December 30, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Kushner's "Calamity"

A good deal of the criticism of the Spielberg movie focuses on the fact that the screenplay was co-written by Tony Kushner, who among other things has been quoted as saying "the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity," which he did write in liner notes for a Klezmatics album.

It's interesting to see the quote in context, however, and ask if this is the thinking of a twisted creature or of a Jew struggling to find a place for himself among modern Judaism's various orthodoxies (lower case 'O"):

I want to be both a God-believing Jew and a historical materialist socialist humanist agnostic. I want the State of Israel to exist (since it does anyway) and I want the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs honored and I want to shokl with Jews at the Wailing Wall and at the same time (and I'm afraid this won't help sales of your CD) I think the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity. Contemplating the possible destruction of Israel (civil war?) I feel at times if I could ever kill for a nationalist cause, I might kill for that one but at the same time I wish modern Israel hadn't been born; I am a diasporan Jew, not a Zionist; and I say this feeling that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, is, its Zionist agenda and homophobia notwithstanding, Jewish history's best most eloquent single answer to Hitler and the Holocaust; and is so because it is in Jerusalem but I wish Jerusalem was an international city under a U.N. protectorate; and I wish the Museum of the Holocaust in Washington was a Museum of the Jewish-American Experience instead, with a holocaust wing, and I wish it stood on the Mall alongside museums devoted to the sufferings and triumphs of other ethnic-American groups, including a museum of the African-American experience, with a Slavery wing, which I wish was built with, in addition to other funding sources, Tsedakah from committed, determinedly anti-racist Jewish-Americans.

It's also interested to gauge the reaction to Kushner's quote to the non-response to one by Rabbi James Ponet, the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale, who writes in Slate on Hanukkah as Jewish civil war.

Today, the Maccabean memory has been resurrected in the modern state of Israel in the image of Jew as warrior, and Hanukkah is celebrated by many as a military holiday, the vestige of an ancient Independence Day. But I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state. In the aftermath of the Bar Kochba debacle, at Hanukkah the words of the prophet Zachariah were read in the synagogue: "Not by power nor by might but through My spirit, says the Lord." In the glow of the candles this year we should wonder aloud whether the prophet's vision is but balm for losers or whether the international system may yet generate a new way for groups to be both part of the world and apart from it. Here is the hard question that an adult celebration of Hanukkah can bring into deliberate focus.
(Emphasis added.)

Is either writer calling for the destruction of the Israel? Clearly not. Are both struggling with questions of what was gained and what was lost with the rise of Jewish nationalism? Clearly. Is asking these questions beyond the pale? I hope not.

(Reb Yudel)

The Bracha is the Bomb

The New York Times reports on Psychotherapy on the Road to ... Where?
A frequent theme of the meeting was that therapists could not only relieve anxieties and despair but help clients realize a truly fulfilling life - an idea based on emerging research.

In his talk, Dr. Seligman spelled out the principles of this vision, called positive psychology. By learning to express gratitude, to savor the day's pleasures and to nurture native strengths, a people can become more absorbed in their daily lives and satisfied with them, his research has suggested.

A just-completed study at the University of Pennsylvania found that these techniques relieved the symptoms of depression better than other widely applied therapies, Dr. Seligman told the audience.

But before we all get too excited about a world made wonderful through blessings and praise, read the next paragraph for a word from the sponsor:
"The zeit is really geisting on this idea right now," said Dr. Seligman, who has consulted with the military on how to incorporate his methods.
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Rhyme scheme

My annual year-in-review poem. A taste:

Elsewhere a legion of those who hate Darwin

And the theory that apes begat men

Said that the world must have a designer

And that God was its divine Ralph Lauren.

In Dover, Pa., the school board revolted

And demanded that textbooks instill

The notion their kids didn’t descend from a monkey,

And the judge said, “Don’t worry, they will.”

December 29, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Two depressing sentences for today, about the implications of the Bush/Yoo doctrine of unlimited executive force

John Robb's Weblog:
It's important to note that the assumption of new powers by the state is a sign of extreme weakness and not of strength. It means that it can't retain control without destroying the moral and legal fabric of the very system from which it gains strength.
(Reb Yudel)

Did someone say poetry?

Forward Newspaper Online: A Yeshiva Head Explores The Faith of the Poet
It is a mark of David Ebner's commitment to his poetic voice that he is, in fact, willing to look eccentric. In fact, he is eccentric. A sociology professor early in life, he immigrated to Israel in 1982, becoming head instructor first at the well-known Yeshivat Hamivtar and now at a new yeshiva, Eretz HaTzvi. Like Wallace Stevens, he has reason to wonder what "the boys at the office" would think of his literary pastime. His previous book of poems, "The Library of Everything" (ATID, 2004), was published ostensibly as a learning aid for high school students, and his latest, titled "Perhaps This Poem," is self-published (and could use a copy editor). But don't let Ebner's eccentricity distract you. He has a unique, intelligent voice, one that deserves an audience.
(Reb Yudel)

Are you ready for Dylan humous?

