December 31, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Steven I. wants you to know

your Evangelicals. Take his advice.
(Reb Yudel)

Let me be the first to wish you

a Happy Hanukkah!

(Reb Yudel)

4 reasons to read Dov Bear

Currently playing on DovBear:

* A sensible Torah view on the age of the world
* A reminder of how much "real Americans" hate freedom
* A look at a hassidic menu

And so much more. Dov Bear: Worth reading, now more than ever!

(Reb Yudel)

Texas makes blue-state man see red

David Wiener visits Texas and gives as good as he gets.
(Reb Yudel)

Herschel Shanks and the Ossuary of Doom!

Ralph the Sacred River fingers the Biblical Archaeology Review for launching the spate of high-profile forged antiquities.

But seriously, Ralph: Wasn't it fun while it lasted?

Readers may have been wondering if I was exaggerating yesterday when I pointed the finger at Hershel Shanks as a principal, although unwitting, enabler of the trade in stolen and forged antiquities. It is worth going back 20 years or so and examining the role that Shanks and Biblical Archaeology Review played in the case of the Ivory Pomegranate

December 30, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Update from the "Home of the Brave"

Islamic cemetery draws protest:
SOMERVILLE, Tenn. - The Muslim Society of Memphis was looking for a quiet place to bury its dead and found an unused sod farm about 20 miles east of the city.

But angry neighbors are protesting the proposed Muslim cemetery, saying it could be used as a staging ground for terrorists or that it could spread disease from unembalmed bodies.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Israel and Sri Lanka

Rumors are flying that Sri Lanka has rejected humanitarian aid from Israel. Untrue, according to the Israeli government web site, which has the full story here. Beware, however, that it is dated 12/28:

In accordance with the decision of the Minister of Defense and in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, and given the dimensions of the devastation, the IDF has sent a humanitarian aid delegation and medical supplies to Sri Lanka.... Following the request of the Sri Lankan government, a shipment of medicines, water, food, blankets and generators was sent, accompanied by a delegation of some 50 medical and rescue personnel.
The ADL, meanwhile, has blasted the Vatican newspaper for a "spurious and misleading report" that falsely claimed the Israeli government had denied emergency relief for tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. According to the ADL release, "in fact the Israeli government's offer to provide a team of medical and security personnel was rejected by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry."

Finally, the JTA reported yesterday that

Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts, but said it would accept a smaller team.


Update: Mon, Jan 3:
The Israeli Consulate is distributing a fax from the Sri Lankan Government, which says "the generous assistance readily given by the Government and people of Israel at this hour of need is highly appreciated by the Government and people of Sri Lanka."

As to the reports the S.L. had rejected an Israeli rescue team asociated with the IDF, the Sri Lankan government explains that it was

constrained to request delaying the arrival of the 150 member Israeli rescue and relief team, while the medical supplies and food offered by the Israeli people were accepted. This was due to the lack of accomodation available in the country at this point and skilled manpower required for medical attention becoming adequate for the present in many areas.

This may be spin, of course, but I'd rather have spin than condemnation. Clearly both governments want to erase the impression that they are at odds.

(Reb Yudel)

Decoding evolution

From The Economist, Evidence that evolutionary change is not always a smooth process
:

ONE of the most acrimonious disputes in biology is between those who believe that evolutionary change is a smooth and gradual process and those who think it happens suddenly—evolution by creeps versus evolution by jerks, as some of the protagonists unkindly put it. The gradualist model tends to be favoured by those who study things that are still alive, while the punctuated-equilibrium model, as the sudden-transition way of looking at the world is known in the trade, finds its support among those who study fossils, and who feel that the evidence from the rocks favours their view.


Now, though, the jerks have some support from two researchers who are studying still-living organisms. John Fondon and Harold Garner work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, in Dallas. They have been looking at the genetics of dog breeds. And they have found a mechanism of genetic change that could help to explain punctuated equilibria.


Just another evidence supporting my conviction that within my lifetime, we'll find definitive evidence that the Orthodox Union's science is at least as bogus as their kosher supervision.

December 29, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Reflections of a wayward book reviewer

Sandee Brawarsky's year-end confessions in The Jewish Week book review:
The Netsiv used to tell his students that as a very young man, he had a dream that he died and was brought by God to the world to come. When God took him aside to show him a room full of books, the young man was very excited -- he thought that the space had been reserved for him. For someone like the Netsiv, a room full of books would be a great place in which to sit for eternity.

But as the rabbi was reaching to take one of the books down off of the shelf, God stopped him and said, "This is a room full of all of the books that you were supposed to have written. And why did you not write them?"

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Rhymes with...

My column this week looks back at 2004 in verse:

It came in with a nipple and went out with a flood

Making clear that 2004 was a dud

With war in Iraq, and nukes in Iran

And conservatives seeking a gay-marriage ban,

And liberals getting their shorts in a twist

Over attacks on a candidate who just barely missed

Unseating a president whose outreach to Jews

Hoped to make red states out of the blues.

(Reb Yudel)

A smattering from the Association of Jewish Studies

Nextbook
skimmed the robust conference program for enticing titles and then asked a selection of speakers about the topics closest to their hearts.

December 28, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Faith and Compassion

From Eschaton compares
The Bush administration yesterday pledged $15 million to Asian nations hit by a tsunami that has killed more than 22,500 people, although the United Nations' humanitarian-aid chief called the donation "stingy."
to
The war on terror will take center stage at next month’s second inauguration for President Bush in Washington, D.C. ... The estimated budget for the event is $30-40 million, but that will not cover security costs.
(Reb Yudel)

Two Jewish agencies are involved with tsunami relief.

From the HILLEL-FACULTY mailing list:


An established, reputable Jewish agency working in the countries of the
Indian Ocean is the (independent) American Jewish World Service. For
several years, AJWS has partnered with 24 non-governmental,
community-based organizations in the region on sustainable community
development projects.


To make a tax-deductible secure-online contribution to AJWS, go to
http://www.ajws.org/index.cfm?section_id=15


The JDC (�the Joint�) is also raising funds for South Asia tsunami relief.


To make a tax-deductible secure-online contribution to the American
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (a UJC/Federation supported agency),
go to http://www.jdc.org/

(Reb Yudel)

Self-Fulfilling Scapegoatism

Oops. Turned out that the Muslim chaplain whose investigation for treason was seen as evidence that Muslims can't be trusted... was investigated and charged primarily because... the investigators believed that Muslims can't be trusted. From the New York Times::

How Dubious Evidence Spurred Relentless Guantánamo Spy Hunt

By TIM GOLDEN

Capt. Theodore C. Polet Sr., an Army counterintelligence officer at the detention camp for terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had just begun investigating a report of suspicious behavior by a Muslim chaplain at the prison last year when he received what he thought was alarming new information.

The F.B.I. had found that a car belonging to the chaplain, Capt. James J. Yee, had been spotted twice outside the home of a Muslim activist in the Seattle area who, years earlier, had been a host for a visit from Omar Abdel Rahman, the militant Egyptian cleric convicted in a 1993 plot to blow up various New York landmarks.

Although it was unclear what the activist had done or whether Captain Yee even knew him, Captain Polet took the report to the Guantánamo commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, and laid it out in stark terms.

"I said we had found something that connected Yee with a known terrorist supporter in Washington State, and at that point, he got very upset," Captain Polet said, noting that General Miller's ears turned red with anger. "This became far more serious than a basic security violation. The case was going to get bigger."

In fact, documents and interviews show that the case grew much bigger than has been publicly disclosed, spinning into a web of counterintelligence investigations that eventually involved more than a dozen suspects, a handful of military and civilian agencies and numerous agents in the United States and overseas.

Within less than a year, however, the investigations into espionage and aiding the enemy grew into a major source of embarrassment for the Pentagon, as the prosecutions of Captain Yee and another Muslim serviceman at the base, Airman Ahmad I. Al Halabi, unraveled dramatically.

Even now, Defense Department officials refuse to explain in detail how the investigations originated and what drove them forward in the face of questions about much of the evidence. Military officials involved in the case have defended their actions, emphasizing that some of the inquiries continue.

But confidential government documents, court files and interviews show that the military's investigations drew significantly on questionable evidence and disparate pieces of information that, like the car report, linked him tenuously to people suspected of being Muslim militants in the United States and abroad.

