Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Rerun

I know that I posted this previously, but I rewrote it to be printed in local shuls. So here is the new, improved, and ending with a mussar vort version.

Parshat Va’era : Moshe Rabbeinu gets a new job

The Torah is not supposed to repeat itself or waste words, right? If not, then why do Moshe and Hashem's conversations in the beginning of Sefer Shmot seem like deja vu? Last week and this week’s parshiot seem to have the same material. It has actually been my observation that people tend to tune the conversations out, as the get the gist of it, and are waiting for the plot to move on. There must be more to it.

The first of these coversations takes place at the burning bush, (in chapters 3 & 4) and the second in Egypt. (in chapters 6 & 7) Let's note the similarities before we examine the differences. You can check for yourself, but I will simply list the common elements.

In both prophetic conversations:

1) Hashem identifies Himself
2) He explains that He has noticed Israel's suffering
3) He explains His plan to fulfill his promises to the Forefathers, rescue the people and take them to Israel
4) Tells Moshe he must go to Pharaoh and ask for time off for His people.
5) Hashem shows Moshe a wonder to perform to ensure belief
6) Moshe complains about his difficulties as a communicator *
7) Hashem assigns Aaron to help Moshe.

Two questions come to mind. First of all, why does Moshe need this much repetition? Didn't he get it the first time? Secondly, there must have been a shorthand way to say that these elements recurred. "And the Lord told Moses all the things that had been said in Midian", or something to that effect, leap to mind. One could answer the first question by saying that Moshe had faced his first setback, (Pharoah rejected the request and took away the Israelites straw) and needed a pep talk. But this does not answer the second question.

There are also, of course, differences. Professor Nehama Leibowitz always argued that when you run into any of these biblical “repetitive” passages, the differences are what deserve our attention. In this case it is these differences that show that the second round is much more than a “pep talk”. What then are the differences?

In the middle of this second version of the conversation, (at the point when Moshe complains about his speech) Moshe and Aharon are reintroduced through a long family tree. There is a key, tell-tale statement at the beginning. In chapter 6, verse 11, Hashem says,

“Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.' 12 And Moses spoke before the LORD, saying: 'Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?'”

Moshe had already spoken to Pharaoh. Pharaoh had not hearkened unto him. Why is Moshe expressing this in the future tense? I would argue that Hashem is not repeating his demand in verse 11. He is changing Moshe's job. This is the key that unlocks all of the problems.

Let me explain what I mean. In chapters 3 & 4, Hashem has appointed Moshe to be the leader of b'nei Yisrael. When this did not lead to their immediate release, they let him know at the end of chapter 5 that he was fired as their leader for making things worse. As it says in chapter 6, verse 9, “And Moses spoke so unto the children of Israel; but they hearkened not unto Moses for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage”

So in chapter 6, Hashem is sending Moshe no longer as the leader of the Jews, but as His ambassador to Pharaoh. This is a very new role for Moshe, and he balks at being Hashem's ambassador just as he balked at becoming the leader of b'nei Yisrael.

This is also why Moshe first shows a sign and wonder to Pharaoh in chapter 7. As leader of the Jews he had no need to turn a staff into a serpent. He only had to do that for the elders of the Jews. But now in chapter 7 he has to prove his bona fides as a Divine messenger to Pharaoh.

Hence all of the repetition. Moshe needs to be reassured again and told that Aharon will help him, etc., etc. for a new position.

There are other pieces of evidence to support this hypothesis. But the bottom line is that originally Hashem wanted the Israelites to send Moshe to demand their freedom. When they backed out, He became our advocate and sent Moshe to free us. Perhaps in our generation, we can learn from the mistake of our forefathers in that first redemption and work tirelessly to be the agents of Hashem’s will in bringing the final redemption. At its essence, Zionism is activism. And perhaps that is Hashem’s first choice for us.

