Posts Tagged With: Israel

The Unknown King

The fields of auric cereals dance in the summer breeze. 
The skies are brimmed and teaming with undulating billowy blackness which gives way to grey and white and patches of blue. 
A prisoner could be I perceived, 

Or a corpse, in a steel casket meandering its way through this countryside, 

But though for the uninitiated this they see,

My voyage, rife with blessing and hardship, shall never I deride. 
I am not a prisoner, but a noble, borne upon the strength of fire breathing dragons which pull along my carriage. 
As in myth and whimsy a young Pendragon united the disparate kingdoms of the land,
Or our David, brave and belovèd of the Holy One, unified different clans within his hand,
So too am I a king in gestation, waiting for time and place to emerge,
My kingdom is the world and my banner is love,

My buckler the blessing which streams from above,

Which allows me to tap a well of strength

When the world chooses darkness and I the light,

And gives me the power to, at great length,

Continue to love and to lovingly fight.  

~N.S. Molino~

 

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They Call me the Wonderer…I Roam Around….

It is February 10th, and I’ve started my journey to Israel and Italy!  As part of my trip, I am journaling, and will be posting entries here. I will also post one selfie per day, to see what changes there are, and what “trouble” I get into. ImageImage

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Paro’s (Pharaoh’s) Hard Heart–Giving–New Years

Picture it!  Egypt!  1200 (ish) BCE!  Moshe comes to Paro, repeatedly, demanding in the name of G-d to, “Let my people go, that they may worship me!”Ex 17:16 and further.  From the start, however, we are told that “I [G-d] will harden Paro’s heart.”  This would at first seem to be a violation of free will, for, how can a man choose if G-d has changed his heart to not choose?  The twelfth century torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhak (Rashi), offers up an interpretation.  He tells us that at first, Paro was presented with the choice of letting b’nei yisroel (the children of Israel) go, lest Egypt suffer plagues.  He refused to do so, and even said at points that he would and then turned on such a declaration to retain them.  After he had chosen time and again to not make the choice proper for him and his people, as well as b’nei yisroel, he gave up his right to choose.

I think that we have all had moments in which we have done this.  I know that I have had arguments in which the point of the issue didn’t even matter anymore, rather, the only thing that mattered was to be right–or in some cases just that the other person wasn’t.  After a while of back and forth, its as if an external force takes over and there is no choice left, life just continues to happen with or without your input!  I have seen the same thing happen time and again in regard to many different quarrels or misunderstandings, and the outcome is almost always devastating, and usually for both parties involved.  Think of the bad divorce that you had, when you didn’t even want the house, car, or–G-d forbid this should be the case–kids, but you so wanted to show how badly you were hurting that you took the whole ship down with you, and didn’t even offer any lifeboats.

We must be very careful about hardening our hearts, in all circumstances.  Sometimes, perhaps, we must temper them though.  I once had a friend, who I would work for at times, we would work on cars, our families would hang out together; we had gotten pretty close.  He and his wife divorced, and he started seeing a friend of mine from high school.  Everything seemed great!  They had a wonderful time together–or so it seemed at least–and eventually moved in together.  We fell out of touch for a couple of years, as they had moved away from the area, but as far as we knew everything was fine with them.  Now, this friend had been called many things, by many different people over the years, and I had always defended him, even if passively.  My friend who he was seeing contacted us one day, after they had broken up.  As it turned out, this “friend” of mine who I had so steadfastly defended on so many occasions, actually was crazy.  Clinically crazy!  He was suicidal, manipulative, and perhaps even homicidal.  He ended up in prison, for something or other, and I have never heard from him again.  This is not the first case in which a tempered heart–one that is not closed in apathy, but one which heeds the input of others–would have been very healthy.

On the other hand, I have had people whom others derided often, who have ended up being very good and close friends, and nothing like what others would have led me to believe if I had listened.  So we see that this pendulum can swing either way.  IF we harden our hearts to everyone, we will have no one to care for, and no one who cares for us.  And even worse, doing something with frequency breeds habit in it.  Perhaps this is the real lesson of G-d hardening Paro’s heart.  If, for those of us who believe in G-d, we are to say that G-d bestows upon us the knowledge of right and wrong, we must say that it is by virtue of a relationship with the Creator that we are given this gift, after all, gifts aren’t given in any way shape or form without some kind of a relationship.  But if we deny the blessing of warning, time and again, we might as well resign ourselves to failure–or, insanity, as is often said, “repeating action in expectation of different outcome is the definition of insanity.”

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with “giving.”  It is simple: in order to exercise a non-hardened heart, we must give.  We must give of ourselves, our hearts, our souls, and our resources.  The Shema, the central jewish prayer declaring the oneness of G-d, says this almost exactly.  “And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all the goodness that is to you.”  That last part is difficult to translate, but it has come to be taught by the rabbis that it refers to “all your monetary resources.”  Now, this does not mean that you should give away everything you have, for if you do that you will have nothing more to give.  We can give to others by supplying our own needs, so that we do not use the resources of those who need them more, and at the same time dedicate portions of “the goodness that is to us” to helping others.  If you see a person with a sign out, why not give them the change in your pocket?  Sure, they might use it to go and buy booze or drugs, this is always a possibility–then again, there is a possibility that you may do this with the majority of your paycheck!  There is also the possibility, however, that they will use it to buy food, medicine,  shelter, or even to help others.  Now, perhaps there is something to be said for not giving over and over again, to the same person with a sob story which never changes.  But one thing is almost certain: if you harden your heart and don’t give, before long you will find plenty of reasons not to give, even if your conscience is telling you you should.