Officials familiar with the inquiries said they also fed on petty personal conflicts: antipathy between some Muslim and non-Muslim troops at Guantánamo, rivalries between Christian and Muslim translators, even the complaint of an old boss who saw Airman Al Halabi as a shirker.

The military's aggressive approach to the investigation was established at the outset by General Miller, the hard-charging Guantánamo commander. Along the way, some investigators and prosecutors suggested that the job of ferreting out spies at the base had put them, too, on the front lines of the fight against terrorism.

Perhaps the most aggressive was the lead Air Force investigator in the case of Airman Al Halabi, Lance R. Wega, a probationary agent who took over the inquiry after barely a month on the job. While he was later commended by superiors and rewarded with a $1,986 bonus, testimony showed that Agent Wega had mishandled important evidence.

Ultimately, Air Force prosecutors could not substantiate a vast majority of the charges they brought against Airman Al Halabi, a translator at Guantánamo, who had faced the death penalty. He pleaded guilty in September to four relatively minor charges of mishandling classified documents, taking two forbidden photographs of a guard tower and lying to investigators about the snapshots. He was sentenced to the 10 months imprisonment he had already served, and is appealing a bad-conduct discharge.

Captain Yee, 36, a West Point graduate from Springfield, N.J., was held for 76 days in solitary confinement, charged with six criminal counts of mishandling classified information and suspected of leading a ring of subversive Muslim servicemen. He was found guilty only of noncriminal charges of adultery and downloading Internet pornography. That conviction was set aside in April, and his punishment was waived.

Another Guantánamo interpreter, and sometime interrogator, Ahmed F. Mehalba, has been jailed since September 2003 on federal charges that he lied to investigators who found that at least two classified documents on a compact disc he had taken with him on a trip to visit relatives in Egypt. He has pleaded not guilty.

Coloring much of the episode, interviews and documents indicate, were simmering tensions over the military's treatment of the roughly 660 foreign men who were then held at Guantánamo without charge.

"Lots of the guards saw us as some sort of sympathizers with the detainees," Airman Al Halabi recalled in one of several interviews. "We heard it many times: 'detainee-lovers,' or 'sympathizers.' They called us 'sand niggers.' "

Airman Al Halabi, who came to the United States at 16 after growing up in poverty in his native Syria, has emphasized his loyalty as a naturalized American citizen. While insisting that he was careful not to share his views with anyone but close friends at Guantánamo, he said he was one of many servicemen and translators there who were uncomfortable with the way the detainees were treated.

"I did disagree with what was going on," he said. "These people had been there forever and were blocked from the legal system. This country stands for justice and human rights, and there we were at Guantánamo doing none of that."

Chaplains Under Scrutiny

The conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim servicemen and the suspicions of improper relationships with the detainees by Muslim chaplains had taken root at Guantánamo well before Captain Yee arrived there in November 2002, officials said.

"Every one of the chaplains was accused of something while I was there," said Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, a former military police commander at the base, dismissing the suspicions as unfounded.

"They were always under suspicion by the interrogators, because they were interacting with the detainees and giving them Korans," General Baccus said in an interview. "The M.P.'s suspected them all the time, too. They just didn't like the chaplains going around talking to the detainees."

One chaplain who served under General Baccus, Lt. Abuhena Saiful Islam of the Navy, was accused by interrogators of sending messages from several detainees back to their families overseas. The allegations prompted a formal investigation by the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service.

According to three officials familiar with the inquiry, it turned up no evidence of any wrongdoing by the chaplain. Rather, they said, the case reflected the depth of suspicion among the guards and the need for a clearer understanding of the chaplains' role in dealing with the detainees. (A spokeswoman for the Norfolk Naval Station, where Lieutenant Saiful Islam is now based, said the chaplain had no comment.)

General Miller, who assumed command on Nov. 4, 2002, placed a premium on clarifying the responsibilities of those serving beneath him.

Captain Yee, a Muslim convert who had studied Islam in Syria in the late 1990's, arrived a short time later. He was assigned to advise senior officers on religious questions regarding the detainees, provide detainees with Korans and prayer beads and oversee the distribution of reading materials as part of an effort to limit the radicalization of the prisoners. Officers said Captain Yee was shunned as a traitor by some of the detainees, but cultivated relationships with others in what he described as an attempt to reduce tensions.

Soon, however, the chaplain's presence became a source of discomfort for some of his colleagues, most notably Capt. Jason B. Orlich, a 33-year-old former schoolteacher who had taken over as the intelligence officer for the guard force at Camp Delta, the main Guantánamo detention center.

In one of several sworn statements of his filed in the Al Halabi investigation, Captain Orlich complained that Muslim soldiers and contract linguists would come into the building where he worked each day to pray, often loudly, "while non-Muslims were performing their duties."

"They were fervent in their beliefs and encouraged other Muslims to participate in their religious activities," he said in another statement, referring to Captain Yee, Airman Al Halabi and two of their friends, Capt. Tariq O. Hashim and Petty Officer Samir Hejab. "A lot of their religious beliefs mirrored those of the detainees."

The tensions reached a climax in late March or early April 2003, several officers said, after Captain Yee questioned assertions made by Captain Orlich during a briefing for interrogators and others about the behavior of the Camp Delta prisoners.

According to one investigator involved in the case, Captain Orlich filed a sworn statement to the counterintelligence group on what he considered the chaplain's improper participation at the briefing. Based on Captain Orlich's complaint, officers said, Captain Yee was barred from attending further intelligence briefings. The half-dozen officers of the counterintelligence group also began to more closely scrutinize the chaplain's activities and take note of the grumbling against him.

"I was very methodical in making sure this was not just a personality conflict," Captain Polet said in an interview. "From a counterintelligence standpoint, there was nothing to act on. But we made a conscious decision to monitor it."

According to investigators and prosecutors, some of the primary accusations against Captain Yee echoed those that had been made earlier against Lieutenant Saiful Islam: that he spent an inordinate amount of time speaking with the detainees, took frequent notes during those conversations and seemed to some guards overly sympathetic with the prisoners' plight.

There was also an argument - often made by Captain Orlich - that Captain Yee and some members of his small Muslim prayer group at Guantánamo constituted a suspicious fellowship of servicemen who appeared to sympathize with the detainees and question some of the government's counterterrorism policies.

"There was a concern that there was, like, a clique of people who would go off and spend time away from the unit and were not as supportive of the mission as they ought to be," said the chief Air Force prosecutor in the Al Halabi case, Lt. Col. Bryan T. Wheeler. "If people want to have a prayer group, that's great. If, on the other hand, you have people complaining about the treatment people are receiving, there are ways to do that. Subverting the mission is not the way to do it."

Over the course of 2002, the handling of the Guantánamo detainees had been criticized in briefings and memorandums by many of those who served there: General Baccus, his counterpart for intelligence, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, a chief of the C.I.A. field group on the base, the military's criminal investigators, senior F.B.I. agents and others.

But according to many officers, General Miller ran a tighter operation. Morale improved, they said, but with that came an atmosphere in which criticism of the detainees' treatment was tacitly discouraged.

"People were definitely careful about expressing their opinions," said one Guantánamo veteran who knew Captain Yee and Airman Al Halabi. "But a lot of us felt some sympathy for some of the detainees. A lot of those guys were low-level or no-level. They were not terrorists."

Developing a Case

The case against Captain Yee turned, several officers said, after Captain Orlich returned to the counterintelligence office at the base in April 2003 with one of the contract Arabic interpreters who had what several people described as a frosty relationship with Captain Yee and his friends.

The officers said the interpreter reported overhearing the chaplain speaking in Arabic to a detainee at the base hospital, mocking a psychological-operations posters intended to encourage the detainees' cooperation with interrogators.

This time, the counterintelligence unit responded more quickly, filing a basic report of suspected espionage or subversion to the 470th Military Intelligence Group in Puerto Rico.

The intelligence officials in Puerto Rico responded in early May, two officers said, dismissing the allegation and instructing the Guantánamo office to drop the matter. But Captain Polet, then the head of Guantánamo's counterintelligence unit, remained concerned. He rewrote what was basically the same report, officials said, and forwarded it to a higher-level authority, the Army Central Control Office.

While Captain Polet's unit awaited a response, one of its agents sent the Social Security numbers for Captains Yee and Hashim, Airman Al Halabi and Petty Officer Hejab to a friend at the F.B.I., two military officers said. The friend called back to report that a computer search turned up the report of the chaplain's car having been observed at the home of the activist in the Seattle area - once while Captain Yee was at Guantánamo, and once while he was believed to be stationed at Fort Lewis, just south of Tacoma.

