Tuesday, March 12, 2024

In This Moment: More Short Takes, With Commentary.


In This Moment

More Short Takes...

With Commentary

With so much going on, rather than struggling to keep up with rapidly spinning news cycles, I continue my recent practice of giving you Axios - Semifor - style short takes (in fact, everyone is doing that now) but with links to more expansive pieces I've written on those topics. Here goes:

  • Just a reminder: According to Jewish law, an embryo is not a person. In fact, Jewish law considers a zygote/embryo/fetus more akin to a glass of water than a human being. So the whole Alabama IVF controversy is , from a Jewish perspective, another attack on our religious freedom. See Supreme Court Decision Denies Jews Religious Freedom:

Life does not begin at conception under Jewish law. Sources in the Talmud (Yevamot 69b)note that the fetus is “mere water” before 40 days of gestation. Following this period, the fetus is considered a physical part of the pregnant individual’s body, not yet having life of its own or independent rights. The fetus is not viewed as separate from the parent’s body until birth begins and the first breath of oxygen into the lungs allows the soul to enter the body.

  • Using the Holocaust as an analogy to Israel's treatment of Gaza is morally abhorrent. Even if you've produced an Oscar winning film, like "Zone of Influence," which I've not yet seen but hope to. Last week, David Klion wrote in the NYT regarding that film, with Gaza specifically in mind - something that director Jonathan Glazer made crystal clear in his Oscar acceptance speech, even if the words were completely garbled and misunderstood. Here's what Klion wrote:

By keeping the violence of the camp just barely out of frame, Mr. Glazer renders it an omnipresent backdrop to everyday life. In compelling us to spend time with the Hösses, the film demands that we reflect not only on the Holocaust but also on our own degrees of complicity in the horrors that we know are being carried out on the other sides of figurative and literal walls today.

I agree with some of what Glazer said. Yes, dehumanization is bad and we need to resist the temptation to dehumanize our enemies - to call them vermin or animals. Here's where the analogy breaks down. The Holocaust was not precipitated by a mass attack by Jews resulting in the murder of 1,200 innocent Nazis, including gang rape and the most brutal murders of children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children. (The Nazis tried to justify Kristallnacht as retribution for the murder of German embassy official Ernst von Rath in Paris by a Jew, but that was just a pretense).

One can make lots of claims about Oct 7 and what has ensued, but a comparison to the Holocaust cannot be one of them. I have stated from the outset that October 7 can be compared to the Holocaust in only one way. Both events are sui generus. in other words, both cannot be compared to anything before or since.

  • However, it is fair to challenge the inaction and apparent indifference of those who see thousands of innocent deaths taking place, even in the context of a just war. To be clear, many Israelis are extremely troubled by the moral dilemmas presented by the execution of the current war. They are not like the SS living across from Auschwitz as they watch rockets screaming overhead, goving in both directions. And they are (and I am) also troubled that the IDF has not been able to win this war - however victory would be defined - over five long months,

  • Anyone who really wants this war to end must ask why Israel's friends and other peace-loving nations are not applying a full court press on Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza and release the hostages? It's what these nations all want. And it's the only way Israel can end this war, whether in five minutes or five years. Once those conditions are met, pressure could be directed toward Israel to accept an eventual two state solution in principle and work toward regional peace - almost certainly with a new government.

  • How will we know when Israel is nearing it's objectives? When we go several days with no rockets being fired from Gaza/. That would be a good sign - and that could be close to happening. Killing the top Hamas leadership, as is also happening, would be helpful. And a key sign is what Iran and Hezbollah do in the north. If they refrain from intensifying the conflict, it means they are cutting their losses and not rushing to support what militarily is seen as a lost cause. Let's hope that's coming soon. It didn't come today, however, as Marc Schulman reports that the biggest barrage of rockets of the entire war was launched at Israel's north today.

  • How will we know from the Israeli side? When we hear it from respected leaders of Israeli intelligence or government officials like Benny Gantz. Unfortunately, we can't believe a thing that comes from the Prime Minister and his supporters. We'll also know it if American experts say it is happening. And as of today, those US intelligence experts are saying it has not and that the government is tottering, When ministers start jumping ship - and Gideon Sa'ar's move away from Gantz's party today may be just a first step in his positioning as a rival to Netanyahu - we could be nearing the endgame, politically and militarily.

  • Can this new American built pier being built in Gaza relieve the pressure on Palestinians, Israel and America, all at the same time? Yes. Absolutely.