Shabbat Shalom,

* I tend to assume that "heavy tongue" and "uncircumsized lips" do not refer to physical disabilities, any more than modern idioms like "tongue tied", "forked tongue" or "big mouth" do. They refer to difficulties with certain types of communication. In Moshe's case, it probably means a difficulty with diplomatic niceties. We are all familiar with the story of Moshe and the hot coals. I think that is designed less to explain the language of "heavy tongue", and more to explain elements of Moshe's childhood within the Rabbinic narrative of warning in Pharaoh's court.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thanks through Haiku

Blogger now has a new "stats" feature that shows all sorts of information about who is looking at your blog. I found out some cool stuff! One of those things is that the number one referring website to mine is from my friend Neil Fleischmann's blog.

Neil and I share may traits, tastes and interests, and I appreciate that shout outs. (Shouts out?) I would like to thank Neil through his poetry form of choice, the Haiku.

Neil Fleichmann is cool
Life is felt by him deeply
Expresses it well

Thanks, man.

NY's Funniest Rabbi

Postings From An Eclectic Soul

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Role of Rabbis

Israel's latest tempest in a teapot is the controversy over a public Rabbinic decree banning the renting of homes to Arabs. You can catch up simply by doing a Google news search for the words "renting to Arabs". That's what I did, and you can see the results for yourself.

Many have complained about the edict. The issues of racism, and oversimplification of a complex halachic issue, have been written about extensively. Rightly so. I would like to emphasize another problematic aspect of the decree, that was alluded to in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's response

He complains, "...almost the entire unfolding of events that resulted from the dissemination of this letter was foreseeable and, to a large extent, obvious. The public furor, both social and ideological, the rift that has opened among the citizens of the state—between camps and within camps, the op-eds in the various media outlets, the various positions, often impassioned and overheated, the attack on the religious-Zionist rabbinate from the right and from the left, even from Torah giants—it was all foreseeable. One reads it and wonders what happened to the wisdom of those who are enjoined to consider future ramifications?" (the emphasis is mine) 

In Talmud study we often ask to find the essential point of contention between two perspectives. In this case, I would argue that Rav Aharon believes that the role of Rabbis is to bring Jews together on areas of consensus, and the authors of the ban see their role as defending particular ideological positions within society. 

Assuming that this is  correct, I would simply like to point out that Rav Aharon is speaking in the voice of Rav Kook, whereas the other camp has apparently abandoned Rav Kook's approach. This breaks my heart. Rather than belabor the point, I will simply quote the relevant piece from Rav Kook. Please read his words carefully, and ask yourself if 21st century Rabbis, including Religious Zionist Rabbis, follow his guidance. 

The Rabbinate

The rabbinate is that great spiritual force, that crucial force which always shaped public opinion in the Jewish world… In our era, however, it has been greatly damaged, and its influence has waned. This development has had a detrimental affect on every aspect of our collective lives… 

Now that we desire to reestablish and thoroughly repair our national lives, we must also implement deep and penetrating reforms into the rabbinate of Eretz Yisrael, to breathe new life into this essential, spiritual force… [into] a significant force that will influence every aspect of our national revival…
Rabbis must play a prominent role in Israel’s revival. They must work with the people in every facet of the building and the national restoration… A continuous, mutual connection must exist between the rabbinate and every productive force in the land.

[Rabbis must] constantly strive to bring people closer to each other and introduce a spirit of peace between all factions and parties, by way of the holy sentiments that are equally shared in every Jewish soul. 

Rabbis must stay far away from all factional disputes and differences, they must view everything in a positive light, focusing only on the side of every faction and every event. This way, they will be able to infuse a spirit of sanctity, faith and pure Jewish awareness into the nation’s entire collective existence, materially and spiritually.

HaRabbanut, Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, pp. 52-54

Rav Kook

Monday, November 15, 2010

Introversion and You?

Last week, standing in a packed crowd at a general admission Ben Folds' concert, my daughter had an epiphany.

"You look uncomfortable, Abba," Avigayil said, "maybe we should move to a less crowded spot. Boy, now I see why you say you're introverted. I'm so charged up by being in this massive crowd, and you just look miserable."


It's one of those classic catch-22s in life. It is difficult to explain what its like feeling safer in your own space, when by definition you are talking to someone outside it. As Tom Lehrer said about alienated people writing literature, "If you have trouble communicating with others, the very least you can do is to shut up."