Belief it or not; from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

December 28, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Micha Odenheimer in the Washington Post, on The Betrayal of Ethiopia's Democracy

A Dream Defiled: The Betrayal of Ethiopia's Democracy - Washington Post
By Micha Odenheimer

Sunday, December 18, 2005; Page B04

The Addis Ababa airport I used to know was shabby and neglected, an overgrown shack of wood, concrete and tin. It smelled of incense mingled with the dank, sweet odor of sewage. But the old airport had been torn down since my last visit; in its place was a sparkling, high-ceilinged structure of metal and glass into which light poured from every direction.

Now, as I rode into the city, traffic stopped for a herd of goats and beggars were sleeping on the traffic islands that divided the road. But people were also bustling around with cell phones stuck to their ears, and brightly lit Internet cafes were filled with young people. Things were changing for the better, it seemed when I arrived last month. There was no reason to suspect that Ethiopia was poised to plunge headlong into darkness -- that within a week, dozens of street protesters would be dead, and tens of thousands of young people arrested.

(Reb Yudel)

Lifestyles of the rich... and Yossi!

Yossi Klein Halevi profiled in LifeStyles Magazine:
Despite his being one of the preeminent journalists in Israel, there is something wonderfully unguarded and ingenuous about Yossi Klein Halevi. One is struck immediately by his warmth and openness. And he smiles a lot, at least for an Israeli. But together with the openness there is an edge, a cynicism, born partially on the streets of Borough Park, Brooklyn, partially inherited from his father, Zoltan, who survived the Holocaust in Hungary, and partially learned through his own experiences in Moscow with the KGB and in Gaza faced with hard-edged Palestinians.

In addition to his cynical naïveté, Halevi is in many other ways a walking contradiction. A hardliner ardently concerned with human rights, he is one of the few in the political center involved in Arab-Jewish dialogue and a deeply spiritual Jew who prides himself on his participation in Islamic chants, Sufi dances, and Armenian Christian mourning processions. Not only is Halevi unjaded by these seeming contradictions, he seems to take pride in them—an eternal iconoclast.

December 27, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Prophetic sentence of the day

Given the decline of the state due to globalization, democracies will increasingly become merely rubber stamps for non-democratic global corporate interests, to their long-term detriment.
--John Robb's Weblog

December 26, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Hey, what's wrong with Emma Goldman, Hanna Senesh and Judy Blume?

The Newhouse news service reports: Books give Jewish girls their own heroines
Miriam, 10, is a Russian Jewish girl who in 1914 has her entire life uprooted when her family decides to flee from persecution and pogroms to America.

Reyna, 12, is Chinese, part of a small population of Chinese "Israelites," who live in Kaifeng on the Yellow River. Through her sharp intuition, Reyna saves her father from a disastrous business deal.

The girls are the subjects of new illustrated paperback books in what will be a series of historical fiction combined under the title "Gali Girls."

December 23, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Don't fence me in

A close friend received the following email appeal, highlighted the sentences that appear below in all caps, and asks, "Have they no sense of Irony?"

Subject: Urgent Help needed in Israel - YOU CAN HELP Shalmai Pozes is a settler in Ophrah, a settlement thirty minutes north of Jerusalem. He is the father of seven children, thank G-d, ranging from 14-29. Out of them, five are married, and the youngest two are still in grade-school. For the last twenty eight years, Shalmai has worked as a farmer. Together with eight other farmers, he developed a prosperous, 250 dunim orchard of cherries, nectarines kiwi and grapes, around the settlement of Givon. The ground on which they built this orchard was originally under Jordanian rule and controlled by Arabs. HOWEVER BY WORKING THE LAND, JEWS WERE ABLE TO GAIN BACK A MEASURE OF THE AREA, WHICH IS STILL SURROUNDED BY ARAB VILLAGES. EVERY YEAR THESE ARAB VILLAGES ARE TAKING OVER MORE AND MORE LAND as this area has a strategic importance to the state of Israel - it protects Jerusalem from the west. Thus the Palestinians are QUICKLY TAKING OVER THE LAND in order to prevent a “Jewish Connection” between Jerusalem and Givat Zeev. Regretfully, the Israeli government doesn’t really seem to be paying much attention to this issue or doing anything to prevent it

December 22, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Far from Narnia

Required reading for people fed up with the religion wars:Laura Miller's profile of children's book author and avowed atheist Philip Pullman in the current issue of The New Yorker.

She quotes from his speech upon accepting the 2001 Whitbread Prize for best children’s book:

In his speech, Pullman contended that the literary School of Morals is inherently ambiguous, dynamic, and democratic: a “conversation.” Opposed to this ideal is “theocracy,” which he defined as encompassing everything from Khomeini’s Iran to explicitly atheistic states such as Stalin’s Soviet Union. He listed some characteristics of such states—among them, “a scripture whose word is inerrant,” a priesthood whose authority “tends to concentrate in the hands of elderly men,” and “a secret police force with the powers of an Inquisition.” Theocracies, he said, demonstrate “the tendency of human beings to gather power to themselves in the name of something that may not be questioned.”