And really, what is a few dollars anyway?  In fact, I firmly believe that EVERYONE should set aside ten percent of their income (and money gifted them) to give to those in need.  This needn’t be a homeless person, or even an official charity.  How about paying for somebody’s groceries?  When you are paying your utility bill and the person in front of you is trying to bargain with the company just to get the lights back on, put some money toward their account after they leave (so as not to embarrass them).  Give of your time too.  Take time out of your day to listen to that sob story, and don’t just offer a few coins, but give some kind words too.  Take it from one who has been in a lot of tough places, not all sob stories are untrue.  Life is hard sometimes!

So this is my request for world as we enter 2014 in the secular calendar:  Give!  I promise you, no matter how small the action seems, if we all do love G-d by loving our fellow man with “all your heart, and all your soul, and all the goodness that is to you,” we will make this world a better place.

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How To Build Jewish (or Any) Community

As i have written about before, there is a mounting problem in non-orthodox (which for clarity I refer to as reform) judaism, of a dying community.  In many synagogues around the country, the average participant is 50+.  Now, let me make it clear, that if this is your life I’m referring to here, I am not passing judgement in any way, only displaying what I see as the facts of the situation.

In a discussion I was having with a friend, and in my thought process as I was writing another post here, I began to realize that there are a few problems that exacerbate this dilemma:

  • Basic disinterest- The majority of young Jews these days, seem to have inherited a lack of interest or atheism from their parents.  As a bit of perspective, we must remember that for many in their 20’s and 30’s, their parents were the first generation after the shoah (holocaust), in which their parents–if they had a love for any of it to begin with–often completely gave up on G-d.  This is, of course, understandable.  After all, why would one in such a situation not believe that G-d had abandoned him, and therefore conclude that there must not be a G-d or that it was all a waste.  Basically, these young jews lack the 3000 year old fire of the Jewish people, because they never knew it existed.
  • The draw of the goyishe world.  For most young jews, it seems as if the only thing that the jewish world has to offer is old people, dusty books in another language, and gefilte fish; while the goyishe world offers fancy and exotic foods, parties, art, and culture.  Or, in a religious sense, there is the draw of christianity that sways many because there is actually interest in the christian community.
  • In contrast to churches, where the guest of honor at every service is G-d, Jewish congregations often let G-d be entirely relative, or unnecessary.  To make things even more difficult for some people, G-d in judaism has no form whatsoever.  For many people this is confusing at least, maddening at most.  Christianity, on the other hand, has a physicality to their god, which lends tangibility.  Never mind that to the Jewish mind this is absolute heresy, this seems to more easily build understanding and devotion, in much the same way that most modern people, it seems, are more devoted to their boss at work, or fearful of their mother at report card time, than they are of G-d.
  • Churches also have a sense of obligation.  The congregants are obliged to attend, and participate.  Judaism takes exactly the opposite approach in reform circles, and any religious aspect is left up to the individual instead.
  • There is little to no activity at synagogue, or within the Jewish community outside of weekend services.  If you want people to take part in activities, it seems a given that there must be activities to take part in, yet many–if not most–reform synagogues lay idle 90% of the time.

There are, of course, many other problems, but these seem to be the main ones to me.  Now, what could possibly be the solutions?

I think that there are two main factors that must be addressed before anything can get better.  First, there must be a universal understanding as to the existence and nature of G-d.  For some, this may sound very forceful and dictatorial, but what company runs without knowing what its purpose is?  If you want somebody to take part in the works of a religious institution, those who do must be on the same page at least as far as this basic goes.  If people don’t want to be a part of this, thats fine.  That is what the community already exists of, however, and the reason that young people would rather not be involved.  Jewish community has to have something more to offer besides bagels and lox, and guilt from bubbe over not marrying “a nice jewish girl.”  There has to be a reason to do this, and it starts with the supernatural.

The second factor to the solution, as I see it, is obligation.  Everyone must have the obligation to participate.  Every spoke is necessary for a wheel to function properly, and in the same way a community cannot function without the participation of every individual.  We need you to live!  You make us better just by being a part!  Also concerned with obligation, is some sort of halacha (jewish law), even if it is what the community chooses.  Now, I would much prefer that everyone at least work toward full torah observance, but lets get real here; the vast majority of reform jews operate on the supposition that halacha is completely personal, and that its fine to keep none or (almost) all of the classic halacha.  If that is always the framework, community will always struggle.  Parts of a machine cannot decide what they want their job to be because it suits them.  Employees at a  company cannot decide which company policies are relevant to them, and discharge all the rest.  Drivers on the road cannot decide, each for himself, whether or not to stop at stop signs or for pedestrians.  All of these people are a community of sorts, and there is absolutely no logic to the notion that they could decide for themselves what is right or wrong and still remain a functioning engine, corporation, or rush-hour commute.  Why then is it assumed that this would work in jewish community?  Therefore I say, even if it is not full halacha, there must be halacha that is universal, expected, and practiced in the community if the community is to survive.  AND, this is not something that happens overnight, with anybody, so there should be the understanding that although it is expected it must be built up to–but it is not relative.