By the time the Army control office authorized a preliminary investigation, General Miller had been briefed on the F.B.I. information and had ordered Captain Polet to investigate thoroughly. "Exonerate this man or bring him to justice," two officers quoted him as saying of Captain Yee. "Whatever support you need to conduct this investigation, you will have." A spokesman said General Miller would not comment.

In mid-June, General Miller was also briefed on the Al Halabi case by Agent Wega, who had been sent to Guantánamo from Travis Air Force Base in northern California to investigate.

As with Captain Yee, the initial conduit for accusations of wrongdoing was Captain Orlich. He had discovered the disposable camera with which Airman Al Halabi had photographed the guard tower, and he learned that Airman Al Halabi had come under investigation at Travis for supposedly plugging his laptop into a government network. Captain Orlich had also sent two subordinates to confiscate a box of photocopied documents from the library where Airman Al Halabi worked under Captain Yee, on the suspicion that the two men were distributing radical literature to the detainees.

"Who's to say what it was," Second Lt. Victor Ray Wheeler, one of the people who retrieved the documents, said in an interview. "But it could have been reinforcing fanatical beliefs of the detainees."

The concerns about the documents later proved unfounded. But two searches of Airman Al Halabi's Guantánamo dorm room by Agent Wega turned up some the letters from detainees that the airman routinely translated in his primary job as a linguist. Agent Wega also surreptitiously copied the hard drive of Airman Al Halabi's laptop, and later found a letter from the Syrian Embassy authorizing him to enter the country.

For months, Airman Al Halabi had been telling co-workers he was preparing to travel to Damascus to marry his Syrian fiancée, a family friend. But the investigators suspected something more ominous.

When Agent Wega detained Airman Al Halabi as he returned from Guantánamo on July 23, 2003, he found computer files containing 186 detainee letters he had translated - all of which, he said, Captain Orlich had told him were classified. Rather than keep him at Travis while the investigation continued, Air Force commanders ordered Airman Al Halabi's immediate arrest and Air Force prosecutors got to work.

Airman Al Halabi soon faced 30 different charges, including attempted espionage, aiding the enemy and bank fraud. But many of the accusations began to dissolve almost as quickly.

The Prosecution Unravels

One charge of aiding the enemy was based on the second-hand claim that Airman Al Halabi had boasted of distributing baklava pastries to the detainees. It was soon determined, however, that he had been on a mission in Afghanistan when the sweets arrived at Guantánamo by mail, and that they had been consumed by other translators before he returned.

Another accusation, that he distributed radical literature to the detainees, was based on an erroneous translation of an Islamic symbol in Ottoman-style calligraphy. The bank-fraud charge collapsed after the government found that bank and credit card companies had simply misspelled Airman Al Halabi's name on some of his cards.

But defense lawyers also protested that the prosecutors withheld some crucial evidence that undermined their case.

One of the prosecutors' most important assertions was that a computer analysis showed that some detainee letters had been e-mailed from Airman Al Halabi's laptop, possibly overseas. Months after that claim was quietly dropped, the defense learned that early on, a computer expert had told the government that it was not clear the documents had been e-mailed at all.

Airman Al Halabi's lawyers also made a charge of misconduct after a government translator contacted them to say that one of the prosecutors, Capt. Dennis Kaw, had discouraged her from alerting the court when she found a mistake in her translation of the Syrian government's letter. Captain Kaw had insisted, rather improbably, that the Syrian government had given Airman Al Halabi permission in the letter to travel not only to Syria but also to Qatar; instead, the relevant word meant "the homeland."

The translator, Staff Sgt. Suzan Sultan, also disclosed that Agent Wega and other investigators had celebrated with beer as they examined a package that Airman Al Halabi had sent home with the documents later used to convict him on minor charges. The agents later taped up the box, put on gloves and photographed their steps as they reopened it, she testified.

"This is not the way our system of justice is set up," said one of the defense lawyers, Maj. James E. Key III. "You are supposed to investigate, and then charge. The system is premised on the idea that men and women who serve should not be subjected to these kinds of baseless allegations."

In the case of Captain Yee, Army investigators also operated on the mistaken belief that the names and identity numbers of Guantánamo detainees, which were found in notebooks that the chaplain carried with him when he went on leave, were classified.

But their suspicions were also raised by information from the F.B.I. and other sources that suggested possible connections between Captain Yee and Islamic militants.

A Dec. 30, 2003, memo by the F.B.I. counterterrorism analysis section asserted that the Abu Nour Institute in Syria, where Captain Yee had studied Islam, "may be an international center of Islamic terrorism," according to a document reviewed by The New York Times.

But the memorandum based that claim primarily on the activities of a few unrelated persons and it noted that "the exact nature of terrorist activity or training" at the center was "currently unclear." (Officials of the institute, which is known for teaching a moderate brand of Sufi Islam and is affiliated with the Syrian government, have denied that it supports terrorism.)

According to another F.B.I. document, a search of Captain Yee's home in Seattle also turned up notations linking him to two men already in the bureau's sights: the assistant imam of an Islamic center in Baltimore and another Baltimore man Captain Yee knew who belonged to the Nation of Islam. Military investigators said the F.B.I. also raised questions about some Muslims whom Captain Yee had met in Germany around the time he converted to Islam in 1991.

One F.B.I. official familiar with the Yee and Al Halabi cases suggested that the agency had merely assisted military investigators but had not endorsed their approach. But two military investigators said that the F.B.I. played a far greater role, and that information it provided had bolstered the notion that the two servicemen might be involved in subversive activities.

A lawyer for Captain Yee, Eugene R. Fidell, had no comment on the F.B.I. information. But he sharply criticized the prosecution of his client.

"What happened to Chaplain Yee was a grave miscarriage of justice," he said. "The career and personal life of a loyal American officer has been turned inside out, and he's not the only victim. This case has proven to be a self-inflicted wound for the military justice system."

Captain Yee declined a request to be interviewed. He is to leave the military on Jan. 7, with an honorable discharge.

(Reb Yudel)

Frum Affair

Frum Affair:
I would like this blog to be a safe haven for frum men and women who would like to anonymously share their experiences with extra-marital affairs. It would be nice if we could view this topic with compassion and understanding. A way to figure out how to avoid these destructive relationships, and find what we need on our own or within our own marriages.
(Reb Yudel)

Zoom! Golly golly! BBYO launches Internet radio station

The Forward points us to a new online radio station:
Launched this fall, and boasting a play list of genres covering everything from klezmer, Yiddish and cantorial music to Israeli pop and hip hop, B'nai B'rith Radio is seeking, in the words of the organization's executive vice president, Daniel Mariaschin, "to show that we are relevant and that we are speaking to the younger generations."
(Reb Yudel)

There's no end to history

Highly incisive, highly personal editorial by J.J.Goldber in this week's Forward :
I had been taught that we Labor Zionists were a glue that held the community together, the one group that was liberal enough to march with the leftists and communists, yet Jewish enough to talk to the Orthodox and even have them over for dinner, umbilically linked to Jerusalem yet always ready to argue when we needed to (and even when we didn't).

Just the point, Hoenlein said, thinking, as always, four steps ahead. Now it's my type, he said, the Modern Orthodox, that's becoming the glue, the ones who can talk to everyone from the black hats to the Reform — allied in Jerusalem to the Likud, yet still bound by history and sentiment to Labor. And, he added, our guys are the ones leading the modern version of your pioneering kibbutz tradition, the West Bank settler movement. You watch, he said. In 10 years, you'll be seeing a lot of knitted yarmulkes like mine sitting in those pivotal chairs where you guys were.

(Reb Yudel)

Just (Christian) Folks

Via Hullabaloo, the latest in the Christian victimization meme: Christian Exodus is promoting aliya to South Carolina:

ChristianExodus.org is coordinating the move of thousands of Christians to South Carolina for the express purpose of re-establishing Godly, constitutional government. It is evident that the U.S. Constitution has been abandoned under our current federal system, and the efforts of Christian activism to restore our Godly republic have proven futile over the past three decades. The time has come for Christians to withdraw our consent from the current federal government and re-introduce the Christian principles once so predominant in America to a sovereign State like South Carolina.