So it is always a relief to find someone who expresses it well. I recently heard that Emily Dickenson once took herniece into her bedroom, locked the door with an imaginary key, and said, "Ah, Mattie, here's freedom!"

Gut gezukt.

She found the freedom she sought in her own mind, in her own thoughts, in her own creativity. This was expressed by her poetry and in her poetry.

          A fairer House than Prose-- 
          More numerous of Windows-- 
          Of Chambers as the Cedars-- 
          And for an Everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky-- 
          Of Visitors--the fairest-- 
          For Occupation--This-- 
          To gather Paradise--

Rav Kook described a very similar existence. As in most things, I find his words to be beyond comfort. Rav Soloveitchik teaches me new ways of looking at things, that deepen and change forever my religious inner life. Rav Kook speaks out of my own soul, telling me things I feel and neve knew that I felt. I don't know how I could be me without him. 

I've been having a few crazy, busy weeks. It is hard to recharge without the time for quiet inner-space.  Reading the quote below gives me strength. 

Orot Hakodesh III – The Ascent to Inner Greatness

There are great righteous persons who are imbued with higher dispositions, who feel oppressed in their inner soul, because they do not penetrate into the inner greatness of their spirit. They do not believe with full faith in the holiness of their aspirations, and therefore they do not recognize sufficiently the enlightenment represented by the wide embrace of their thoughts. They go about bowed because of the secular burden of the world’s folly, the anger of fools, which presses on them. 

For this reason they find themselves in a sea of spiritual afflictions. The narrow thoughts of the masses oppress their spirits, and they lack the strength to raise themselves to think their own thoughts, to affirm the firmness of their own will. 

But they must finally awaken from their slumber. With all their attitude of peace and respect for the behavior of the masses, they will return to God, who always reveals Himself to them through their special windows and lattices. 

If you aspire for the Torah, raise yourself and gird yourself to meet that higher sensibility which stirs inside your spirit. With all your movements, with all your speech, with all your burdens physical and spiritual, that are placed on you, be brave and look straight toward the light that is revealed to you through the lattice.

Emily Dickenson

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Soft Atheism III

Frans de Waal keeps it up: 

In reading the nearly 700 reader responses to my Oct. 17 essay for The Stone, (“Morals Without God?“) I notice how many readers are relieved to see that there are shades of gray when it comes to the question whether morality requires God. I believe that such a discussion needs to revolve around both the distant past, in which religion likely played little or no role if we go back far enough, and modern times, in which it is hard to disentangle morality and religion. The latter point seemed obvious to me, yet proved controversial. Even though 90 percent of my text questions the religious origins of human morality, and wonders if we need a God to be good, it is the other 10 percent — in which I tentatively assign a role to religion — that drew most ire. Atheists, it seems (at least those who responded here) don’t like any less than 100 percent agreement with their position...

...Those who wish to remove religion and define morality as the pursuit of scientifically defined well-being (à la Sam Harris) should read up on earlier attempts in this regard, such as the Utopian novel “Walden Two” by B. F. Skinner, who thought that humans could achieve greater happiness and productivity if they just paid better attention to the science of reward and punishment. Skinner’s colleague John Watson even envisioned “baby factories” that would dispense with the “mawkish” emotions humans are prone to, an idea applied with disastrous consequences in Romanian orphanages. And talking of Romania, was not the entire Communist experiment an attempt at a society without God? Apart from the question of how moral these societies turned out to be, I find it intriguing that over time Communism began to look more and more like a religion itself. The singing, marching, reciting of poems and pledges and waving in the air of Little Red Books smacked of holy fervor, hence my remark that any movement that tries to promote a certain moral agenda — even while denying God — will soon look like any old religion. Since people look up to those perceived as more knowledgeable, anyone who wants to promote a certain social agenda, even one based on science, will inevitably come face to face with the human tendency to follow leaders and let them do the thinking.
What I would love to see is a debate among moderates. Perhaps it is an illusion that this can be achieved on the Internet, given how it magnifies disagreements, but I do think that most people will be open to a debate that respects both the beliefs held by many and the triumphs of science. There is no obligation for non-religious people to hate religion, and many believers are open to interrogating their own convictions. If the radicals on both ends are unable to talk with each other, this should not keep the rest of us from doing so.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soft Atheism II