Third then is opportunity.  There should always be opportunity to learn, to participate, to develop.  There is no reason whatsoever that any synagogue should ever have an incomplete meal on shabbat, but instead, every week there should be cooking classes or groups that prepare for the congregation on shabbat.  There is no reason that anyone in a jewish congregation should not learn hebrew, in fact, this should be one of the obligations and there should be classes available to teach it.  There should be homework groups, movie watching groups, music groups, music classes, even pull in group Krav Maga lessons!  “Mitzvah day” shouldn’t be something that is done only one day a year, but something that is stressed every waking moment.  At every synagogue, the door should be open every day, and there should be something to come in and do.  This is the way things are at the Boys and Girls Club, and at many churches and community centers.  The truth of the matter is, if the door is closed, there is no potential for community.

Open the doors to your synagogues, and start treating them as living organisms, and they will become such.  Keep them closed, and they will continue to wither and die.

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Making Man a God

I’m tired! I’m tired of the status quo. I’m tired of widgits. I’m tired of the first question people ask being, “what do you do.” What piece of work is man; so noble in stature, so majestic in character; that he should turn aside dreams for ambition, love for money, life for desires. How like a god is a man, that he should recreate the world to take the shape that he desires, instead of living in harmony with all the creatures therein. But oh if a god, surely he would have the wisdom to trump intelligence, to say when its time comes, “You shall proceed this far, and no further, for this is all that is necessary!”

How is it that we have ascended so high into the heavens, that we forget that there is a divide?  Nietzsche said, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”  I would add to that “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” — Rousseau.  All of the obsessions of modern man, can be an expression of this.  We have built towers to the sky, just as in Babel, but we are no nearer to knowing how to make them stand in perpetuity.  We hinge our future not on connection with the source of being, but on futures and annuities.  And worse yet, these “securities” are built upon the labors of great men who dared to dream; who dared to develop technologies that could benefit the world but instead fatten the pockets and portfolios of a chosen few while the lion’s share of people are without most of the technologies designed to benefit them.

In “modern” nations, we flush our effluent with drinking water, while in undeveloped areas there is not enough clean water to sift from the waste.  How does this idiocy continue?  Meanwhile, socialistic thoughts–while true enough in concept–disrupt the “natural” order of the world which dictates that some will have much while many will have not enough.

I don’t think the answer is through forced distribution.  I do think the answer can be arrived at by many pulling their heads out of their tucheses long enough to see that it is not all about them.  In fact, most of us could probably benefit from that.

Now, benefits have been cut for veterans, while the president flies off to vacation in Hawaii on taxpayer dollars.   Meanwhile, politicians still get full benefits for life after retirement.  Why?  What in the hell makes them so special?  They are the ones with the educations, after all, to pursue business lives after office.

And while we are on the subject, why is the National defense budget 52% of the total national budget?  Who are we defending ourselves against?  Our great enemy Canada?!  As was said by an Israeli in an episode of The Simpsons, “Try living next to Syria for a month!”  Can’t we funnel manpower and funds into the rest of the economy that is not dependent upon the war machine?  I’m for a strong military, and I thank soldiers for their service quite often, but when is enough enough?

But then I suppose we wouldn’t have all the control over oil, and the rest of the nations in the world would dislike us because we’d seem weak and scattered.  Wait a minute…they already do!

Sorry for the scattered rant there, I was just rolling with it.

Getting back to the first topic: don’t tell me what you do, tell me what you “is.”  I’m a whole lot more interested in what makes a person tick than I am with what a person ticks for.  I’m interested in the essence, the nitty gritty.  Don’t define yourself by your occupation, occupy your definition of yourself.  Shave expenses, read a book, take a walk, dream a little dream.  Take a ride in the car.  Take a stay-cation.  Enjoy life, because as far as we know, you only get one.  Use occupation as the tool that it is, instead of turning yourself into a tool.  When what is most important is the superficial, a god is created, an idol is worshipped.  Don’t turn man, money, religion, hardship, success, work, politicians or dissenters into idols.  Don’t classify people by education, occupation, transportation, habitation, or sanitation.  I promise you, none of these things last…unless you’re a politician, that is.

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Assimilation, Death of the “Modern” Jew

There is a very difficult reality that is becoming more evident in modern times: assimilation is leading to the demise of non-orthodox judaism.  For the sake of this article, I will refer to “non-orthodox” judasim as “reform judaism,” and “orthodox judaism” as “torah judaism.”  This is something that many are well aware of, and if I have any readers yet, I may be preaching to the choir.  What I am going to discuss, however, is that there may be ways to counteract this trend.