December 27, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Paying the Market Piper in Iraq

Today's example of why I read John Robb's Weblog:

One of the things that really bothers me about America's new security regime is that it ignores economic realities. The current world order isn't run by nation-states. It's run by Adam Smith (aka global markets).

The history of the last 20 years will focus on the radical expansion of these markets to encompass 3 billion people. It was the tipping point for capitalism.

However, markets are harsh rulers. They punish non-economic behavior with a sharp slap of the invisible hand. There isn't any special immunity for the US.

So, when we spend $150 in direct security costs for every barrel exported by Iraq, we invite the slap. The cost of Iraq's security isn't reflected in the price of oil, nor is the $5 per barrel of naval security we pay for every barrel of oil from the Persian Gulf.

(Reb Yudel)

It's a small, tectonically unstable planet after all

My cousin Rachel lives in Australia... and has begun building a Yoga retreat center in Sri Lanka. She writes:

Thanks so much for the email. We are all fine. The business partners who were living on the land were away in the hills and are safe.

However we don't know the extent of damage to our land. It was right on the beach.

I imagine the villagers on our beach and the ones we met in various places on the south coast are either displaced or no longer living. I am pretty sad and at the same time really acknowledging how precious life is ...

December 23, 2004

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

A Christmas Quarrel

My latest column for the for the NJ Jewish News is on the over-hyped "Who killed Christmas?" story:

...[A]s someone who has personally saved Christmas, I feel more than qualified to comment.

Back in the sixth grade I starred in the Waltoffer Avenue Elementary School production of The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. I played Sam Whipple, a small-town lawyer who is hired by Santa Claus to frustrate the evil designs of Phineas T. Prune, a landlord who has raised the rent on Santa’s workshop and is threatening to evict the elves....

There may not be a public school in the country today that would mount a production like ours, and not just because it tried to ring holiday joy out of a landlord-tenant dispute.

I mention Charles Krauthammer's wrong-headed WashPost column in my column, but it really deserves to be scrutinized at length.

He begins with a quote by Mark Brownstein, parent, Maplewood, N.J., supporting the school board's ban on religious music in holiday concerts. Says Brownstein:


"Holiday celebrations where Christmas music is being sung make people feel different, and because it is such a majority, it makes the minority feel uncomfortable."

Krauthammer follows this up with a nice little quote from Casablanca: "You want my advice? Go back to Bulgaria." Very mature -- telling a fellow Jew to go back to Europe.

The fact that he picks on Brownstein is a mistake, however, because part of Krauthammer's thesis is that:

"It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.."

The problem is Brownstein is a highly affiliated and educated Jew and a day school parent. I know this because his wife works at my newspaper as a reporter; I also know that Krauthammer's people called Brownstein to give him a head's up on the column, and he explained his background, but CK clearly ignored this.

Krauthammer also writes:

"I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it."

He might also have mentioned that Orthodox Jews do not as a rule send their children to public schools. The Orthodox example also undercuts his central assertion that Christians' need for carols in the schools is more important than another's request not to be made uncomfortable: If Orthodoxy, a relatively tiny movement, is thriving despite the near total absence of validation from the outside world or popular culture, then why does he feel Christianity, representing "80 percent" of Americans, needs this very public celebration of Christmas in order to act on its "religious impulses." If anything, Orthodoxy proves that religious authenticity is nurtured by an embrace of private, counter-cultural values, not widespread popular expression.

Finally, CK says the "pettifoggers" display a

" profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions."
So that's the American idea --toleration of minorities at the indulgence of a Christian majority?
(Reb Yudel)

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's Great Grandaughter finally learns Hebrew

As someone who grew up thrilled by the story of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, I find this Jewish Week story about his descendants decidedly bittersweet.

December 22, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Sale of Russian Forward reflects battle for soul of Russian community

Walter Ruby writes in The Jewish Week:
Has a Russian-language newspaper in America known for its assertive stand for a Russian-American Jewish community independent of influence back home fallen under the sway of Moscow?

Some in the Russian-speaking world are asking this question six weeks after the Russian Forward, the well-regarded weekly newspaper, was sold to local businessmen and Jewish organizational leaders known collectively as the Mitzvah Media Group.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

I thought the debate was between "faith" and "good works"

A Religion News Service headline:

"Survey: Catholic Institutions Wary of Investing in Violence and Sex."
(Reb Yudel)

"Little interests me if Dylan is or not one born again christian as I am"

Voz do Deserto comments (in Portugues) on Dylan's religion. Babelfish translation follows.

In who Bob Dylan will believe? They leave to dispute me next to the Warlike Nuno the religion of the Bob Dylan (since I did not arrive the agreement with the JMF concerning its intention of vote). The singer certainly did not come back to record albums "evangélicos" as the Slow Train Coming but he did not abandon all of the reportório of this phase (to see here, for example). More. The information that the Nuno also offers on the artist frequentando a New York synagogue is pointed as a funeral of a familiar one, as it, Jewish of blood. Little interests me if Dylan is or not one born again christian as I am. But if more valley is for gaining the bicycle that is prepared to pedalar.
(Reb Yudel)

Doug Feith vs. Israel?

Laura Rozen notes:
Still no major American media coverage of the big tussle between the Pentagon and Israel over an Israeli contract to upgrade a weapons system for China. Here's the latest from Ha'aretz.

I am baffled. A story that has Douglas Feith, Tel Aviv, arms sales, and a hardening neoconservative policy towards Beijing in one place, and one doesn't see a single mention in the NYT, the Washington Post, or the LA Times.

Here are the key points from Ze'ev Schiff's Ha'aretz analysis:
The problem is that Israel walked into the problem of a severe clash - and not for the first time - with many members of Congress who maintain an anti-China line. In recent weeks there were hysterical reports in the U.S. about Israeli advanced technology sales to China. It's been said, for example, that American soldiers defending Taiwan could be harmed by Israeli technologies, and American ships by the Harpy. A special congressional committee held hearings and heard some very tough remarks against Israel.

A key question that cannot be ignored is why such misunderstandings repeatedly come up between Israel and the U.S. regarding China. There's a series here: once it was about the sale of Lavie technologies to China, then about the supposed sale of the U.S.-made Patriot missile secrets to China. One time it was in the wake of the sale of advanced air-to-air missiles to China, and then came the Phalcon affair - and there are plenty of other examples.

Of course, it could be that Israel is preparing for the inevitable shift in patrons as the American century comes to an end.

Just as the alliance with France became meaningless as that country assumed its natural size on the world stage, so too it makes sense to forge as close ties with as many of the 21st century world powers as possible.

Andy, you used to be Mr. Washington. Any inside into what's going on here?

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Keeping up with the Jonases

Genuine story or "Onion"-style parody? You decide:

Former IDT workers allege discrimination in lawsuit

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Associated Press

Twenty-three former call center employees of telecommunications provider IDT are suing the company, claiming discrimination against non-Jewish workers that ranged from ruined Christmases to the transfer of their jobs to Israel.
A lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Newark also includes two current workers among the plaintiffs. It names the Newark-based company and its founder, Howard Jonas, as defendants.
"There was tremendously different treatment of Jewish and gentile workers," said attorney Samuel Davis of the Teaneck firm Davis, Saperstein & Solomon. "Jewish workers automatically got their holidays off without having to ask. The non-Jewish workers had to put in a request to get their holidays off and were frequently denied. It interfered with their family and religious celebrations of holidays like Christmas and Easter."

The lawsuit, filed in October, claims Jewish employees were given preferential treatment in hiring, scheduling and promotion, and also alleges violations of state wage-and-hour guidelines.

Davis said approximately 35 employees of the Newark call center were suspended July 30 and escorted from the premises by Newark police officers without being told why. When the employees were terminated several weeks later and filed for unemployment, the company did not challenge their applications, Davis said. In doing so, the company passed up an opportunity to prove that they had done something wrong that merited termination, he said.

Leslie Lajewski, the lawyer representing IDT, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. A receptionist at IDT would not transfer a call to Jonas' office, instead directing it to a voice mailbox where a message was not immediately returned. E-mails sent to five company divisions seeking comment also were not immediately answered.

The lawsuit alleges a majority of IDT's management and workforce are Orthodox Jews who receive preferential treatment, including a kosher cafeteria and paid time away from work to pray in an on-premises synagogue.

The lawsuit also claims many of the Newark call center jobs were shifted to another IDT call center in Har Hotzvim, Israel.