  • Is making fun of President Biden's stutter the worst thing Donald Trump has ever done? No but it's up there, because words matter. While mocking someone with a disability hardly compares to rape and subversion of democracy, one could argue that the abuse of language is the original sin. Everything else comes from that - as it did in the Garden of Eden. There, the sin (Jews don't call it "original") wasn't simply in eating the forbidden fruit, but in the words used to mislead both Eve and Adam into eating it. They fell for fake news.

  • How much do words matter? When I was 12, I got into the only fistfight of my life, and it was because a kid started mocking my brother, who is significantly impaired, laughingly calling him a “retard.” Nowadays there are only a few things that bring out the moral outrage in me as much as the abuse of innocent young children with disabilities. It takes a lot for Trump to make me so outraged that I take it out on his followers. But I find myself agreeing with what John Hendrickson wrote in the Atlantic about Trumps current antics,

More than Trump’s ugly taunt, one thing stands out to me about these moments: the sound of Trump’s supporters laughing right along with him. This is a building block of Trumpism. The man at the top gives his followers permission to be the worst version of themselves.

That's what Trump has done, simply with his words. And that has led to deeds. It's a very short leap from "Access Hollywood" to the dressing room of Bergdorf's to the halls of the Capitol. It all began with words. It begins with mocking the most vulnerable. When you make fun of those created in the Divine image, you are mocking God Godself. Anyone who laughs at this is committing a hillul hashem - a great sacrilege.

I once wrote in a sermon about the power of words:

Words can increase holiness, and words can diminish it: The National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse has compiled a list of disparaging comments made by angry parents to children, including: "You're pathetic." "You can't do anything right." "You disgust me." "Just shut up." "Hey, stupid. Don't you know how to listen?" "You're more trouble than you're worth." "I wish you were never born." Does anyone here think that a child raised with these words believes that sticks and stones can break our bones but words can never hurt us? An old Jewish teaching compares the tongue to an arrow. "Why not another weapon, a sword for example?" one rabbi asks. "Because," he is told, "if a person unsheathes his sword to kill his friend and his friend begs for mercy, he can always put the sword aside; but the arrow, once it is shot, cannot be returned, no matter how much the person wants to."

That's my "Rashi" commentary for the day.

The Parochet

As discussed last Friday night. Watch the video below to learn more about the power and mystery of this ritual object, which is described in this week's portion of Pekuday. And click to see more lovely ark coverings

Recommended Reading

  • Reflections and videos from my time on the ground in Israel. (Free Press - Bari Weiss) - These days in the U.S., it is nearly impossible to imagine a modern George Washington—a leader who would charge into battle ahead of the troops, put the nation ahead of himself, and willingly give up power. Can you picture the people running our hedge funds and start-ups leaving them behind for the battlefield? Or a rallying cry about not falling short of the 1776ers? And yet before October 7, despite the country’s universal draft, many Israelis say they, too, believed that history and heroism were things that belonged to the past. Theirs was a nation, like ours, that was addicted to likes and to TikTok, hopelessly unserious, run by an elite with all of the noblesse but none of the oblige. Then the most serious thing imaginable was upon them. And the most serious men and women I have ever encountered emerged to confront it. 

  • Not a Massacre (Jewish Link) - The holiday of Purim starts in a little less than two weeks. At the end of the book of Esther that is read during it, the wicked Haman’s plan to slaughter all the Jews of Persia—including “small children and women, in a single day”—is foiled and, with permission from King Ahasuerus, the Jews instead rise up and kill those who wished to take part of in their extermination. The scriptural account of the Jews slaughtering over 75,000 of their enemies has disturbed the moral sensibilities of some modern readers. Haim Jachter, by contrast, puts the events of the book in proper context. He points out that the text states that Ahasuerus gave the Jews of Persia permission “to stand up for their lives” against “those that would assault them” (8:11) and also “to avenge themselves on their enemies” (8:13). Yet, the next chapter, which describes the events themselves, does not say that the Jews took revenge, only that they “lay hand on such as sought to hurt them” and killed “their enemies.” Moreover, Jachter explains, the text emphasizes that the Jews were granted royal permission to kill women and children and to take their property—but refrained from doing either. The Jew, in short, were not engaged in massacre but in self-defense. 

Tomorrow's Front Pages


The Jerusalem Post

Yediot Achronot

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