Or as I write in my column:

Unlike Pullman, most religious people cannot divorce story from faith, or morality from God. But the faith he puts in story, like his embrace of this world over the world to come, strikes me as very Jewish.

December 21, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Weavin' World War III Blues

Arutz Sheva reports: Biblical Robe Produced For Use by High Priest in Holy Temple
After much hard work and research, the Techelet (azure blue) robe of the High Priest has been completed by the Temple Institute and it is hoped to be fit to be worn in the Third Temple.

The blue coat, or me'il techelet as it is called in the Torah, sports 72 golden bells alternating with 72 pomegranates attached around its hem, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet wool. A close-up of the robe's hem, with its bells and woven pomegranates.

The project was researched and undertaken by skilled artisans over the past three years. It will join the already completed ephod and choshen (breastplate), featuring the 12 precious stones associated with the 12 tribes of Israel. They are located at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem's Old City, and it is hoped they will be found fit to be used by the High Priest in the third temple.

And who said that apocalyptic dreams never come true?

December 20, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

That was then, this is now...

Here's what Rabbi Marc Gellman wrote about the Holocaust back in May:
I rarely speak about or write about the Holocaust. I don't defend my reticence, but I have my reasons. Mainly I don't like the way the Holocaust is never just remembered and mourned, but so often manipulated and used.
He further wrote:
I don't like the way the word Holocaust has been used to describe every instance of oppression that has ever existed. In this way, this attack on the Jews is universalized to the point that its distinctly and uniquely Jewish elements evaporate. I will not withhold a single tear of compassion for every act of human cruelty. I do not want to deny in any way that in the same concentration camps where 6 million Jews were murdered, 5 million Christians and others were also murdered. However, the camps were not built to exterminate the others, they were built to exterminate Jews. It was only the excess capacity of the killing machine that allowed non-Jews to be caught in its maws. I reject the false choice of either demeaning the suffering of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust and other genocides or pretending that the Holocaust was about man's inhumanity to man and not man's inhumanity to Jews. I mourn for the murder of each and every innocent person of any faith and of no faith who perished in what Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has called the Kingdom of Night, or in other nights and other kingdoms. However, I will not accept, and I do not believe, that the Holocaust was the same, either in size or intent, as the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, the janjaweed slaughter of the Muslims of Darfur, the Hutu slaughter of the Tutsis of Rwanda, the Serb slaughter of the Bosnian Muslims or, yes, this is suggested, the AIDS pandemic. The Holocaust was a calculated attempt to kill all the Jews in the world, and it very nearly succeeded.
Funny, but Gellman was awfully quick to play the Holocaust card -- and at great length -- when called upon to defend the Bush war. I wonder what changed?
(Reb Yudel)

Is the Republican Jewish Coalition the new Judenrat?

I only dare ask the question, of course, because the Republican Jewish Coaltion played the Holocaust analogy card first, in a defense of the Iraq war published online at Newsweek and forewarded me by a couple of people... one of whom elicited from me a fisking of the piece. Here goes:
The Union of Reform Judaism's vote to oppose the war in Iraq
was a mistake and embarrassment for my movement
By Marc Gellman

Dec. 16, 2005 - The movement of which I am a member has just voted against a war that I support. This vote by the Union of Reform Judaism was the first vote by a major national Jewish organization or religious movement opposing the war in Iraq.

This war was and is being fought for American reasons, not Jewish reasons.

What were those reasons? Why was it necessary to torture people into giving bogus evidence to launch the war? Why was the administration determined to fight the war in Iraq, even to the extant of letting bin Laden escape and nearly not fighting the Taliban at all?
However, to see this war that toppled one of Israel's fiercest enemies—an anti-Semitic dictator who sent $25,000 to the families of every jihadist who had been able to kill and maim Israeli children and other innocents
Let's not forget that the Saddam checks was a publicity stunt. It was Hammas who was the real supporters of jihadist terror -- Hammas and their Saudi backers. Is the Iraq war simply another effort to distract America from the Saudi-terror connection? Why would Bush want to do such a thing?
—opposed by Jews is more than an act of ingratitude to this country and this president. This vote was an act of stunning and incomprehensible historical blindness.

One argument raised in support of the antiwar resolution passed in Houston was that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and was thus an illegal and inappropriate military target. This putative fact is both debatable and irrelevant. The idea that unless we have a credit-card receipt showing that Saddam Hussein paid for Muhammad Atta's plane tickets to New York, he must be presumed to be an innocent in the war on terror is ludicrous. He was a trainer, a protector and a funder of terrorists around the world.