It claims the lone named plaintiff, Paula Harris, was not fired because of "cutting costs, saving money or plaintiff's alleged wrongdoing; it had everything to do with IDT, a Jewish company wanting to have, no matter what the cost, a presence in Israel because its chairman, Howard Jonas, is emotionally committed to such country."

According to its Web site, the company provides telephone service to callers in 225 countries, and has annual revenues of more than $1.8 billion. It is also a leader in calling card distribution, with annual sales of more than $1 billion from 265 million cards.

December 21, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Discuss: In the fight between theology and history, back history

In the fight between theology and history, back history, argues programmer and theology student Simon Cozens:
What? Not theology? Surely God should come first. But theology is not God; theology is merely our precious human theories about how God behaves, and we should hold any such theology lightly. When theology wins over history, it is a terrifying thing.....

Any theology which is not affected by the history of what God is doing in the world is not a theology of God but a theology of man.

In light of the debate over at Hirhurim about culture, what do you make of this statement?

Was your opinion changed when you read the examples of history that I replaced with ellipses?

(Reb Yudel)

Barry Chamish offers a unique, take on YU

Barry Chamish, who back in '95 was decrying Oslo as a Freemasons plot, now find evil infiltrating the Jewish bastions of upper Manhattan, as The Council on Foreign Relations Takes Over Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary:

The last holdout of Jewish morality, our religion, has been taken over by the Council On Foreign Relations (CFR).

The two leading New York rabbinical colleges, Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, are now in the hands of the worst enemies of Judaism, indeed of mankind.

In the future, the majority of America's rabbis will be thoroughly inculcated in the globalist vision of the New World Order .............


Sabbataians. And this dreadful vision has already spread to Jerusalem.


Paging JewishWhistleblower!

(Reb Yudel)

Edwin Black follows up on AIPAC spy case

Via Talking Pointsm, a major JTA story on the AIPAC affair:

Instead, the probe of AIPAC appears to have intensified only after the FBI monitored a call between Franklin and reporters at CBS News in May 2004, in which he allegedly disclosed information about aggressive Iranian policy in Iraq.

One of those reporters was Adam Ciralsky, a former attorney at the Central Intelligence Agency who sued the CIA after he quit in 1999 on the grounds that he was harassed for his Jewish roots and connection to Israel.

After the call in May, the FBI’s counterintelligence division, headed by David Szady, who also supervised the alleged campaign against Ciralsky, confronted Franklin, according to sources familiar with the case.

Threatened with charges of espionage and decades of imprisonment, Franklin was deployed to set up a sting against AIPAC, the sources say.


Of course, one has to wonder who the sources were. Are Richard Perle's acquaintances telling the truth here? Or are the spinning JTA?

(Reb Yudel)

David Bedein provides anti-Zionist spin from Efrat

David Bedein is spotted in this Arutz Sheva report on a Jewish Jurisprudence seminar:
Journalist David Bedein told Arutz-7, "It was fantastic to see 250 people, most of them lawyers and most of them very knowledgeable in Judaism, discussing the definition of an illegal order and concluding with a consensus that one must not adhere to such an order. They brought many examples from our sources, such as King Saul's order to kill the Priests of Nov, where it was clear that an illegal order of this nature must not be carried out."
"Journalist" Bedein makes clear, further down in the story, that he believes Israeli citizens must decide for themselves who is an enemy and what constitutes a war.

Of course, if I decide that Bedein is an enemy, I might have a halachkic obligation to kill him.

December 20, 2004

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Bah Humbug? Pure bunkum

Another article on the "Save Christmas" movement that seems to buy into this phony "trend": Key grafs:

While Zamorano's boycott has yet to pick up any real steam, his campaign reflects a growing resentment among many Christians that creeping secularism now has its sights set on Christmas. It's part of the annual "December dilemma" for people who say the birth of Jesus Christ is increasingly overshadowed by excessive commercialism.

Frustrated over nativity scenes that are unwelcome in public squares, Salvation Army kettles that have been banned from Target stores and school "holiday" plays that feature Hanukkah songs but no "Away in a Manger," they've had enough. And Macy's will be the first to pay.."


The RNS story, like so much of the reporting on this story, is a parody of trend-spotting articles. "[A] growing resentment among many Christians." Growth measured how? "They've had enough." Who is this "they," besides a few columnists, Bill O'Reilly, a one-man outfit like the "Committee to Save Merry Christmas," and the media echo chamber? Have the courts, the ACLU, and/or religious defense groups recorded an uptick in the number of institutions seeking to "secularize" Christmas, or challenging such attempts? Was there a major court case this year that moved the issue in one way or another? If there is any trend here at all, it one among Christian activists on the right, and their right-wing allies from O'Reilly to Krauthamer, who have hit upon a media-friendly issue to further drive a wedge between the red and blue. Frank Rich nails it in his Dec. 19 column -- a pretense by members of a triumphant majority that they under siege by a marginalized minority.

December 19, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Gratuitous pre-Christmas Jacob Neusner post

I'll save the story of my first in-person hearing of him earlier this month for another time. But if you want some books selected by an expert computer by Jacob Neusner -- including many about Judaism and Christianity -- follow the link below. Merry Christmas!

December 18, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Kenny Brander and Richard Joel, check your messages

At least someone cares about the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary:
A group of us have been praying for your campus and we have developed some resources that could help you start something. We are trusting God to touch the life of every student while you are at school. Would you like to be a part of this effort? If so, you could easily start a ministry. Find out more at godsquad.com/everystudent.htm
(tip o' the black hat to Dov Bear)

December 17, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Doctor's Plot:: William Hurwitz falls victim to Adminstration's war on non-faith-based pain relief

Another Jew faces life in prison, via Reason: A pain doctor's drug trafficking conviction sets a chilling precedent:

Although the evidence they presented in his trial made it clear Hurwitz was not a drug trafficker, they still managed to convict him of drug trafficking.

The prosecutors did not dispute that Hurwitz had helped hundreds of patients recover their lives by prescribing the high doses of narcotics they needed to control their chronic pain.

The prosecutors did not claim Hurwitz, who faces a possible life sentence, got so much as a dime from illegal drug sales.

Our tax dollars at work. Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

What should Jews know?

Seth Godwin has begun a discussion of The top 1,000 things to know:
So what are they? What are the one thousand teachable things that every third grader ought to start learning so she'll know them all before before she graduates from high school?
As you'll see from the first five, Godwin is not taking the "Cultural Literacy" approach (Judaized in "Jewish Literacy") of the top 1000 factoids:
Here are twenty to get us started.
  1. How to type.
  2. How to speak in front of a group.
  3. How to write clear prose that other people actually want to read.
  4. How to manage a project.
  5. The most important lessons from American history.
Click through and read the next 15 items on his list.

Then come back, and let's discuss: What are the things a Jew should know?

(Reb Yudel)

Why one woman voted for Bush

Over on Daily Kos, "Julie37" describes a conversation with an on-line friend who voted for Bush in a must-read piece entitled It's People Like This That We Let Get Away. I excerpt a small piece of Julie37's conclusion, but really, read the whole thing:
Melinda is not an uneducated person. She's an elementary school teacher and her husband is a former Marine. She's not someone who dropped out of school at 16. She's an exhausted working mom who is too tired and frazzled to read the paper or watch the news when she gets home, so she relies mainly on her pastor to give her "the big picture" on Sunday mornings. In short, she has no bullshit alarm.

I could go on and on about the conversation here, and I think we all know that educating voters to the issues is a major component to taking back the Senate and White House. But, I would argue that one of the things that needs to be done is to educate voters about the workings of the government--so that when someone like Tom Coburn says that he is anti-abortion, they know that he is just one of a very large number of people who would get to make that decision, and won't let that issue be the defining factor in casting their votes.

(Reb Yudel)

Dov Bear goes Torah-true

Dov Bear dons his Torah-true persona while discussing the Haredi curriculum:
As you know, the study of adding certainly leads to the study of subtraction; and from this mixing with gentiles and women inevitably follows.
(Reb Yudel)

Two years in prison for forging a "handicapped" parking tag?

That seems to be the gist of this Newsday story about a Long Island crackdown on bogus handicapped parking permits.
Calling it "the lowest form of human endeavor," Suffolk County Sheriff Alfred Tisch last month vowed police would crack down on drivers using altered, forged and fake handicapped parking permits - and, for the first time, charge them with felonies instead of merely issuing them a summons.
For those of you who thought that, yes, humanity could and has gotten lower than counterfeiting parking permits, well, get over it. Even Bill "Some of my best friends are Christmas-loving Jews" O'Reilly has acknowledged that drug-dealing only "used to be considered the lowest form of human endeavor" [empashsis added].