There is a perhaps unfortunate truth that, to echo the words of Rambam, the furtherance of jewish involvement must have as a foundation, a belief in G-d.  Without this, a jewish community is little more than a type of country club, whose members meet every week and share common roots.  Without the existence of G-d, there is no logical reason to be jewish in modern society, as fulfillment in association can be found within so many secular or national groups.  I think that this is the dynamic within which reform judaism is losing steam.

It is quite interesting to me, that the continuance of the jewish people has been due in large part to the persecution suffered throughout the generations.  As a people set apart, jews lived in their own communities, created their own economies, and operated according to their own laws–which were derived from the mitzvoth of torah and  expanded according to ensure the keeping of the laws of the people whose lands they lived.  Since the acceptance of jews in learning institutions and society in general–beginning in Germany in the 1800’s–many jews have hung up their tallit (prayer shawl) in exchange for involvement in non-jewish society.  In order to do such a thing, however, mitzvoth of torah necessarily had to be pushed aside–the goyishe world runs on a different clock, and according to different guidelines.  Within a couple of hundred years, it seems as if the sacrifice made by so many ancestors in refusing to convert, and the progress in torah learning made over thousands of years of remaining am yisroel (the people israel) has been nullified: eighty percent (roughly) of the world’s jews are secular or reform.  There is a saying by Ahad Ha’am had to say on the subject: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”  I would add to that and say that, “more than the jews have continued to be persecuted, persecution has kept jews being jews.”  Within the framework of a torah community, the normal course of society is to keep the mitzvoth.  In the outside world, the vast majority of people are concerned with other pursuits.

Am I implying that in order to remain jewish, we must live in insular communities?  Not in the least bit!  There are, in fact, a great many jews in America who are both orthodox and very connected with the goyishe world.  The problem that can be seen in reform synagogues all over America though, is one of diminished involvement by youths.  The Hillel society here at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, boasts two dozen members or so, and yet has no attendance at the local synagogues.  In fact, of all the Jews under the age of 50 in the county, I am one of the only ones who attends regularly.  It is both saddening and maddening.

I recently spoke with a friend who is a grad student at the university.  I asked him why there was no interest in building or being part of the community.  In a nutshell, he said that many of the members of Hillel don’t believe in G-d, and those that do did not have a strong enough jewish upbringing to have any chance against the allure of secular society and friends.  Because their parents weren’t interested, the community will die out.  My guess is that unless there is a change, all of these families will be jewish in peoplehood only by the next generation.

He did say that there were some who expressed interest from time to time, but like he, they have not been able to find or make the time to be involved, and as with many people, didn’t know where or how to start anyway.  My response to all of this was, “take it back then!”  You want to be jewish, your parents weren’t interested when you were growing up, take it back!  Claim it for yourself!  Unless they make the conscious decision to get involved, it is probable that there will be nothing but further drift away from judaism, until it is nothing more significant than bagels and lox, and really bad tasting fish.

Possibly one of the saddest propositions associated with this lack of interest, is that most will intermarry.  This in itself seems innocent enough, but the result of intermarriage is, more often than not, either complete secularity in the next generation, or a christian family.  Why christian?  Many uninvolved jews who marry christians are drawn into the christian world by their spouses.  It is a good fit for many–religious association without impact on the rest of life.  If this is the track that will be taken, while being sad because it means a lot fewer jews in the world, at least they will have a chance at happiness in marriage.  It also means though, that torah judaism will move in to fill the emptiness.

This brings me back to the title of this post.  Reform judaism is seen by many as being “modern judaism,” as it is a way to retain an appearance of jewishness while taking part–in all ways–with the secular world.  This assimilation seems to be taking the jews of tomorrow on a path away from involvement in even reform judaism, however, and returning can only be because of a personal, newfound interest in G-d and spirituality.  For many a spiritual omnivore in the last 50 years, this has indeed been the case, giving rise to more branches within reform judaism, as they realize our tradition is more than just orders and dictates, but that the mitzvoth are actually a conduit through which to channel spirituality in daily life.  They take what they want, and discard what they don’t see as relevant, but at least they are coming to be involved.

So what is the answer?  How do we get today’s jewish youth interested in being more jewish, and ensure the jewishness of their children?  I think the only way to do this is through common halacha (jewish law) and practices.  This is what makes torah communities so successful.  When everyone around you is keeping shabbat, it is easy to do it yourself.  Even if the community decides not to keep everything the orthodox way, there still must be a standard, a benchmark of obligation and expectation.  When everyone else is keeping kosher, what real reason is there not to?  And all of these things are possible to do within the framework of modern society, as long as we remember to be devoted to these tasks.  There are jobs where you don’t have to work on shabbat.  Can’t go out friday night; go out motzei shabbat (saturday night) instead!  Make it important to express integrity with your people, and you will remain a part of your people.  Compromise and justify pushing thousands of years aside, and you will fade into the woodwork.

This is part of what makes us not only the “chosen people,” but the “choosing people” as well.