So why weren't we going after Saudi Arabia? Or, more to the point, why didn't we go after Iran? Since 1990, Iran has been Israel's main strategic threat. Since 2003, Iran has been greatly strengthened. Iraq, once an enemy, is becoming an allied Shiite theocracy. As they say in the Middle East, Mazel Tov!
A far more compelling Jewish reason to support the war in Iraq comes from recent Jewish history in the clear and tragic records of the Holocaust. On Nov. 18, 1944, John McCloy, the assistant secretary of War, sent the following response on behalf of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to John Pehle of the War Refugee Board. Pehle had forwarded to the president on Nov. 8 the anguished and urgent request to bomb the railroad lines leading up to and the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau in order to disrupt the genocidal Nazi killing machine. McCloy wrote:Dear Mr. Pehle, I refer to your letter of November 8th in which you forwarded the report of two eye witnesses on the notorious German concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Upper Silesia. The Operation Staff of the War Department has given careful consideration to your suggestion that the bombing of these camps be undertaken.

In consideration of this proposal the following points were brought out:

a. Positive destruction of these camps would necessitate precision bombing, employing heavy or medium bombardment, or attack by low flying or dive bombing aircraft, preferably the latter.

b. The target is beyond the maximum range of medium bombardment, dive bombers and fighter bombers located in United Kingdom, France or Italy.

c. Use of heavy bombardment from United Kingdom bases would necessitate a hazardous round trip flight unescorted of approximately 2,000 miles over enemy territory.

d. At the present critical stage of the war in Europe, our strategic air forces are engaged in the destruction of industrial target systems vital to the dwindling war potential of the enemy, from which they should not be diverted. The positive solution to this problem is the earliest possible victory over Germany, to which end we should exert our entire means. …

Based on the above, as well as the most uncertain, if not dangerous effect such a bombing would have on the object to be attained, the War Department has felt that it should not, at least for the present, undertake these operations.


John McCloy

Assistant Secretary of War

The Jews of Europe are now the Kurds of Iraq, and the Shiites, and the Marsh Arabs. The point of war is not only to defend one's own country from attack but also to free from the jaws of death millions of innocent human beings who lack the military means to secure their own freedom. This may not be a universally supported political or military view of war, but it is a religious view of war, and it is my view of this and other wars. I do not know a single Kurd or a single Marsh Arab or a single Iraqi Shiite, but I do know that they have been slaughtered by the thousands, and because of this war they are now free.

This would be comvincing... except the Marsh Arabs were slaughted in the 1980s, with the awareness of the American government. In fact, it was to restore ties after such unfortunate incidents that a delegation of Republican senators visited Hussein in the summer of 1990, a period of diplomatic-bridge-buidling whose apex -- or perhaps nadir -- was the impression given, presumably unwittingly, by the American ambassador that the U.S. would not object to the invasion of Kuwait.
The Iraqi killing machine has been destroyed. I also know, and every person of even moderate intelligence also knows, that if our troops withdraw now, before victory has been fully achieved they will be slaughtered again. When I say never again in memory of the Holocaust, I don't mean "never again Jews," I mean "never again anyone."

It matters not one wit to me that they are not Jewish nor even that they may not be grateful to America. All that matters to me is that they are made in God's image and their lives are no longer held tight in the bloody maw of a genocidal dictator. The Jews of Europe and the Kurds of Iraq may both have been outside the strictly delimited aims of the war in Europe or the war in Iraq, but their cries must reach some listening ears and sensitive souls. It is deeply disappointing to me to know that people in my movement of Judaism with whom I share a belief that my daughter deserves the same spiritual horizons as my son cannot feel the need for freedom of those victims of genocide whose cries reach God even if they often do not reach the front pages of the morning papers.

I also feel, and I know, that many of the good Reform Jews who went to Houston for our convention also feel deep solidarity and compassion for the black Muslim victims of genocide in Darfur, and about the Bosnian Muslims and about the Tutsis of Rwanda.

Apparently Gellman doesn't know many Jewish Republicans; the Republican party opposed American intervention in Bosnia, as well as in Rwanda. Under Republican leadership, America has beens so bold as to respond to the genocide in Darfur with... a day of prayer.
What I do not understand and cannot comprehend is why they cannot also feel a sacrificial solidarity with the suffering people of Iraq who because of this war are now free. I am thinking of Abraham Lincoln, and I am thinking of the Exodus and I am thinking of Isaiah. President Lincoln insisted on reading the numbers of Confederate dead at every cabinet meeting and one cabinet secretary protested this practice, "Who are they to us, Mr. President?" Lincoln answered, "Thank God, the world is larger than your heart."
While Bush clearly admires Lincoln for suspending Habeus Corpus, I'm not sure the comparison is apt. Whereas Lincoln insisted on reading the numbers of Conferedate dead, Bush not only hides the number of Iraqi dead, but does his most to make sure American know nothing of the more than two thousand Americans brought home in caskets.
The Bible describes the people who left Egypt in the Exodus as a "mixed multitude." This means that when my people went free out of the house of bondage, other people went free with us. I am uplifted and sustained by my faith in a God whose strong hand and outstretched arm, extended not only to the Jewish slaves in Egypt but to all the slaves in Egypt. I believe that promise of freedom is still God's will for all people in all times who sleep in the dust and despair of other houses of bondage and live in fear under the rule of other Pharaohs.
Perhaps this is the difference between God, and a president who looks to Jesus for political philosophy. Whereas Moses received -- and taught -- a law for a new society in the time between liberation and the creation of a new society, the Bush administration ignored all plans for the occuption, tossing aside details plans in favor of hiring young Republican Party activists with no experience or wisdom, but Administration-sized hubris. Whereas God has a plan for victory as soon as He contacted Moses -- note the prescient prediction of signs and wonders and terror -- our Administration has no plan for victory in Iraq, only a plan for victory in the opinion polls.
Isaiah (25:4), speaking for God, commands us, "You are a refuge to the poor, to the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm." This war, and the larger war of which it is a part, is not a war against terror for me. It is a war of refuge, a war of shelter.
If this was a war of shelter, why were the post-invasion plans trashed and ignored?