So tell all your terrorists, grave-robbing, massacre-perpetrating, draft-dodging, pension-thieving, innocent-torturing friends to buck up: They could be doing worse.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Evolution and its discontents

My latest column is on evolution, religion, and what the Christian Right can learn from Orthodox Judaism.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Oy Holy Night

Here's an incredibly mischievous article from the Seattle Times on the "put Christ back into Christmas" flap. It features reporting by the A.P. AND The Crhistian Science Monitor. Most of the shoddiest paragraphs do not appear in the A.P. original, so I can only assume the CSM is responsible. CLick below to read my drash.

Groups push for Christmas to get religion

By The Associated Press and The Christian Science Monitor

Emboldened by Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season.


It starts well enough, but the only example of the de-Christianization of Christmas is a mention of the attempted boycott of Federated Department Stores, which incidentally denies that it is a corporate-wide policy to ban "Merry Christmas." Then the article gets worse:


But after years of lawsuits that caused schools and local governments to pull back from such celebration, critics say the result has been a commercialization of the holiday season that overshadows faith and culture."

Sure, blame the lawyers. It's not as if Christians themselves have any control over how they choose to celebrate the holiday. And the cause and effect seems specious: If schools and governments are hesitant to over-emphasize Christmas over other religious holidays, how does that prevent major retailers and entertainment companies from being as Christian as they want to be? If you are a good conservative who believes in Smith's "invisible hand of the marketplace," then you'd have to accept that the commercializaation of Christmas is the fault -- or glory -- of capitalism, not secularism.

"Many agree Christmas has become synonymous with the cash register instead of the crèche. In 2000, the last time the question was posed by the Gallup Organization, 75 percent of Americans polled said there is not enough emphasis on the religious basis of Christmas. Eight-five percent said the holiday was too commercialized.
The "keep the Christ in Christmas" contingent is particularly agitated this year over what its members see as a troubling trend on Main Street: Target stores banning Salvation Army bell ringers; UPS drivers complaining to a free-speech group that they have been told not to wish people a "Merry Christmas" (an accusation UPS denies as "silly on its face and just not true"); and major corporations barring religious music from cubicles and renaming the office Christmas bash the "end of the year" party."

Again, is this truly a "trend," or two major corporations (three if you count Federated) making isolated decisions (or maybe not -- see below)?
"I think it is part of a growing movement of people with more traditional values, which make up the majority of people in this country, saying enough is enough," says Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund.

Aha -- THAT'S the trend -- not that Christmas is growing less visible, but that groups like his are growing more emboldened in seeking more Christianity in popular culture and the public square.]
Amid stories of schools banning the singing of carols on buses, Scott's group has distributed to more than 5,000 schools a seven-point legal primer citing 40 years of case law that says it is OK to mention Christmas in public places. And the group has about 800 lawyers waiting in the wings in case that notion needs to be reinforced.

I'd be curious to find out after Dec. 25 if a single lawyer had been dispatched to argue a case.

To that same end, the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, which says it received the UPS driver complaints, has reissued its "12 Rules of Christmas," guidelines for allowing the religious significance of Christmas to be celebrated and taught.
Did the reporters think to ask UPS if this is actual company policy, or is the second-hand word of the Rutherford Institute good enough for them? Actually the AP did contact UPS, who denied the story uneqivocally.]
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

If you were a Jew in Afghanistan, you'd run too...

The JTA reports:

A Jewish man won the first marathon held in Afghanistan.
1st Lt. Mike Baskin finished Sunday’s run in 3 hours, 12 minutes and 15 seconds. Baskin, who has been in Afghanistan since April, is a regular attendee at Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, Calif., his father Alan told JTA. Baskin’s father is Jewish but his mother is not; his brother is formally converting to Judaism in Israel, Alan Baskin said.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The Christmas (ban) that almost wasn't

Peggy Noonan has advice for the Democrats:

"Stop the war on religious expression in America. Have Terry McAuliffe come forward and announce that the Democratic Party knows that a small group of radicals continue to try to "scrub" such holidays as Christmas from the public square. They do this while citing the Constitution, but the Constitution does not say it is wrong or impolite to say "Merry Christmas" or illegal to have a crèche in the public square. The Constitution says we have freedom of religion, not from religion. Have Terry McAuliffe announce that from here on in the Democratic Party is on the side of those who want religion in the public square, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall for that matter. Then he should put up a big sign that says "Merry Christmas" on the sidewalk in front of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters on South Capitol Street. The Democratic Party should put itself on the side of Christmas, and Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith."

My question: Just where is this "war" being waged, and by whom? The Alliance Defense Fund, a sort of Evangelical ACLU, has launched a "Christmas Project" in order to "provide legal support in expected disputes over Christmas celebrations"; it says that "600 school districts nationwide have already been contacted to clarify the role of schools in laws concerning religious expression." But it doesn't say how many schools are actually banning Christmas, or whether there have been more challenges in recent years. (Pundits are going to keep bringing up the Maplewood-South Orange ban, but what else?).
This is classic straw-man politics: Create a phony enemy, and then demand that your rival stand up to him.
One other question for Noonan: What in the world is "the fact of transcendent faith"? Did she mean "the fact that many people have transcendent faith," or "that in which people have transcendent faith is a fact"?

December 15, 2004

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Fill in the Blunk

" LONDON (Reuters) - Top British government minister David Blunkett resigned on Wednesday over a charge of abuse of office, ripping a hole in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government months before an expected general election.

Tough-talking Home Secretary (interior minister) Blunkett, who left the job in tears, was a staunch ally of Blair and his hardline views on crime and homeland security provided a powerful weapon against right-wing opposition."

I only brought this up to make the horrid pun that Blair has lost his Security Blunkett, but it turns out that the British blogosphere is way ahead of me.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Three more years!

Arutz Sheva reports:

" Supreme Court Declares War on Hareidi Schools

The Supreme Court ruled today that the State may not fund hareidi religious schools that do not uphold the minimum curriculum standards set by the Education Ministry.


MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said in response, "We are ashamed that the Supreme Court of the State of Israel has declared that this is not a Jewish State."

But according to the Jerusalem Post version of the same story, the court's ruling can be seen as a partial vicotry for the Haredim:

" The High Court of Justice on Wednesday granted the state's request for three more years to implement the 'core' curriculum in ultra-Orthodox high schools."
In other words, Haredi schools that don't meet the state curriculum models have three more years to accept state subsidies while non-haredi schools that don't meet the same standards will continue to be dunned immeditely.

December 14, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

On Star Trek, have we got an intermarriage!

Creative Couplings, Book One, #47 in the Star Trek Corps of Engineers e-book series, goes on my Amazon wish list:
"While Stevens and Gomez deal with some Starfleet Academy pranksters, Gold has to deal with a much greater problem: the first-ever Klingon-Jewish wedding."

December 10, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Letter to a spammer across the pond

To: tom@cheap-christmas-gifts.co.uk

Tom,

Thank you ever so much for polluting my web site with your links.

I don't know whether or not you noticed, but the links don't work. Yes, it's unfortunate for my regular commenters, but necessary to make sure that spam scammers like you get no profit from your pollution.

I was looking at your site to have it shut down for your spam activity, but it seems someone else beat me to it.

Cheers,

Larry Yudelson

P.S. I know that I, for one, would seriously doubt the wisdom of purchasing anything from a web site like cheap-christmas-gifts.co.uk that needs to resort to unethical marketing practices. If Cheap Christmas Gifts can't advertise ethically, why should shoppers believe that they will ship ethically?

December 9, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Whatever Happened to Steven I.?

It seems like only yesterday that j-blogger wunderkind Steven I. Weiss nailed his final statement to the closed door of his Protocols blog.

What has become of him... and his recipe for sweet-potato-latke-casserole?

The rumors swirl around his celebrate absence.... some say he has been spotted in Moroccan restaurants on the Lubavitch tab... others claim that he shares a Lower-East-side building with a married J-blogger twice his age (and a few hundred other residents)... and what about the rumors of his plan to shake up the world of Jewish journalism?

For an up-to-the-minute update -- and YudelLine's first picture taken with a telephone -- click here.

