Friday, October 26, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - October 26, 2007

The Red Sox are up 2-0 in the WS and it is also Friday so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for October 26, 2007

No links

I am beat. I don't have the energy to write something smart about the fact that our country won't supply children with health care or that Bush promised Federal support to fire victims in SoCal (Heck'va Job: the redux) or that we are getting into the winter and millions of people won't have a warm place to sleep or that we are engaged in a war that won't end or that we are proposing to get into another or that the dollar is failing or that Russia(with a whole bunch o' nukes) is almost a complete dictatorship or that we are running out of oil.

Not this week. This week I am not saying anything. I am out of energy to be pissed off. Don't worry, I will be back.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Red Sox Fans and the Lachrymose View of Jewish History

Over the years, the Jewish people have had a pretty rough time. From the blood libel of pre-modern Europe, to the Crusades, back to the Romans (and Greeks) not to mention the Spanish and Italians during the Inquisition. From Biblical times to modernity, Jewish history has been laden with examples that could make a Jew cry. The reading of our history is indeed sad and full of dismay. However things have been looking up for nearly half a century. While not prefect, it is pretty good to be a Jew in this day in age.

The same could be said about the Red Sox history. 89 years ago could have been called the high Temple period of the Red Sox nation. Winning five World Series titles during what Wikipedia calls the "golden age" (fitting) of the Red Sox and then they went silent. Winning a few things here and there, they never were quite able to make it all the way back to their glory days. But then in 2003, game 7 of the ALCS down to the last outs there was a glimmer of hope; it was destroyed by a knuckleball that didn't knuckle. That was that. Over. Once again tears. Yet Zion awaits just a year later, complete with miraculous events and power never seen before. The Red Sox beat the Yankees in Game Seven after being down 3-0 in the ALCS. It was like Ha'tikvah was translated into English and to be preformed by the Dropkick Murphys. It was unreal! Oh yeah then they beat the Cardinals.

So after almost a century of Baseball troubles, the Red Sox have come into the holy land. Things weren't prefect in 2005 or 2006, but things look good this year. It is hard for us Red Sox fans to understand that we can win and make it all the way. Just like Jews who still believe we are marching to our end every time something happens, Red Sox fans thought it was all over after this year's Game Two of the ALCS. I know I did. I know my dad did. We started talking about Spring Training.

We however, never gave up hope. Just like Jews, Red Sox fans will talk a really big nasty game, but will never give up all hope. Jews have Woody Allen, Red Sox fans have, well all of us. With this in mind, I say this: I am going to Game One of the World Series; the second World Series the Red Sox have been in in three years. Both as a Jew and a Red Sox fan, I am so happy, but so scared that they are going to blow the entire thing!

But I still have hope!

GO YOU RED SOX!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - October 19, 2007

It is Friday and therefore here are my Shabbat Thoughts for October 19, 2007:
Too many people, both within and outside of Judaism, think that all Jews are white and wealthy.
In the same arena Paul Marx calls for a Bar Mitzvah for Black Boys…rough title.
DovBear goes all Reform, without the rejection of meaningless ritual
Talking about something that is cool because it is in Brooklyn and no one in their right mind can find it without getting lost makes it not cool, reports shamirpower. WHITE.HOT.NEWS.

“Go forth from you land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, I will make your name great and it shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will pronounce doom on those who curse you; through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So, that is a lot of build up.

It also seems a bit one sided. Besides nipping a piece of his who-who, Abraham really didn’t need to actually do much besides leave home. Granted in the ancient times leaving the city or even home where you grew up was more traumatic than it would be today, but otherwise this still seems to me to be a really sweet deal. God says, “Dude, if you bolt I will totally hook you up.”

I want to focus on one aspect of this passage where we could find the catch. “Through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That my friends, is a big burden to shoulder. The heirs of Abraham (however you want to explain that) are responsible for having their interactions lead to blessing. Mind you at the same time this kind of high and mighty behavior could make other want to curse you, leading to God “pronouncing doom” on your people but really this is a big deal.

What does it mean “through you” the others on earth will be blessed? Well because I get to write thing I will tell you what I think: It has to do with actions. We are commanded here to act within the image in which we were created. God created man (or so it said a few chapters ago) to do stuff on earth. But God also gave humanity free will (or so we explain to make ourselves feel better for the actions of bad people). Now as “partners in creation” we need to continue this process of creation, taking it past the point of stories of Genesis.

Now how do we bless the other peoples and families? Do we do it through outreach and education? Feeding the homeless? IE Setting the example? Or do we do this through prayer and metaphysical stuff? If you ask a rabbi she might say you do both. If you ask a rationalist, he might say do something that actually helps and if you ask a black hat he would say don’t worry about the non-Jews.