If this was a war against nuclear terror, why were the suspect arm sites not secured?

And if it was a war against terror, why were the weapons depot left unguarded?

A religious movement should feel that, and I am disconsolate that they do not. The Reform moment in Judaism has no official hierarchy and does not speak for all Reform Jews. Their resolutions bind no one and compel no one to do anything. Sometime anarchy is a good thing.
Heck, I think the Constitution is a good thing. That's why it's a bit embarrassing to see a rabbi support the war, as if it were the ideal war we were sold three years ago, not a war carried out by a president who believes that he is authorized on his sole say-so to decide, upon reading this response, that I am an enemy combatant, and should be tortured and imprisoned and perhaps killed.

Let me say this again: Based upon the Bush/Yoo/Gonzales reading of the Constitution, the President has been empowered by Congress to sign a document saying that you and your family are enemy combantants, are to be imprisoned in Cuba, tortured -- and that noone be informed as to your whereabouts.

Exporting Democracy woudl be wonderful -- but Bush has created a situation where we are like an African country where all the food grown is for export. I cannot take seriously claims that we are exporting freedom and democracy from a man who claims for himself untrammeled absolute powers over the life of every American citizen.

That we embarrassed ourselves before America means little to me. That we may have embarrassed ourselves before the survivors of the kingdom of night and before the commandment to freedom from our God is a matter of much more gravity.

I do not pretend that my interpretation of God's will that all oppressed people should go free is in fact God's will. What I do know is that I could not worship a God for whom this was not a sacred commandment. I do not pretend that the liberation of all oppressed people everywhere is either possible or politically or militarily realistic, but it is the only possible spiritual goal that can save our world, and it is my view and my reading of the mandates of my faith. I am sorry my coreligionists could not feel more clearly and more urgently this commandment of liberation for the suffering people of Iraq. I know they do not speak for me, and I can do no more than humbly presume that they do not speak for God. (c) 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

In my view, God no more prefers a dictatorial Islamic regime to a dictatorial Baathist regime; perhaps less, because the ayatollahs profane God's name in a way that the standard American-backed dictators do not. (And it is worth remembering, again that American didn't stand for freedom when we supported Hussein for most of his regime). The God of freedom would not approve of taking the man who oversaw death squads in El Salvador and made him ambassador in Iraq. My God dwells in the details. And while the rhetoric of the Bush administration is soaring and beautiful, in its details it is corrupt and sordid. The Union of Reform Judaism, by disassociating itself from Bush and his wars, made me proud to be, if not a Reform Jew, at least the grandson of Reform Jews.
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Was "nausea" on the checklist?

"You Don't Say" research finding of the week, from HCD Research and Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion (MCIPO):

National Study Reveals State of the Union Address Prompts Strong Positive and Negative Emotions Among Americans


Results of a national study conducted during President Bush’s State of the Union Address revealed positive and negative emotional responses among Americans, including confidence and enlightenment, to skepticism and anger.

The respondents were also asked to indicate the most intense feelings they experienced while watching the President's speech. The emotions selected most frequently were:

64% of Conservatives reported that their most intense feeling was confidence while viewing the speech.
30% of Moderates reported that suspicion and skepticism were their most intense feelings while watching the speech, compared to only 11% of Conservatives.
74% of Liberals reported that disgust and irritation were their most intense feelings while viewing the speech, compared to only 20% of Moderates and 16% of Conservatives.

December 15, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

First they came for the elves...

Holy mackeral, and I do mean holy. The House of Representatives succumbs to this whole "assault on Christmas" propaganda, and passes a phony resolution that expresses support “for those who celebrate Christmas.”

What's next -- a resolution saying Jews have a right to celebrate their history? Um, actually, that was next -- read the O.U.'s approving press release.

Contact: Nathan J. Diament
December 15, 2005


* *In connection with votes on two non-binding resolutions today in the
U.S. House of Representatives, the Union of Orthodox Jewish
Congregations of America commented upon the resolutions which, in
common, express congressional support for and appreciation of two
religious communities in the United States.