My previous post was (renamed) a defense of soft atheism. By that I mean a not religious thinker who sees the value of religion and what it has to offer society. This is the type of thinking that engages me. I wanted to present another example, this time from a Jewish perspective. (In the future, I intend to post examples of the same approach from the opposite perspective)

Below is part of an essay by Aaron David Gordon. Making Aliya at age 47, he was a relatively ancient chalutz. (pioneer) His thoughts on Jewish labor defined the zeitgeist of the second aliya. Below is from an essay where he argues that Judaism has value, even to the "new" to secular Jews of modern Israel. Are his comments less relevant today?

Yom Kippur (1920)
I ask myself, and I wonder whether I am alone in this question: What is Yom Kippur to us, to those who do not observe the forms of religion? Facing me are a fact and a possibility. It is a fact that for many generations it was a day which the entire people dedicated to repentance, prayer, and the service of the heart. It presented a possibility to spiritually sensitive people to make their inner reckoning on the loftiest plane.
I ask: Is this day for us merely a heritage from the past, a remnant of antiquity? Do we really need such a day, especially as part of the national culture we are creating? If this day ceases to be what it has been- if it becomes an ordinary day like all others- will this not represent a great national and human loss, a spiritual disaster from which none of us, neither the people as a whole, nor we, its individual children, can ever recover?
…During all our long exile we existed by the by the strength of our religion. Is sustained us in our grave and prolonged suffering and inspired us to live- often to live heroically. Is it possible, can the mind entertain the possibility, that such a force is the mere figment of the imagination, of the ramblings of an ignorant soul, and that it possesses no elemental and lasting core? Has the accepted idea been sufficiently examined and analyzed critically- is it sufficiently founded in logic and the human spirit- that with the loss of the basis for blind faith the basis for religion has also been destroyed?

A.D. Gordon

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In Defense of Soft Atheism

You can read the entire article, but this is the part that caught my interest the most. It is reasonable and balanced. It reminded me of the wisdom of Stephen Jay Gould, OB"M, on the subject. I think it articulates his idea of Non-Overlapping Majesteria, and argues against the pugnacious atheism of Hitchens and Dawkins. Below is the section of the article by Frans de Waal. 

The Atheist Dilemma
Over the past few years, we have gotten used to a strident atheism arguing that God is not great (Christopher Hitchens) or a delusion (Richard Dawkins). The new atheists call themselves “brights,” thus hinting that believers are not so bright. They urge trust in science, and want to root ethics in a naturalistic worldview.
While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer? Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.
Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.
Bosch struggled with the same issue — not with being an atheist, which was not an option — but science’s place in society. The little figures in his paintings with inverted funnels on their heads or the buildings in the form of flasks, distillation bottles, and furnaces reference chemical equipment.[4] Alchemy was gaining ground yet mixed with the occult and full of charlatans and quacks, which Bosch depicted with great humor in front of gullible audiences. Alchemy turned into science when it liberated itself from these influences and developed self-correcting procedures to deal with flawed or fabricated data. But science’s contribution to a moral society, if any, remains a question mark.
Other primates have of course none of these problems, but even they strive for a certain kind of society. For example, female chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community. I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good. Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unintentially Hilarious Press Conference

 Check out the great coverage of a crazy press conference in the Times.

What are the odds that this won't be on The Daily Show?

My two favorite parts are the "folded like a cheap camera" (?!) line, and the miracle where a bite of kosher pastrami became kosher salami when lodged in the throat.

As for the former: Don't these guys run 47th street photo? What kind of weird folding cameras do they sell there?

As for the latter: Is that some kind of weird Jewish version of transubstantiation? (link provided - nothing's better than a joke that needs explanation)

Thank you, I'm here all week. Try the veal.