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Duck Dynasty Narrowness

There is a lot of hubbub surrounding the lead from A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty today.  From people offended by his remarks in a GQ article, to proponents of free speech (note: I think it has less to do with “free speech” and more to do with stereotypical republican values), everyone seems to have an opinion.  Rather than let everyone else have all the fun, I figured I’d join in.  This post heavily excerpts the article from whence it came.  If you’d like to read the original first, here is the link:

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson

I would like to start off by saying that I do believe that people should have the right to free speech and that it shouldn’t be censored by the government.  That is, by the way, what free speech is all about.  It has nothing to do with whether a television network decides whether or not to air a program because of something that it feels is insulting, nor is that constitutional right referring to the printing of interview comments that it considers offensive.  Because of this fact, organizations that are editorial based–like it or not–are giving an endorsement to what they print or air.  Even if something is being published because they consider the person to be an idiot, they are endorsing it in the same way that we all vote with our purchases.  If you don’t want to watch the show, and don’t like what the man says or thinks, then don’t bloody watch the show!  I don’t have tv stations, or any interest in watching this show.  I never even knew it existed until a couple of months ago, and I thought it was a hunting show!

I would also like to say that some of my comments may be offensive to a christian audience.  If you don’t think the way that these comments address, or if this is not the type of christian you are or the christianity you practice, then the comments are not directed at you.  If these comments do address you, I invite you to take the time to open up your minds, and learn how to actually live your religion.  Learn about it, and not just from christians.  Jesus was a jew, after all, and your bible exists of more than just the letters of Paul and Revelation.  I suggest that you learn hebrew, and study a hebrew text of the hebrew bible (what you call the “old testament”), starting at page one.  Do not look to christian theologians for interpretations, as this is not their book, it is the book of the jews; and jesus was a jew, you know.  He thought jewishly.  He lived jewishly.  This is completely different theology and ideology.  If it is possible, try to learn this section of the bible without christian colored glasses.  If you are stuck, and you surely will be at times–consult the internet.  I suggest http://www.aish.com, http://www.simpletoremember.com, http://www.judaism.about.com, or http://www.jewfaq.org.  You can also feel free to ask me questions, and I will answer them to the best of my ability and/or find out what the answer is.  I’m not saying “don’t be christian.”  If it works for you, that is awesome, and I am truly very happy for you.  All I’m saying is to learn more about jesus and his people.

Begin article breakdown.  There is so much ground to cover here, and there are so many possibilities for critique.  What I have done is take just some of the more ridiculous things, excerpt them, and respond. Here we go.

 

“After the flood, he said, ‘I’m giving you everything now. Animals are wild.’”–um…is that verbatim?  G-d does say, “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours as food”Gen 9:3, but does not say it in a way that implies “humans can do whatever they damn well please” as western man has interpreted to mean.  It does not say “animals are wild.”  It DOES say not to eat the limb of a living animal, which means that no humans are meant–according to the torah of G-d–to remove the limb of a living animal and eat it.  This includes even chickens which are boiled (to remove the feathers) alive because they moved and weren’t killed by the slaughtering machine in commercial plants, and lobster or frogs that are boiled alive.

Referring to blacks in the south before the civil rights movement–“They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”–except of course for those who were, literally, singing the blues. Maybe you missed that day in Musical Theory 101…or never listened to a radio.

“They plunder beehives. They blow up beaver dams”.–so they can live up to this excerpted ideal from earlier in the article, I guess, “what he calls a “pristine earth”: a world where nothing gets in the way of nature or the hunters who lovingly maintain it.”  Good old uncle Esav was a hunter too.  There does seem to be resemblance here.

“Just inside the front door, a giant flat-screen TV shows Fox News on mute at all times,”–you don’t say. I expected Power Puff Girls.  Seriously though, if you are going to have the TV on at all times, and muted, Korean soap operas are much more fun to make up dialogue to.

“Phil On Why He Voted Romney in 2012
‘If I’m lost at three o’clock in a major metropolitan area…I ask myself: Where would I rather be trying to walk with my wife and children? One of the guys who’s running for president is out of Chicago, Illinois, and the other one is from Salt Lake City, Utah. [Editor’s note: Romney is from Boston, not Salt Lake City.] Where would I rather be turned around at three o’clock in the morning? I opted for Salt Lake City. I think it would be safer.”’–what a coincidence. I ask myself: if I’m out at 3am, should I breath paint fumes like this guy; or air like this guy?

“America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.),”–tell that to the natives, the blacks, the homosexuals, hell, just about anyone!  This is a place where knowing the hebrew actually helps a lot, by the way.  The actual phrase in the ten commandments is, “do not murder.”ex 20:13

“He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.”–that’s because he’s getting rich off this stupid crap.

Asked what is immoral behavior–“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.“–but not eating foods that G-d says not to eat. Oh, and “love your neighbor as yourself” is really prevalent in his preaching too, as he rails against anything that he deems to be immoral–including, it would seem, being japanese or muslim.

“During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. 
I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent—if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.
“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.” Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him”— this is the really convenient part of much Christian theology: you don’t need to make up for being an asshole, just put it behind you. That guy you killed? That car you stole? That marriage you ruined? That child you violated?  Just “put it behind you.”