(Reb Yudel)

Daniel Lapin and Protocols

The other day, I ran a search on Amazon's A9 search engine for "Protocols Jewish," a search which had led someone to this site.

Amidst all the links to anti-Semitic websites running the forgery as if it were truth, was a listing of books from Amazon. In contrast to the web site, the books were primarily scholarly debunkings of the Protocols.

All except for one: Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

The book's first sentence:

If there is one Jewish attribute more directly responsible for Jewish success in business than any other, it is this one: Jewish tradition views a person's quest for profit and wealth to be inherently moral.

Thank you, Rabbi!

December 8, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Yutopia mourns Protocols lost, with a cameo by Peter Berger

Amidst the musings on the final posting at the Protocols blog, Yutopia demonstrates the value-added of advanced study at the University of Chicago as he cites everyone's favorite sociologist of religion in his to Requiem For A J-Blog:

I find Peter Berger's analysis in "The Sacred Canopy" to be extremely useful. For Berger, society is really an exercise creating and maintaining a "world" as a "construction of reality." This exercise is comprised of three steps. The first, externalization, is the projecting of man's productions - physical or mental - into the world. Once a person creates any work in a distributable medium, it is no longer part of him or her, but it now exists as its own entity. This second step is called "objectification," since the creation is now independent of its maker. After the creation exists on its own, its creator must now redefine his relationship to it in the process Berger calls "internalization."

This phenomenon is evident in all aspects of Protocols. SIW started a site and his co-authors contributed towards it. Over time, the website became an entity unto itself as evidenced by the fact that people reference "Protocols" as opposed to any individual. The initial object was palatable to thousands of readers. However once Luke took over, Protocols was no longer what it once was and the audience had difficulty re-internalizing the new product.

Despite the abstraction of the community, the Protocols saga reminds us that websites are still run by people. People are not always predictable, and in the case of websites, the decisions and actions of one (or a few) can have a drastic impact on the many.

(Reb Yudel)

When Hanukkah is like X-mas

Half a century ago, C.S.Lewis kvetched that the religious feast of Christmas had been bastardized into the commerical extravaganza of "X-mas." Praise the Lord, those of us disgusted with the Christmas celebration can take the advice of the fellafel-loving Fox superstar Oreilly and go to Israel... where Ha'aretz is editorializing about Branding Hanukkah:
The Festival of Lights has been turned into the holiday of commerce and brands, the holiday of corporations and producers. There's a price to be paid for this materialist race, and parents are begining to feel it now. But the heaviest price will be paid later. They will have to work hard to finance the increasing demands of their children, since there is no end to the supply and its temptations.

Forsaking understanding of the holiday's customs, and chasing after the fashionable brands with all the financial costs involved, could be interpreted by children as total surrender to a world in which heroes are stars on TV and in advertisements and the message is that the most important ambition is to look like them.

December 7, 2004

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Operation Judaic Freedom

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 7, 2004

Hanukkah 2004

I send greetings to all those celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

On the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, Jews around the world commemorate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. During this time of darkness, the Temple had been seized, and Judaism had been outlawed. Judah Maccabee and his followers fought for three years for their freedom and successfully recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple. Jewish tradition teaches that the Maccabees found only one small bottle of oil to be used for temple rituals, but that oil lasted eight days and nights. The miracle of this enduring light, remembered through the lighting of the Menorah, continues to symbolize the triumph of faith over tyranny.

The bravery of the Maccabees has provided inspiration through the ages. We must remain steadfast and courageous as we seek to spread peace and freedom throughout the world. This holiday season, we give thanks to God, and we remember the brave men and women of our Armed Forces and their families. We also pray that all who live under oppression will see their day of freedom and that the light of faith will always shine through the darkness.

Laura joins me in wishing you a blessed and Happy Hanukkah GEORGE W. BUSH

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

First you pop in a video...

"How to Confront Children Using Pornography"
(Unfortunately worded headline over an article at a Focus on the Family Web site.)

December 5, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Remembering Rifka - Avi Walfish on Mishna

Live blogging of Rifka Rosenwein memorial lecture at Drisha on occasion of first yarzhei tonight.

Subject is Mishna, endowed by Judy Hiklind, her Mishna hevruta for nearly two decades.

I remember when Rifka was my editor, her telling of her hevruta with Judy, who was then working in Singapore.

Rabbi Avi Walfish is pioneering a literary approach to Mishna study.

Drisha's Rabbi David Silber, Judith Hikind, and Barry Lichtenberg spoke first.

Avi Walfish on Mishna

The very purpose of this compilation -- the Mishna -- is not altogether clear.

We know one purpose is to serve as a digest of Torah she Baal peh, and many students of mishna study it for this reason: It serves as a handy summary for rabbinic halacha. Still, many questions remain....

For one thing, what governed Rebbe's selection of Mishna?

Was it designed to be authoritative? Makhlokes both in Amoraim and contemporary scholars.

What governed the arrangement of Mishna? The structure is highly problematic. The gemara often has addressed itself to this question. Several masechtot open, 'tana heicha kai,' where is Mishna starting? Gittin seems to start at the end with an arcane case that seems to include all the laws of the masechet -- case of a messenger coming from overseas. The last mishna, on the other hand, is 'under what circumstances may a man divorce his wife' -- seemingly the first question on the topic.

Also, the gemara frequently departs from topic of mishna, or follows associative logic of names,numbers, or phrases..

So, it's really difficult to make heads or tales of what exactly this highly enigmatic text is all about.

I promise not to solve all the problems, but to shed some light. Tools I'm using: Literary scholarship. Literary structures, chiastic, etc, that we've used in study of Tanach. These phenomenon abound in Mishna.

Mishna Rosh Hashanah

Epstein characterized it as difficult structure, from different places.

For example, first mishnayot deal with years: Four new years, four periods when world judged. Then, two chapters on kiddush hachodesh. Third chapter returns to years.

A second issue in RH is that chapters tend to end in strange places. Chaps. 3 and 4 go on too long; others seem to end too soon. Chap. 1 ends in middle of a discussion of what witnesses do when they have to testify on Shabbat for sanctification of new moon; yet chapter closes with what seems to summarize topic (by citing verse in Vayikra justifying violating Shabbat). Chap. 2 ends with famous case of dispute of Rabban Gamliel on date, and Chap 3 continues....

Back to beginning:

Mishna seems to indicate there is a connection between years and kiddush hachodesh -- mishnas 1...4 all have numbers. Also, central role of Nissan and Tishrei. It does seem as though the Mishna wants to tell us before we start about sanctification of new months, it's important to know the real payoff. The real payoff is that it sanctifies essential times, part. the central times in which the world was judged (as seen in 1:2).

I want to focus on chapter endings.

The two chapter endings parallel each other -- epiphora - parallel between endings in literary units.

* Same (or similar) pasuk of "eleh mo'adei hashem"
*

Two diametrically opposed ideas concluding first and second chapters.

(Akiva's drasha -- some mss. have atem rather than otam, but I think based on t'kriu -- *you* are the ones who call them.)

-- By ending here, have the striking parallels of the pasuk, also the notion of walking sticks.

What is it trying to do?

The Mishna seems to be conveying the complimentary nature of the two ideas. bein b'zmanam u lo b'zmanam, these are God's moadot. Man's sanctification becomes God's appointed times. The first chapter says must sanctify at right time because they are God's time. It's a Divine responsibility. Therefore, even though whatever we will say will be authoritatively, it is our responsibility to sanctify the right time. There's a partnership between the Divine ordained sanctity and the human sanctity. But there's a tension.

What happens when Rabbi Yehoshua is convinced R' Gamliel has sanctified the wrong day?

I believe the Mishna is not about resolving the tension, but with living with the tension.

(Reb Yudel)

Our Republican friends say: "Even Jewish people like Christmas"

Another link for those who don't think that our Israel-loving president and his party could ever turn their political propaganda machine against the Jews.

It seems that their love for non-Christian Jews is a bit tinged with... well, Grinch? Or maybe they're buying Meir Soloveichik's argument that hate is good and indiscriminate love is bad? At any rate, Media Matters has noted that FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly touted a group's complaint that department stores Macy's and Bloomingdale's have replaced their "Merry Christmas" greetings with "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays" and declared on the December 1 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, "Even Jewish people like Christmas."

December 3, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Moral Leadership and the Rabbinical Council of America?