And hey, you stay classy San Diego.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Our Brush With Greatness:

First of all, if you're not listening to Jill Sobule's music, you're really missing out. What are you waiting for? You can feel free to learn more about her on her website, her wiki or amazon page.
But this is not my point. Last year she blogged about feeling bad for forgetting that it was Yom Kippur. I remembered about it this year, and sent her a facebook message to remind her. Well, Jill is such a nice, down-to-earth person, that she sent me a thank you response. How cool is that? But wait, there's more!

Dara and I went to see her show in Pittsburgh last night. It was terrific and well worth the drive. (True, we sat in a section surrounded by lesbian couples. While this was not our usual crowd, we shmoozed and had a great time getting to know a lovely couple)

Jill hangs out after the show to sign autographs, take pictures and such. When she saw us, we had the following conversation:

Jill: Oh, hi!
Mike: Hi, Jill! We're here from Cleveland! Great show!
Jill: Thanks! Oh, and I love your website!
Dara and Mike: uh... what?
Jill: Well, when you reminded me about Yom Kippur, I searched around to see who you were. (I spend way too much time on the internets) I saw you have a bunch of videos, and I watched that one where you spoof the Office.
Dara and Mike: uh... wait. What?
Jill: Yeah, it was funny. It must be great to go to a school where the teachers can be so goofy around the kids. It seems like such a nice place.
Mike: (stunned silence – mouth open like a moron)
Dara: Oh my gosh! Forget his day, you just made his life!

There was a bit more shmoozing, she signed our ticket and we took a picture. I told her it made me sad when she called herself a bad Jew last year, and she shouldn’t say that. But how cool is it that Jill Sobule watched our dumb Mizrachi Purim video?

This morning I sent her another message on Facebook:

"Sorry your evening ended so crummy last night after Pittsburgh. (She wrote on Facebook that her hotel had bedbugs, so they had to find another one) We had the best time.

By the way, I think that you represent the best parts of what it is to be Jewish. Your empathy and sense of social justice, (the stuff Woody Guthrie liked about Judaism) as well as your wit, intelligence and sense of humor. (um, I guess that's the Arlo Guthrie part? Nah, maybe Tom Lehrer)

Anyway, my colleagues are freaking out that you liked our video. Its one of my top two brushes with greatness! (and I once got a bear hug from Richie Havens!)

Thanks again, Jill! Great show!"
Appendix: The rest of the story:   Jill and her Mom respond.
Jill Sobule October 14 at 6:50pm Reply Report
Tom Lehrer? I love him! You guys are so sweet and too cute. And from now on I will consider myself a very good Jew.

xo, jill 
Dara Unterberg October 14 at 8:45pm Reply Report
i agree with michael! we enjoy your music so much! you know, we can probably arrange for you to have a cameo in our next video! :) 
Michael Naftali Unterberg October 15 at 9:02am
Yay! You go, Jill

    • Elaine Dillon I am so glad you are a fan of Jills. A little religion would not hurt either one of us. Elaine, Jills mom

    • Michael Naftali Unterberg Thanks, Elaine! And we could all use a lot more music!
      5 hours ago ·

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

So you want to be politically moderate...

... but you don't know how. I mean, those maniacs are going to destroy this country! Their policies are just the first step in turning our society into a (fascist state/communist hell). Their (right wing wacko/ bleeding heart liberal) philosophy will lead us to complete ruin and steal our country out from under us! I know that we have many challenges ahead of us, and the only way to tackle these problems is to get past partisan bickering and buckle down to find solutions. But how do we work on the same team as those nut job ideologues?!

Well, slow down, cowboy. Chillax. Exhale. What we have for you today is an intellectual toolkit that will help you get some perspective. Maybe it will even help see the world in a more balanced way! And being a moderate is just like being an extremist. But without the hysteria and myopia!All you have to do is follow these 5 easy steps!

1) Don't confuse values with tactics: This one tends to get overlooked. Let's start with an example. Most of us agree that charity is good. We also agree that bureaucracy is inefficient. The question that divides us is how much, if at all, government should be involved in helping the poor. Its a question of where to draw the line, and reasonable people can choose just about any spot on the spectrum. Why view that discussion as a clash of values, when it is clearly one of tactics? The statement, "Government should not be involved in welfare - it should be handled by communities", may sound like a value statement because it used the word "should". But really its a tactical position. If I disagree with your tactics, we can discuss our disagreements much more fruitfully than if we don't even share the same values. Apply to other examples. Discuss. Lather, rinse, repeat.