“That’s the unspoken red-state appeal of Duck Dynasty. They’re godly folk. “Real” folk.” –umm…I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

“It’s why Willie Robertson can walk out of work on a regular Thursday afternoon and be greeted by a cheering crowd that seemingly stretches back to the horizon.”–and here I thought it was because they had their own tv show, and many americans are whores for celebrity. I was WAY off!

“Willie has just come back from Washington, D.C., where he accepted an award at the Angels in Adoption Gala. (He and his wife, Korie, adopted a biracial child named Will and are dedicated advocates of the practice.)”–3 to 5 odds the kid is gay as the day is long. Actually, I hope not–for his own sake.

“Let’s face it,” he says. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”–really!!!??  Do we really have to wait that long?  I guess it will be to no gain; they’ll just take the next group of idiots they find and put them on tv.

“I ask Jep Robertson later on if the second generation of Robertson men shares Phil’s views on sin and morality. “We’re not quite as outspoken as my dad, but I’m definitely in line,” he says. “If somebody asks, I tell ’em what the Bible says.”’–you don’t KNOW what the bible says, you know what you want it to say!  Or need we revisit the quote from genesis?

“For the sake of the Gospel, it was worth it,” Phil tells me. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”–right, because there were no communists, shintoists, or “Islamists” before eighty years ago. It all started with WWII. And let’s conveniently forget about Jews, Buddhists, Bahai, Sikhs, Hari Krishnas, etc, etc.  Would they be without morals to you?  What about catholics?  Methodists?  Apparently though, Mormons are fine–after all, he’d rather be in Salt Lake City at 3 AM.

“If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?”–just as long as you aren’t gay, or do anything that is “wrong” according to you?  Or maybe, you can do anything you want–like not even apologize for a savage beating you gave a couple– but because you were “saved” that makes up for everything. The lack of accountability in this type of theology is what has always deterred Jews like me, and many others from committing to the religion, yet with others has made Christianity such a popular religion–from simony, to vicarious atonement (something G-d says is not even possible in Ezekiel), to not having to make atonement to the people you’ve harmed (which contradicts the teachings of jesus, btw)–“just believe” and “every little ting gonna be awright”

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“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”

G-d said it.  Jesus said it.  Gandhi said it.  Along with countless others throughout history.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We all know about this famous–often slightly different–line, often called the golden rule, but do we actually know about it?  Do we know what its about; what it means?

This is a tweak of the most often repeated command in the torah, “Love the stranger,” and there have been many different thoughts regarding it by the various sages and commentators of torah throughout the generations.  Here I will share with you my thoughts on the subject.

There are basically two kinds of commandments: those between man and G-d, and those between man and man.  The latter is also between man and G-d, as each man is a creation of the Holy One, created “b’tzalmo,” in his image.  The mitzvoth (commandments) between G-d and man are important, but it would seem as if G-d is more concerned with us following those mitzvoth between man and man.  I think that this is why the command to “love your neighbor,” is repeated so many times, because it all boils down to that.  The great sage Hillel was asked to teach a pagan the whole torah while the man stood on one foot.  Rav Hillel responded, “that which is hateful to you, do to no one.  That is the whole torah, the rest is commentary, now go and learn it.”  powerful and interesting words.

So, how can he say, “this is the whole torah?”  Is he just being flippant; or is there a deeper meaning that we are to learn from this?  It could be possible, that ALL of the mitzvoth are intended to be for the benefit of both man’s relationship to his fellow, and his relationship with G-d.  In fact, I wouldn’t doubt it if somebody, in some commentary, somewhere, has said this very same thing.  It seems logical to me.

-Mitzvoth between man and G-d, are meant to keep man in a spiritual plain of being, and center him around those things which are truly important in life.  From giving tzedakah (charity) to the laying of tefillin (phylacteries), to the temple offerings (these days, this is taken up by prayer), these practices teach us not to value possessions over our souls, and to build a bridge and devekut (cleaving) to The Endless One.

-If man is on a spiritual plain of being, and not valuing the material over the ethereal, he is able to connect to his fellow man who may have much more–materialistically speaking–or may have less.  He can also connect better with his fellow man who may have much more, or much less in a spiritual sense.  In this way, there is almost a kind of socialism of thought and practice, more than a socialism (charity) of economics.

-We can conclude through this scenario, that those mitzvoth which appear to be concerned only with the relationship of man and G-d, are also a main driving force to the healthy relationship between man and his fellow.

In a strictly semantic, Torah sense, the sages tell us that the word גר-ger (stranger) refers to one who has converted to judaism, and not to all strangers.  There are, in fact, many different words that refer to somebody who was or is an outsider.  Since Torah was written for, and given to the children of Israel, references in it such as “a man who…” are referring to the children of Israel.  This is not derisive or an expression of superiority in any way.  It is similar to how US law may say–in a theoretical situation– “an immigrant who….” and it would not be singling the immigrant out as being lesser, just as an immigrant.  The law would not specify, “a native born american,” because that would be understood under the language of, “a person who….”  I hope this is making sense.  Sometimes my thoughts make sense inside my head, but not once they come out, so I have read over this many times.

