Israel - especially about the use of amulets and the contemporary use of the ritual to exorcise a demon, and how it has become politicized.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Endeavour Crater - on Mars

Another beautiful NASA photo, this time of Mars, not Earth. It was taken by the Mars rover Opportunity at the Endeavour Crater, just as it was entering the crater. For details, see Mars Rover’s Discovery Excites NASA Scientists.

When I visited the Negev this summer and saw the three large craters there, they looked like this (although they had life in them, which of course we can't see in this photo).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jerusalem street cats

Two Jerusalem cats at 12 Elazar ha-Modai St.
 Because so many people make their way to this blog when they are searching for cats online, I decided to put "Jerusalem street cats" into Google, and discovered that this blog in fact is the first hit. There were some other interesting sites after it - one a Facebook page whose goal is protect the neglected street cats of Jerusalem. Another was an article on the cats of Jerusalem by Basem Raad in the Jerusalem Quarterly, published by the Institute of Jerusalem Studies. While the article makes a number of questionable assertions, it is also an affecting, humane meditation on the street cats and how they are mistreated by people. He writes:
Something similar happens with cats and people in the old streets of Jerusalem. Jerusalem cats stand apart; they are and are not like other cats. What is striking is the absolute non-pet nature of their existence and the feline grace some of them can exhibit, even under conditions of hardship. I am speaking of the many street cats, not the ones owned by west Jerusalem Israelis who have come from the West and imported that pet culture (and sometimes the pets themselves) with them, or the few cats kept by “aristocratic” Palestinian families in east Jerusalem who generally keep their pets locked up inside. That kind of culture comes with luxury. The “non-pets” are the many feral cats on the streets, mostly on the east side of the city or within the confines of the Old City walls.
It is actually not true that feral cats are mostly on the eastern side of the city - there are many street cats in West Jerusalem as well, and they are generally subjected to the same sad fate as the east Jerusalem and Old City street cats that he writes about.

The author argues also that the English name "cat" probably comes from North African and Asiatic roots, which I suppose is possible, but the Oxford English Dictionary's entry on the etymology of the word does not mention such an origin.
Etymology:  The Middle English and modern cat corresponds at once to Old English cat and Old Northern French cat. The name is common European of unknown origin: found in Latin and Greek in 1–4th cent., and in the modern languages generally, as far back as their records go. Byzantine Greek had κάττα (in Cæsarius c350) and later κάττος, as familiar terms = αἴλουρος; modern Greek has γάτα from Italian. Latin had catta in Martial a100, and in the Old Latin Bible version (‘Itala’), where it renders αἴλουρος. Palladius, ? c350, has catus, elsewhere scanned cātus (Lewis and Short), and probably in both cases properly cattus. From cattus, catta, came all the Romanic forms, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, Portuguese gato, Catalan gat, Provencal cat, Old Northern French cat, French chat, with corresponding feminines gatta, gata, cata, cate, chate, chatte. The Germanic forms recorded are Old English cat, catt, Old Norse kött-r ( < kattuz) masculine, genitive kattar (Swedish katt, Danish kat); also Old English catte ? feminine, West Germanic *katta (Middle Low German katte, Middle Dutch katte, kat, Dutch kat, also Swedish katta), Old High German chazzâ (Middle High German, modern German katze) feminine; Old High German had also chataro, Middle High German katero, kater, modern German and Dutch kater, he-cat. The Germanic types of these would be *kattuz (masculine), *kattôn- (feminine), *kat(a)zon- masculine; but as no form of the word is preserved in Gothic, it is not certain that it goes back to the Germanic period. It was at least West Germanic c400–450. It is also in Celtic: Old Irish cat (masculine), Gaelic cat com., Welsh and Cornish cath (feminine), Breton kaz, Vannes kac'h m. Also in Slavonic, with type kot-: Old Slavonic kot'ka (feminine), Bulgarian kotka, Slovene kot (masculine), Russian kot (masculine), kotchka, koshka (feminine), Polish kot (koczur m.), Bohemian kot (masculine), kotka (feminine), Sorbian kotka; also Lithuanian kate; Finnish katti.
On the other hand, the Arabic word for "cat" does seem very similar to the Indo-European. From Wiki Answers:
A male cat = qitt قطّ
A female cat = qitta قطّة
Cats = qitat قطط
The Hebrew word for "cat" is unrelated - it is חתול or חתולה - hatul (masc.) or hatulah (fem.).