I say we have to find a balance between leaving the house of our father’s and living in the world that we have now found ourselves in today.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Academic Proof: No Gays in the Middle East

Thank you JTA for pointing out this unbelievable but worse yet truly believable piece in the New Republic. Titled "The Columbia Professor Who Doesn't Think Gay People Exist in the Middle East" TNR doesn't even need to give any editorial commentary. It is just ridiculous!

Here is just a taste of it:
According to [Joseph Massad, Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History], a Palestinian Christian and disciple of the late Columbia professor Edward Said, the case for gay rights in the Middle East is an elaborate scheme hatched by activists in the West. Massad posited this thesis in a 2002 article, "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World," for the academic journal Public Culture, and he has expanded it into a book, Desiring Arabs, published this year by the University of Chicago Press. In it, he writes that such activists constitute the "Gay International" whose "discourse ... produces homosexuals as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist." The "missionary tasks" of this worldwide conspiracy are part of a broader attempt to legitimize American and Israeli global conquest by undermining the very moral basis of Muslim societies, as the "Orientalist impulse ... continues to guide all branches of the human rights community." Massad's intellectual project is a not-so-tacit apology for the oppression of people who identify openly as homosexual. In so doing, he sides with Islamist regimes over Islamic liberals.

That really is the core of the argument that is outlined in the article, but he goes on and on about how people who are fighting against different injustices against GLBT individuals in the Middle East are "anti-Arab" or "anti-Islam" and other such stupidity. He even calls Arab gays "so-called 'gays.'"

Academic freedom aside, this is plain and simple homophobia. I have not read the entire Massad article, but I can't imagine it is much better than the long excerpts from TRN. While Massad does call upon the theory that gayness is a social construct and if a particular society does not utilize a certain set of values, this construct will not exist. Outside of that theory being dismissed years and years ago, we currently live in a global world where our societies are exposed to more than ever before, including different social constructs from different cultures.

This guy is up for tenure and if he is turned down, articles like these will be the cause. However he will blame the Israelis and Jew lobby for his rejection.

Why Politics Should Be for Upliftment

"Politics is for upliftment . . . not for personal gain . . . ."
-A group of Garifuna women in Belize

I first read this quote while in a training session for the Hillel Tzedek internship. We discussed the true meaning of political organizing in a clear progressive framework. But even if you take that out of the lefty liberal world in which the 12 of us were working, it does really make a ton of sense.

This week Barak Obama, who is the number two most popular guy in most Democratic polls, said that he is of the people. Mind you he has raised so many more millions of dollars to spend on advertisements and buttons and other such crap, than most Americans will ever see in their lifetime JUST THIS MONTH, he is playing the underdog card in a way that is making it even more difficult for me to choose a horse in this race.

I got an email from Barak last night after he was on the Tonight Show. He called Hillary Clinton, the all but certain to be President of the United States, out for being like Bush because people are saying she has already won. Here is Barak's response: Hillary is not the first politician in Washington to declare "Mission Accomplished" a little too soon.

What happened to the politics of hope? I was excited about Barak Obama and had the "I will vote for Hillary if need be" mentality. Now it just seems like the Senator from Illinois is just another pissed off Washington neophyte clamoring for air time. I am still holding out for something worth voting for in this coming election.

I read Obama's first book and was excited to have a man with such a deep and meaningful education and experience as the possible next president. I was uplifted by his message of hope for a better life. Who cares if it is pretty good for us now, it could and should be better in the future. That is the message I want to hear. Not a "hey guys just writing from the limo to tell you I took Hillary to the cleaners on a late night talk show." (Like we are supposed to believe the candidate just would write a quick email to his hundreds of thousands of supporters via BlackBerry)

The kicker is that Obama continues to say sling mud, Clinton continues to bring in TONS on money and they will only make our country weaker. These two people represent all that is good in America. Women's rights, equality and competition. But not the touchy feely bullshit rights and equality; the hard fought and continuingly fought for kind of rights and equality that exist in the real world. There hasn't been a single interview with either of these candidates when they haven't been asked about race or gender, and they are playing the card.

Mr. Obama, please stay above the fray. You can do better than this. Mrs. Clinton, please stop making stupid statements like lobbiest represent Americans. They represent their clients. Please uplift this country. We need it, badly.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Shabbat Idea - October 12, 2007

It is Friday and I am feeling lazy so here is a short Shabbat Thought for October 12, 2007:
Hippy Jews
Orthos Use Liberals…
Oh where have all the Jewish Funders gone? Where have the funders gone? (sing to the tune of “Where have all the flowers gone.”
Supreme Court Miffed Over Nobel Committee’s Ethical Choice
Zionism isn’t an Israeli Thing Any More

So God made a mistake and decided that it would be a stellar idea to flood the earth and start over. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it can be said that it would be a bit brash and only caused more problems for the best of the worst generation. Noah was a punk that got a good deal because he didn’t really stink. He only sort of stinks. But this gets to the point of apologizing for a mistake.