According to this teaching and understanding of torah, the command to “love the ger” is meaning to “love the immigrant to your people, who has taken upon himself the laws of your land.”  This is the love whose command is repeated so many times.

This does not, however, mean that it is ok according to torah to hate others who are not a part of your people (whether born or converted).  There are, in fact, more mitzvoth and halacha (jewish law) that concern the relationship between the jewish people and non-jews.  There would, for example, be no way to be “or l’goyim” (a light to the nations) if hatred of them were permitted.  And to further touch on the “spiritual plane” thought, perhaps there would be no way to be or l’goyim without being on a spiritual plane–if what we are to show the goyim is what G-d truly desires of people: respect and love for the world.

Since I have stated that all of the mitzvoth between man and G-d are also for the benefit of human relationship, then it seems to follow reason that all of the second category are ways in which we express love to G-d through his creations.  As I said above, every person is created b’tzalmo, in his image.  If the category of the first, and the category of the second are in essence expressing love to G-d, then the dictum of Hillel, “that which is hateful to you, do to nobody,” makes more sense in terms of covering the whole torah.

There is something that troubles me a little bit here, however; if we are simply not doing to others “that which is hateful” to us, are we really doing them good?  Maybe this is the same type of thinking as the Latin maxim premum non nocere, “first, do no harm.”  If we are not harming, at least we are not making the world worse, but we are not making it better either.  Once we do something though, if we are not doing harm, we must be engaged in “good.”  We must be performing acts which are ultimately beneficial to all–the main focus of all the mitzvoth!

I’m going to stop writing now, for tonight, because I’m tired and I think I’m just starting to ramble on.  Let me know what you think of this and other blog posts in the comments section below, if you please.  I am new to blogging, and find it to be quite therapeutic to be able to get my thoughts out (so I would probably even blog if only a type of diary), but I would like to be able to morph my style and content into a more interesting version of itself.

Shalom, salaam, forever.

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Is Israel an Apartheid State?

No.

 

What?  You were expecting a bit more, were you?  Why don’t we start with the definition of apartheid.

From Mirriam-Webster:

Apartheid:  racial segregation; specifically :  a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa

Lets assume for the moment, that the reference to South Africa is due to the fact that the term was coined in response to the affairs there, and that apartheid is not something specific to that region.  Apartheid describes, “racial segregation,” including, but I’m sure not limited to, “political and economic discrimination.”

This would suggest, that in an apartheid state, one racial entity would have total control, with the other or all others having no presence in politics, medical care, or economics.

Pushers of the “Israel is an apartheid state” credo often state as well, that Israel is participating in “ethnic cleansing,” and further that “Israel is the same as,” or similar to, “Nazi Germany,” in its relationship with the Arabs there.  Unfortunately for those who levy this argument, nothing could be further from the truth.

What are the facts?  Without a pro-Israel bias, a few of the unadulterated facts of the situation are this:

-Israel is a multi-racial state, in which equal rights is not only the law but is also the norm, in every facet of society.  Sure, individual racism occurs–as it does in all societies–but there is no stance condoning such acts in the government.

-There are Israeli-Arabs.  In fact, 20% of the Israeli population is Arab.

-Israeli-Arabs are present in the Supreme Court, Knesset (Parliament), University (as both students and professors), medical, commerce, and even in the IDF where–although their service is not mandatory–many serve with distinction.

Considering these facts, plus the numerous others, no logical comparison can continue to be found between an apartheid state and Israel.  And in order to conclude that Israel is like Nazi Germany, we would also have to see the round-up and wholesale slaughter of innocent arabs–which is impossible to see unless you have your eyes closed.

But what of the “occupied” territories of “The West Bank and Gaza?”

In 1947, after the arabs rejected the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine proposal of an independent arab state, and an independent jewish state, the region was gripped in civil war.  The Jews were able to turn the tide in their favor, and 250,000 arabs either fled, or were expelled from these territories.  250,000 would be a very significant number, if it weren’t for the fact that between 1922 and 1948 and estimated 300,000 arabs immigrated to these lands.  Why does this make it less significant?  The argument that is levied is that the jews must return the ancestral homeland to the refugees who fled the region during this time.  Considering that the fleeing of arabs was immediately preceded by the immigrating in higher numbers, it is not difficult to believe that they are not able to provide documentation for their ancestral ownership of these lands.

To complicate matters further, in 1948–immediately after Israeli statehood was declared–TransJordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq invaded Israel in a war of aggression.  When peace was reached between israel and her aggressors, TransJordan occupied and annexed the territories now known commonly as The West Bank.  Egypt occupied the Gaza strip.  To put it bluntly, the palestinian arabs have never had self-determination in these lands, and the implication that they were ever a sovereign state is simply misinformation.