H.Res. 579 (sponsored by Rep. Jo Ann Davis) - Expresses the sense of the
House of Representatives recognizes the importance of and expresses
support for the symbols and traditions of Christmas “for those who
celebrate Christmas” and notes that the Establishment Clause of the U.S.
Constitution was not intended to “prohibit any mention of…religion…in
civic dialogue.”

H.Con.Res. 315 (sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz) - Urges the
President to issue a proclamation for the observance of an American
Jewish History Month.

Leaders of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations issued the
following statement in advance of the House voting on these resolutions:

The United States was founded by émigrés from Europe seeking religious
freedom. To the blessing and benefit of millions of people, this nation
has forged a path of unprecedented freedom for people of all religions
and beliefs. The United States has afforded Jews the opportunity to
practice our faith with a freedom unprecedented and unsurpassed in
Diaspora nations across Jewish history. We thank God and the leaders of
this nation for that freedom.

We concur with those who say that the Framers of the Constitution did
not intend to demand that America’s public square by purely secular.
Rather, the Constitution and its traditions argue for a public domain
which embraces and protects religious diversity. The resolutions being
considered by the House today - taken together - are in keeping with
this recognition and support for religious and cultural diversity.


(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Sex Edification

"You Don't Say" research finding of the week, from the NATIONAL STUDY OF YOUTH AND RELIGION:

Religiously active parents are not as likely to talk to their teenage children about sex and birth control as they are to talk about the morality of adolescent sex...
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Jackie and the ACLU

Jackie Mason's anti-ACLU rant on O'Reilly and Burt Prelutsky's similar tirade inspired my latst column. I spent a few hours reasearching the ACLU's caseload to see if in fact, per MAson, "The ACLU are a bunch of sick people who fight for anything that’s anti-American, anything that’s dirty or vulgar, and they hate anything that’s respectable or decent." Instead, suprise surprise, they stand up for such sick people as Orthodox Jews, religous Catholics, and schoolgirls who want to sing Christian hymns at school talent shows. What's more,

I have yet to find a single case in which the ACLU takes the side of a client who objects to anyone — a public official, a shop clerk, a schoolteacher — saying “Merry Christmas.” I did come across a case in which the ACLU filed a brief “in support of two women who were fired for refusing to work at a greyhound racetrack on Christmas Day.”

December 14, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Smells like Chanukah spirit

Press release of the week:

Those deliciously special holiday foods we enjoy at Chanukah have an unspoken dark side, one that's among society's last taboos: the flatulence that results from gastrointestinal distress.

Instead of spreading Chanukah's miracle of light, we're spreading Chanukah gas. But flatulence, irritable bowels, heartburn, indigestion, and growling guts are all conditions that can be treated without polluting our bodies with antacids and other over-the-counter drugs that, for many people, don't even work.

Interview Bill Downs, one of the world's foremost experts on diet and digestion, and find out how your audience can avoid this year's Chanukah eating hazards. Bill can provide a wealth of suggestions that will help people keep their taste buds and their digestive systems happy during (and after!) holiday festivities.

Downs has over twenty years of expertise in diet, digestion, nutrition science, and biological chemistry. He's also published several peer-reviewed studies, and is the author of the Trafon blog (, the first blog to tackle the last taboo: serious, open discussion about why we 'fart', and the root causes of digestive disorders, gastrointestinal diseases, and what people can do about it.

Downs can also discuss:

* What Jewish foods are most likely to cause indigestion

* Why people tend to get gassy around Jewish holidays

* What's the best way to tell someone they have offensive gas

* How to survive holiday feasts without over-stressing your digestive system

* The biochemical processes that cause indigestion

* How to control indigestion over the long-term

* What causes flatulence (farting)

* Why farts are funny to everyone except the person suffering with them

* Why some foods cause GI distress in some people, but not all people

To arrange an interview with Bill, call Jackie Zima at 610-642-8253 x138, or write to

Thank you for your consideration!

Gregory FCA
27 W. Athens Ave., Suite 200
Ardmore, PA 19003
610/642-8253 (p); 610/642-1258 (f)


December 12, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The Lion King of Kings

Who's afraid of Narnia?

Not me. I saw it with the kids Saturday, and really enjoyed it. As for its Christian imagery, I'll repeat what I wrote in February:

Part of being a mature reader is appreciating works of art on multiple levels. Knowing Lewis’ intentions deepened my experience of reading the Narnia books. I took a graduate school pleasure in figuring out how his fantasy maps onto the New Testament. And I had a more emotional thrill: The spiritual core of the book made me realize how Christianity became, in Rabbi Irving Greenberg’s tongue-in-cheek phrase, “one of Judaism’s more popular by-products.” I wasn’t about to convert, but as a Jew I earned an appreciation for Christian belief that had escaped me in my comparative religion classes, let alone watching The Passion of the Christ.