God screwed up two ways here: 1. God allowed a crappy generation of people to come into existence and 2. God destroyed them without any thought for the possibility of goodness within. (Later Abraham does some fast talking to save a few people, but it is arguable that a different author wanting to make God look “nice” slipped that story in.)

A few months ago I spoke about Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and attributed this thesis to Ludwig Wittgenstein while really I should have attributed this to Walter Benjamin. While both were Jewish (even though Wittgenstein traded teams), both had similar feelings about the world, they didn’t both write Benjamin’s seminal work and they were not part of the same school of thought.

I was proud of this piece and I still am. In that particular Shabbat Idea I fight for Benjamin's point that because we live in such an age, all believe is suspended and we become more interested in convincing people. No religion just politics. This was the end:
Religion is a reminder of the intent of artistic expression: the establishment of society and hopes for a better situation later on, in life or in death. So as we pause to remember the destruction of society this week, let us remember that it is more than just what a wonderful Shabbat I had with MY friends at OUR minyan this weekend. It should be what a wonderful Shabbat WE had with the all the PEOPLE in the COMMUNITY this weekend. If not we are only taking part in the mechanical reproduction of Shabbat.
I still stand by that idea.

I figured out that I made this mistake about a month ago when I was looking for link I used in the post. I didn't change it because, I was sure no one remembered and wouldn't call me on it if they even read the piece. So I am sorry I screwed up on my historical philosophy and I am sorry I didn't fix it earlier. (It still reads the way it was written and I will not destroy the post.)

While blogging is only a self-absorbed activity where I force my ideas on my willing readership, it shouldn't be a place to get away with things. I learned from our Torah portion this week, that making mistakes is alright, but you need to fix them. I however will not flood the earth due to my lack of editorial controls.

Shabbat Shalom

Monday, October 8, 2007

Faith In Action

Two weeks ago I linked to this post in my Shabbat Ideas. This is a very interesting and important critique of the more aggressive atheist in the world. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, writes that while there are problems with religion, there are great benefits as well. He asks the likes of Christopher Hitchens, where are the atheist soup kitchens and atheist drug treatment workshops. It is worth a re-read and why I have reposted it.

What About the Atheists?

When Christopher Hitchens observes that, “Religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children,” he is both right and wrong.

Hitchens is right because humankind is sinful and selfish. Indeed, I believe it was G.K. Chesterton who said that the one Christian doctrine that was demonstrably provable, even to casual observers, was the sinfulness and depravity of man. Thus, human expressions of the religious impulse will inevitably produce some religious practices and beliefs that would fit Hitchens’ rather grim description.

Human history is replete with such flawed expressions of religious faith.

However, this would be true of all secular philosophies and ideologies as well. Three of the most heinous and barbaric ideologies, which produced the greatest cruelties and violations of humanity in the 20th century, were fascism, Nazism and communism—all secular.

Hitchens is wrong in that he condemns all religious expression to the category of such violent and negative expressions. Many of the noblest expressions of humanity throughout the centuries have been performed in the name of religion.

One thinks of William Wilberforce and his long campaign to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Both the British and American abolitionist movements were founded, nurtured, financed and led to victory against the horrific evil of slavery by people who were most often inspired and motivated by deep religious conviction.

The great social reform movements of the last half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century (child labor reform, etc.) were often led by people of deep religious faith, Protestant and Catholic.

And of course, in the lifetime of many of us who were born in the last half of the 20th century, the most successful and greatest reform movement was the civil rights revolution, led by a Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who often said that the movement and the faith that inspired it could not be separated. As many will remember, the civil rights revolution was supported by and led to victory in large part because of the leadership of clergy, black and white.

Lastly, one is led to ask Mr. Hitchens some questions. Where are the great atheist-sponsored charitable and reform movements? Where are the atheist children homes and orphanages? Where are the atheist leaders who are taking vows of poverty and giving themselves in sacrificial service to others? As Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Syracuse University, points out in his recent book, Who Really Cares? (2006): Religious people are far more generous with their own time and money than secularists. Brooks concludes, “Religious folks are by far the most charitable people in America today.”
The comments are worth reading too.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - October 5, 2007

It is Friday and so therefore it is time for my Shabbat Thoughts for October 5, 2007:

The Forward losses some of its edge: Uses Safety Word against Ha’artez editorial
Yankees Lost (yippy) Red Sox won (yippy)
Rats in a Yeshiva
Hannah Farber of Jspot JFSJ writes a Humor Piece that is not funny and misplaced
More nipping info on the nipping the tip
Really, whatever happened to Jared Leto?
Why the Republican Party really, deep down, hates the Jews
A new, witty and intelligent blog on Israel
Haunting, Horrific Sculpture belongs near a rabbi’s office. (take it as you will)
Mideast Youth gets a makeover

I started painting my apartment this week with my lady. This is hard work and I have a lot of respect for those who do it for a living. Labor is often over looked by many of us urbanites while glorified by many of us on the Left, particularly the Jewish Left.