In 1967, Israel was once again attacked by her neighbors, and once again was able to turn the tide in her favor.  By the time peace was reached between the parties, Israel had fought her way through the Gaza strip and the West Bank, and captured both Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula.  All of the territories that Israel’s opponents call “occupied territories,” are these lands that the state captured in defensive combat against multiple foes.  In an attempt to retain peace with the occupants of these areas, Israel has maintained a military presence there for the last 40 years, in exactly the same way that the U.S. military has retained a presence in every area it has fought.  And yes, those settlers that everybody hears about so much, they are Jews who are building neighborhoods in these territories, but they are building them on lands that are either purchased from arabs, or have no owner.

The next item of business that is often cited as “proof” of “Israeli apartheid,” is the building of the wall separating Israel from “The West Bank.”  The wall was begun in 2003, and the three year period following its beginning was marked by an 84% reduction in suicide attacks from the three years before, resulting in a 79% reduction in fatalities from such attacks.  The wall is inconvenient to many arabs who live on the Israeli side (in places, the wall places parts of the west bank on the Israeli side), but there is no denying that it has been a significant factor in the reduction of such heinous crimes.

I would like to talk about the Boycott Divestiture and Sanction (BDS) movement that is being urged on by so many celebrities, but it is already too late, so I will save that for another post.  I would also have liked to talk about the practice of apartheid in South Africa–where the term was coined–so that there could be an honest comparison, but that will likewise have to wait.

Most opponents of Israel simply repeat that which they’ve heard from people whose opinions they consider valid, even if these people know nothing about what it is they are talking about and are just riding the groundswell.  The next time that somebody tells you that Israel is an apartheid state, think of the jewish patients who receive care from the arab doctors, and the arab patients from jewish doctors; think about the tolerance within the Knesset even for radical arab members who openly call for the destruction of Israel; think about the arabs and jews who work together or adjacent to one another in business, or those who fight side by side in the IDF; or think about the restaurants, bathrooms, theaters, and swimming pools where arabs are welcome alongside jews.  Then think for yourself.  Don’t even be quick to formulate an opinion based upon this short treatise, but don’t condemn a nation you are unfamiliar with on the testimony of those who argue without facts.

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Smartphones, Dumb People?

There is a running battle within me.  Part of me loves having my iPhone and, at times, can’t envision productive life without it.  I have a universe of information at my fingertips!  With the wealth of apps available, many for free or very cheap, I can write job bids for everything from siding repair to a complete remodel, look up real-time prices at Home Depot or Lowes, and study Torah with a tap of a finger.  But here is the problem: with the wealth of apps available, many for free or very cheap, I can write job bids for everything from siding repair to a complete remodel, look up real-time prices at Home Depot or Lowes, and study Torah with a tap of a finger.

Sometimes I really wonder if the trade-off is worth it.  My phone has an eight mega-pixel camera, which totally blows away any camera costing less than $2000 a decade ago.  I can shoot HD video, edit it in-phone, and upload it to the internet within minutes (something I actually did earlier today).  Then again, because of all this, I use my DSLR camera less.  I don’t hesitate to pull out my phone, six days a week, to take a picture of my daughter with her clothes stuffed, and acting like a sumo wrestler.  But do I really enjoy these moments as much as I would if I were focused on experiencing them?  Perhaps, when there was no alternative, we paid a lot more attention and committed more things to memory.  A small example of this may be found in the fact that we don’t memorize phone numbers like we used to.  In fact, this is becoming such a dying art, that the mere idea of knowing phone numbers is preposterous to most modern children!

The dependence upon technology does seem like a necessary evil, especially when you consider how far things have progressed–technologically speaking–in the last few decades.  There is no denying that technology will only be increasing in societal saturation in the years to come.  It is awfully frustrating at times, especially when my kids are home from school and have to use a computer to do their homework.  For many of my classes, I have no choice but to use a computer for my homework.  Sixteen years ago, when I met my wife, I had never even been on the internet before.  I absolutely loved the manual typewriter that I had which typed in cursive!  I would take it here and there, like some kind of antique laptop, hauling with me the paper that I needed, and cussing myself for each typo.  Now, I can talk into my phone, and have it type out everything I say (with reasonable accuracy).  Yet, I come here to write, and write I do.  Perhaps “writing” is being a bit daft, most of the time I seem to just vomit out words through my fingertips.

I have been trying to figure out a way to enjoy the benefits of my smartphone, without suffering from the zombification that comes along with it.  I have considering deleting the Facebook app from my phone, and disabling the email app.  Sometimes though, I wonder why I should bother to keep it at all.  It is great to have the wealth of information available, but it seems like it could have an effect on decreasing wonder–although it doesn’t seem to have done this for me.

Maybe the answer is to become more like the Amish.  Instead of totally spurning technology though, I think I just need to be able to be stronger in terms of resisting the urge to open my email or Facebook when I have a free minute.  Maybe I need to just spend less time with earbuds in.  Perhaps the answer is to become a bit “Jewmish.”  The Amish make up about 2% of the American population, as do Jews.  But the hard part is that whenever I consider increasing my luddite nature, I can’t figure out where the line should be drawn.

I don’t really think many people are reading my blog yet, it has only been a week, so perhaps one day people will be combing through the archives, but if any of you have any suggestions, I’m open to hearing them!

 

Note:  shortest–regular–post yet!!!  Yippee!!

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