This was lost on my children, I suspect, who thought the Narnia saga was a ripping good yarn with a number of beautiful relationships and occasionally disturbing comeuppances [-- until I pointed out its Christian underpinnings. For the kids, who attend a Jewish day school, it was a rare opportunity to discuss Christianity and how it differs from Judaism]....

One of the ironies of the culture wars is that those with the strongest convictions — especially the religious — probably have the least to fear, and the most to gain, from the cultural phenomena they decry. If they are confident in their beliefs, then they can treat uncomfortable portrayals of worldliness as cultural whetstones on which to sharpen those beliefs. The alternative is censoring the kinds of messages others can hear and raising their own kids in a world divorced from reality.

December 8, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Onward Christmas soldiers

A new holiday tradition, my annual Christmas column:

The idea that a vast religious majority in this country is being suppressed by a small but powerful band of “liberals” — O’Reilly calls them “the loony left, the Kool-Aid secular progressive ACLU America-haters” — would be funny if it didn’t speak to a dangerous sense of victimhood within much of conservative Christian rhetoric.

For another take on the same issue, see Jonathan Tobin's column in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent:

So what's really causing people like Fox News personality John Gibson to write a book claiming there is a "Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday?" Do Gibson and fellow Fox provocateur Bill O'Reilly really think Target, Sears and Costco are trying to undermine faith when their ads wish customers "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas?"

Maybe. Or have they just spent so much time listening to Jewish whining about December that they've started to copy it? Some days it seems that Rev. Jerry Falwell and O'Reilly are just aping the "dilemma" paranoia routine that liberal Jews have perfected.

(Reb Yudel)

Everything Goldwater Republicans needed to learn to take over the country, they learned from Stalin... and executed first for Nixon

Young Americans for Freedom distributed a pamphlet in 1965: the text of the inaugural address of their first chairman named after the Goldwater defeat. It excoriated conservatives "who abuse the truth, who resort to violence and engage in slander," and "who seek victory at any price without regard for the broken lives...incurred by those who stand in the way." That is the spirit of Barry Goldwater--the spirit we honor on this panel. As he put it in Conscience of a Conservative--in italics: "we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given."

I'm working on the sequel to my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus now. It's going to be called "Nixonland," and it covers the years 1965 to 1972. And it wasn't long into the research before I found myself wrestling with a historiographic problem.

What to make of the fact that some of the names who pioneered this anti-Nixonian movement of principle showed up in the dankest recesses of the Nixon administration? People like Douglas Caddy, of course, the co-founder of the effort to draft Goldwater for vice-president in 1960 and YAF's first president, who was the man the White House called on to represent the Watergate burglars in 1972. And people like the guy inaugurated as YAF's chair in the 1965 with those stirring words about truth: Tom Charles Huston--who, as the author of the first extra-legal espionage and sabotage plan in the Nixon White House, can fairly be called an architect of Watergate.

It is a thread one finds throughout the annals of the Nixon presidency. The notion that what they were doing was moral, the eggs that need be broken in the act of redeeming a crumbling West. Jeb Magruder told the Senate Watergate Committee: "Although I was aware they were illegal we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a cause." That message came straight from the top. "Just remember you're doing the right thing," the president told Bob Haldeman on Easter Sunday, 1973. "That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi." Then he briefed him on how to suborn perjury from an aide concerning the blackmailing of the Watergate burglars.

Here is something I started to ponder only after completing Before the Storm. How did my subjects from the youth conservative movement of the 1960s, the ones that later came to inherit the world, present themselves to the researcher who came calling for stories about how their triumph began? On the one hand, beaming, telling me stories of principle. On the other, sometimes in the same breath, winkingly defining political deviancy down, telling Hustonian tales of antinomial subterfuge. Peeling off opposition bumper stickers with razor blades, jamming Rockefeller phone banks, working to subvert the 1961 National Student Association convention by setting up a dummy "Middle of the Road Caucus." I related these in the spirit they were offered: as evidence of good, healthy political exuberance, in an ennervated political age. I didn't even give a second thought to the delight F. Clifton White took in relating, in his two memoirs, his self-tutelage in the techniques of Stalinists--Stalinists!--to take over the Young Republicans National Federation.

The Blog | Rick Perlstein: 'I Didn't Like Nixon Until Watergate': The Conservative Movement Now | The Huffington Post

(Reb Yudel)

Bork calls for censorship

"Liberty in America can be enhanced by reinstating, legislatively, restraints upon the direction of our culture and morality," writes the former appeals court judge, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Censorship as an enhancement of our liberty may seem paradoxical. Yet it should be obvious, to all but the most dogmatic First Amendment absolutists, that people forced to live in an increasingly brutalized culture are, in a very real sense, not wholly free." Bork goes on to complain that "relations between the sexes are debased by pornography"; that "large parts of television are unwatchable"; that "motion pictures rely upon sex, gore, and pyrotechnics for the edification of the target audience of 14-year-olds"; and that "popular music hardly deserves the name of music."