If his latest Mordecai Tendler Update update is to be believed, Luke Ford may really have a better case at being a "moral leader" than does at least one Orthodox rabbi:

A rabbi in the RCA gave their complete file on rabbi Mordecai Tendler to rabbi Mordecai Tendler. The women who accused Tendler were not allowed such access to the file. The women spoke to the Praesidium investigator on the belief that they would be kept anonymous. It feels like a bad rerun of the 1989 Baruch Lanner case.
Note, though, that while Luke's allegation is unsourced, it is also sufficiently non-specific to fend off a libel suit, even if false. Luke may be allegedly crazy, but he certainly is careful....

December 2, 2004

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Some of My Best Friends...

From this week's Forward, "Kosher Corporation Releases a Cartoon 'Passion'":

"While [Howard] Jonas said he was concerned enough to pull 'The Animated Passion,' he decried the Jewish response to Gibson's film, particularly Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who was one of the most visible critics of 'The Passion of the Christ.'

'Foxman sees enemies under every table,' Jonas said, 'even when enemies are Evangelical Christians who are our best friends.'
Jonas has tightened his own company's links with Christian media companies during the last year. Last December, Jonas signed a deal with evangelical preacher Pat Robertson to produce family-friendly entertainment through IDT's animation division. The agreement underscores the increasing links between Orthodox Jews and evangelicals over not only their shared interest in Israel, but also their shared religious values."


According to this article, Robertson describes a few of those shared values:
"Jews are waking up to the reality that Jesus is their Messiah," Robertson said. In an interview, Robertson said, "What God is doing among the Jewish people is extraordinary and has great prophetic significance. I don't think any of us 20 or 30 years ago dreamed that there would be vibrant Hebrew Christian congregations not only in America, but in Russia, and in Brazil, and in other parts of the world."

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Divested Interests

A YudelLine post on Shoshana Cardin inspired my column in this week's NJ Jewish News.

Also check out an oped by Rabbi Daniel Brenner, director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian seminary in Manhattan:

"As the only rabbi in America who works full time in a Presbyterian seminary, my life has been complicated, as my friends can attest, by the decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from companies that do business with Israel."

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Stiff-necked? Not us

Writing about evangelical Anglican Rev. John Stott,
David Brooks writes that

"Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock -- especially if you're a Jew like me -- when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in 'Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood,' except he has a backbone of steel."
Why would a Jew be shocked to find someone who doesn't compromise? I guess he's never been to a shul Board of Trustees meeting. His comment is both self-congratulatory ("I come from a tradition that values compromise") and self-deprecating ("would that more of my people had backbones of steel"). Brooks seems to envy the uncompromising: He wrote back in March that
"while religious dogmatism is always a danger, it is less of a problem for us today than the soft-core spirituality that is its opposite…. We’ve got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much a part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it."
Just what we need these days -- religious leaders who are less easy-going.
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

(Re-attached) Headline

For what it's worth, later editions of yesterday's NYTimes carried a different, slightly less emphatic headline on its kosher slaughter story than earlier editions. The new headline, over a nearly identical story by Donald G. McNeil, reads, "Videos cited in calling kosher slaughterhouse inhumane." (The previous head, still available on NYT Web site, was "Videotapes show grisly scenes at kosher slaughterhouse.")

In the lede of the story, by the way, "cows" has been changed to "steers."

December 1, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

More on the AIPAC bust

This just in from Joshua Micah Marshall:

Another update from the JTA on the FBI's investigation of AIPAC.

Their latest update reveals ...

Sources close to the investigation told JTA that the four [AIPAC staffers] ordered to appear before a grand jury were Howard Kohr, the group's executive director; Raphael Danziger, the research director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; and Renee Rothstein, the communications director. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the search, but had no further comment.
Various knowledgable sources tell me that this investigation is heating up and that AIPAC, and specifically Steven Rosen, are the primary targets, rather than Larry Franklin.

(Reb Yudel)

AIPAC Investigation Continues

JTA - Breaking News:

The FBI subpoenaed four senior staffers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to appear before a grand jury.

The FBI searched the Washington office of the pro-Israel lobby on Wednesday, seeking additional files related to two staffers who were interviewed by the agency in August -- Research Director Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, deputy director for foreign policy issues. The FBI also delivered the grand jury subpoenas, AIPAC said in a statement that did not name the four "senior staff members." An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the search, but had no further comment.

Federal investigators reportedly have been investigating AIPAC for two years, and the case is said to focus around a former Pentagon official suspected of passing a classified draft policy statement on Iran to AIPAC, which allegedly then passed it on to Israel.

In a statement Wednesday, AIPAC continued to deny any wrongdoing. "Neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law," the statement said. "We are fully cooperating with the governmental authorities. We believe any court of law or grand jury will conclude that AIPAC employees have always acted legally, properly and appropriately."


Joshua Micah Marshall adds:
I hear the investigation remains quite active and continues to focus almost entirely on Steven Rosen, AIPAC's Director of Foreign Policy Issues.

So it's come down to this: Steven Rosen vs. the Bush Administration and John Ashcroft's Justice Department. I don't think this blog is going to be taking sides on this one....

(Reb Yudel)

Is Abe Foxman Too Controversial for Television?

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of Jews and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define the United States as a Christian nation, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

Details at The Revealer and Joshua Micah Marshall, among others.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Hesped in Teaneck

From The New Jersey Chapter of ADC, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee:

Memorial Service for the late President Yasser Arafat is planned for this weekend.

We invite the entire community to pay respects and to plan for the future. doubtless; The Palestine people and their just cause are at
a critical stage and many opportunities and challenges lay ahead.

When : 12 Noon, Sunday December 5, 2004

Where; Glen Pointe Marriott, Teaneck, NJ

Palestinian Ambassador Nasser AL-Kidwa will speak.

Free and open to all.

(Reb Yudel)

Bush and the Jewish Vote: Mystery Pollster Weighs In

Last week I linked to Joe Shick's argument that the exit polls have underestimated Jewish support for Bush. I also raised the question with the Mystery Pollster, who wrote back to me today:

Basically, your hunch is correct, although I am in no position to evaluate Shick's argument (not yet anyway).

I am told that at least one "well known pollster" will soon release results of a study on this question, and I'll post on it when it happens.

At that point, I'll try to study the data a bit more, but this is a very tricky issue involving both sampling and measurement issues (such as that age old favorite, who is a Jew?).

M.P. addresses the question in today's posting entitled NEP Revises Texas Hispanic Estimates, from which I extract some paragraphs:
One thing I can explain is the special challenge exit polls face when it comes to small subgroups like Latinos and Jewish voters.

The reason is the whole issue of "cluster sampling."

Exit polls must sample voters in clusters: They randomly sample precincts first, then voters at precincts. In a cluster sample, characteristics or opinions that tend to "cluster" geographically tend to have higher rates of sampling error.

The reason is not all that mysterious.

Consider the example of Jewish voters in Ohio (a demographic that once included the Mystery Pollster and still includes all of his family, so he speaks from some experience). Most Jews in Ohio live in a few suburbs east of Cleveland and few neighborhoods near Columbus and Cincinnati that cumulatively represent (at most) 3-5% of the state. If the Ohio exit poll sampled only 100 precincts, then most of the Jewish subsample would have come from, at most, 3-5 precincts.

Now throw in a kicker: Orthodox Jews tend to be more politically conservative and tend to live among other Orthodox Jews in even more concentrated geographic areas within the Jewish Community.

Thus, the odds are good that the exit poll sample will either over or underestimate the share of Orthodox Jews depending which 3-5 precincts get randomly selected. The same problems occurs with Cuban and non-Cuban Latinos in Florida.

So the bottom-line: The potential for error is much greater for a highly clustered demographic group. The fewer clusters in the sample relative, the greater the chance for this sort of error.

(Reb Yudel)

While we filtering our water....

...and drudging up Peter Yarrow's past, PETA was investigating our kosher meat.

Oops!

Worth looking at: discussions at Protocols and Miriam Shaviv's Bloghead.

Also, Bloghead's "Further Thoughts"

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Morph-ology

We were watching "RFK" on PBS last night, and my wife came to the brilliant conclusion that historian Evan Thomas is the love child of John Kerry and Bob Kerrey.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

(Severed) Headline

A reader asks if the headline on this story, Videotapes Show Grisly Scenes at Kosher Slaughterhouse, shows bias on the part of the Times.