We regularly see articles written about Jews working for the Labor Movement and our long history of this kind of work. Yet since the mid-1900s most Jews were not laborers. If involved at all with labor, they were organizing while wearing the white color of Labor Union “corporate office.” This is fine but we need to take this step back to remember the reality of our situation.

Jews do have a history of working for justice and involvement in a lot of different causes. But it would seem that because of the dominance of the Labor Movement within the Lefty Jewish world, that the worker was the primary Jewish cause in America. This isn’t really true. Religious liberty, civil rights and labor made up a trifecta of traditional Jewish involvement. The richness of Jewish activism is based in its diversity. Today we act for Israel, Darfur, the environment, religious liberty, civil and glbt rights and labor (and many many more). While some things change, many stay the same.

Our history should be read, not re-written. Jews were active in the Labor Movement. Jews were also active in the anti-Labor Movements. It is important to me to remember all aspects of what did and what we do, not just the ones that fit our ideal of the persecuted yet triumphant Jew.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Intactivists Making the Cut of the New York Times

Even if it the the Reuters' feed, the anti-circ groups are taking a slice out of pro-cutting community's strangle hold on the media. (Photo from Jew-ish)

This is from the article and gets to the core of the real issue at (or in) hand.
Circumcision's detractors also claim the procedure reduces sexual sensation and endurance.

"I haven't attempted foreskin restoration surgery, but I've thought about it," said Matthew Taylor, an active Bay Area Jew who resents his own circumcision and who preaches on the evils of the practice to Jewish friends .

But author Julius Lester, who became a Reform convert to Judaism in 1982 and underwent circumcision to feel Jewish, said the procedure also boosted his sex life.

"Circumcised there are far more subtle sensations, and staying power is much, much longer," he said. "From a sexual point of view, I wish I'd gotten circumcised many years earlier."
What will we do? To cut or not to cut? Will this fad pass just like MySpace and Pogs or is this here to stay? I really think we have to put our thinking caps on for this one and look at the nature of our Jewish understanding.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why don't you shut up!


Assaf Wohl,who has a BA in philosophy and is the winner of the Dean’s Prize for Excellence for MA students in the Jewish History Department of Haifa University, wrote yesterday on Ynet.com that feminist are "too loud and verbal" and this activist mentality "undermines their aims." While this is a completely legitimate critique of many activist groups (i.e. all talk, no action) the way he paints a picture of the mouth waging woman in contrast to the down to business man, the negative stereotypes he reinforces and just the general mocking tone of this op-ed makes me question if he is kidding.

I suggest you read it. But here are a few gems:

There are certain things that only women can do. For example, to be "opinionated." Have you ever heard of an opinionated man? No such thing. It sounds like something you would call an overweight guy.
Pretty sure I am an opinionated guy, albeit a touch overweight.

He goes on to talk about how feminists can't do anything with out a press release...now as a jack-ass of the Internet I think that makes perfect sense. If you are going to do something, you should let people know about it...and wouldn't you think Wohl, as a member of the media, would want to know what is happening in the world? But I digress.

Wohl, in the following passage, doesn't even make a point. He just makes fun of women's hats.
In addition, you must wear terribly original headgear. An ordinary shawl no longer satisfies you. You must have fashionable hats made of canvas, asbestos, barbed wire, Plexiglas, and placebo; whatever shows that you are not the same as the women of old, but opinionated, independent, empowered women.
Yes, the hats are ugly but what the hell does this do to further your point?

Wohl ends this unbelievable diatribe by making the requisite "I am not the thing I just spent a column proving I am" and then reverts right back into the drawl statement with this little section:
Here's where I have to vow that I am no chauvinist and one of my best friends is a woman, but let me spare you.

I am not saying that many of your claims are wrong, but perhaps you should lower the level of the noise you make because in the minds of many of us there is this automatic spell-check, just like in a word processor. When you upload terms such as "gender," "opinionated," and "empowerment," it immediately converts them to "bullshit," "bullshit," and "bullshit" - respectively. Please, use a human language, not some sushi-jive.
What is sushi-jive?

He concludes the piece with some other crap about being going softly into the night of second class citizenship. Assaf Wohl, you are testament to the Israeli people.