To which Jacob Sullum wisely retorts: Treating speech as a kind of assault and redefining freedom so that it requires its opposite are familiar tricks of the left that National Review usually is quick to mock. How are they any more respectable when deployed by a man who has elevated fuddy-duddyness to a political principle?

Hit and Run

(Reb Yudel)

Hillary reminds me why I moved to New Jersey

Sen. Clinton co-sponsors flag-protection measure

WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is supporting new legislation to criminalize desecration of the United States flag — though she still opposes a constitutional ban on flag attacks.Clinton, D-N.Y., has agreed to co-sponsor Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett's measure, which has been written in hopes of surviving any constitutional challenge following a 2003 Supreme Court ruling on the subject. news

So Hillary plans to run for president by running against the strawman "liberal Democrat" myth created by the right-wing spin machines which wants nothing so much as to be running against her in '08. Way to go: Let's keep the bogus issues of the '90s alive, rather than using the Bush meltdown to bring real issues and real concerns to the forefront of the debate -- and to hammer mercilessly everyone who seeks to divide and conquer this country in the name of Christ and country and crusades.

December 7, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Publisher Weekly likes Joseph Telushkin

Since Joseph Telushkin had nice things to say about our Torah & Company book, it seems only neighborly to point out that his newest books has merited a starred review in next week's Publisher's Weekly:

A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy
Joseph Telushkin. Bell Tower, $30 (544p) ISBN 1-4000-4835-4

All societies have ethical codes that distinguish between right and wrong actions. For Jews this is especially significant, since Judaism ranks behavior as more important than belief.

Telushkin, scholar, author, lecturer, teacher, and rabbi, is compiling this voluminous material in order to help Jews "become more honest, decent, and just people." He plans to present his research in a three-volume series of which You Shall Be Holy is the first.

Its primary emphasis is character development, while later volumes will deal with interpersonal relationships and issues of family, friendship and community.

Telushkin is definitive in his judgments about what is right and wrong behavior. This is an outstanding contribution to understanding Jewish ethics and their relevance for people of all faiths. (Mar. 7)

December 5, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

How the conspiracy of lies works

Could one of America's best reporters have made up a story showing gloomy prospects in the Iraq war?

Nothing, of course, would please the White House more. James Wolcott shows how the Wall Street Journal editorial page lazily manufacture the fiction and the National Review Online runs with it.

Reason #73,123, as if you needed one, why not to believe anything Bush or his supporters say.

December 4, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Future Shtick

Institutions, like people, are often better at imagining what the future will bring, rather than what it will take away.

Big mistake.

My lastest column.

December 2, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Bush's War: The best coverage money can buy

War and Piece: Blowback:

Broken yesterday by the Los Angeles Times, Knight Ridder and the New York Times have major installments on the story that the Pentagon is paying the Lincoln Group tens of millions of dollars, and Iraqi journalists hundreds of dollars per month, to plant US written and storyboarded propaganda in Iraqi newspapers disguised as journalism. And guess what? The revelations are unpopular with top uniformed US military commanders:

In other words: Anyone who says something nice about Bush or his quagmire -- and isn't getting paid by our taxdollars to do so -- is a chump.

December 1, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Joe Should Go

A shomer Shabbos Jew in the White House. What nachas Joe Lieberman promised to those of us who grew up thinking that we couldn't be president.

Unfortunately, Lieberman now repeatedly seems determined to prove not only that he has what it takes to be president, but that he has what it takes to be President George W. Bush.

Sure, we thought a yid might have to lose his lid to sit in the oval office, but, couldn't he have kept a hold on his yiddishe kop!

Anyway, I'm with Atrios on this. He's not only a shanda fed degoyim, he's a hillul hashem and a busha for the Democrats -- or should that be Bushanista for the Democrats?

Lieberman's certainly annoyed me about the Iraq war issue and because of plenty of Fox News Democrat moments, but actually where he annoyed me the most was when he was transparently full of shit about the Bankruptcy Bill. He voted against the final bill, but he was on the wrong side of the procedural vote which everyone knew was the only real way to stop the thing. He then proudly trumpeted his vote against it. That's the kind of thing Rick Santorum does.

If any credible primary challenger in Connectictut stepped forward they would get lots of support.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The middle ground is "outercourse"

Reform leader Eric Yoffie steals a page from Clinton's playbook, and comes up with a sensible Jewish sexual ethic for teenagers.

My drash:

Yoffie is opening the door here for what some have called “outercourse,” or what the Happy Days generation might call heavy petting.

At last. The frustrating thing about the sex-ed debate is that it has become a parody of the abortion debate, pitting one set of absolutes — total abstinence — against another: comprehensive, non-judgmental education about birth control, STDs, and the pleasure principle. But unlike abortion, there is a middle ground. Outercourse imagines a healthy sexual — or, perhaps, quasi-sexual — relationship in which teens can find ways to bring pleasure to one another without risking disease, pregnancy, or their self-esteem.