2) Start with where we agree: This one kind of spills off the previous one. When considering any issue, start the discussion with the obvious truths or common values that unite both sides. For example, I think we can all agree that the deficit needs to be reduced. We can also agree that WPA style investment of government money can create much needed jobs and help the infrastructure. So how do we decide what to do? We agree on both of those opposites, but they contradict! Well, if intelligent reasonable people brainstorm all possible solutions, and then choose the best ones by vote, maybe we could get somewhere. That sounds reasonable. Wouldn't it be cool if we had a group of people like that in this country? Maybe it could even be bicameral! I love it when things are bicameral!

3) Its the ideology, stupid: This one flows from the previous two. We recognize that we have ideological bias. That's a really useful thing. When people share values, the solutions that they brainstorm will come out of their ideological bias. This will lead to a broader set of solutions than if an ideologically homogeneous group tries to come up with ideas. Once the ideas are on the table, they should all be weighed for their practical use as objectively as possible. At this point of choosing tactics, ideology should be pushed aside as much as possible, and pragmatism should reign supreme. Isn't that cool? You can be an ideologue brain-stormer at one stage, and then shift to pragmatic problem solving in the next. It just that easy! (void where prohibited - batteries not included)

4) Everybody is doing their best: A pretty basic one actually. Just skip right past the ad hominem stuff. Assume that everybody has the best of intentions at heart. Although we disagree, we both want the best for everybody. Is there evil in the world? Are there true villains? Sure, there's no denying it. But unless proved otherwise, (usually in a court of law) you can assume that your fellow countryman engaged in political discourse isn't one of them. The democratic process is based on the idea that people of goodwill will disagree. You will therefore have many opponents, but hopefully few enemies. Does your opponent have other motives influencing their judgment? Good question! Here are two more. Are they human? Do you have many motives influencing your judgment? So just suck it up and be a mensch, will ya'? You'll be surprised not only by how much the conversation improves, but by how much you can get done.

5) Perspective, perspective, perspective: You must have known that this one was coming, but it does follow the others. Just calm down and don't exaggerate. You don't have to always make your case using end of the world, doomsday scenario, slippery slope, reductio ad absurdum arguments. Just suck up your need to vent your emotional frustration, and make your case as reasonably and logically as you can. Don't you agree that people who can't do that are ruining our country, leading us into the pit in their evil plan for world destruction! You don't? Awesome! Then you're well on your way.

Well, that's really it. The whole dealio. It may take some repeated focus and application. It applies in any country, organization or group. I there are other humans involved, you should find this list handy. You can use this kit as you see fit, in whatever order or combination you see fit. You're welcome to practice with me if you like. If you don't want to, that's ok too. But I doubt that I'll be discussing politics with you in the near future. I have blood pressure to keep down, after all.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My life as an Israel advocacy coach...

Someone I know posted this as their status on facebook,
An Israeli military court convicts two Israeli soldiers for using a Palestinian child as a human shield during an assault on Gaza in 2009.

is there truth to this article/finding? I am a little confused on how to defend Israel about this?

Jennifer Goldberg
Great question, Jennifer! In a sense, what is there to defend? Two soldiers did the wrong thing, which was against tzahal's rules. They were tried and convicted by a military court.

A country can't be expected to have no citizens or soldiers who break the rules. It should be judged by how it deals with it when it happens. When soldiers endanger a little boy who ends up safe, they are convicted and punished. When Palestinian terrorists kill civilians, the Palestinian authority names streets for them. That's the problem in a nutshell.

By the way, what other country handles cases like that so well. Can America boast the same record of swift judgement and punishment? Look at Abu graib, or better yet, my lai in Vietnam!

I see a story like this as very sad and tragic, but it does make me proud of israel and tzahal for maintaining their high moral standard.

Hope senior year is going well!
Thank you so much, this one girl keeps posting these anti-Israel links from BBC news and its just bothersome.
Here's an example from today's NYTimes: 
Members of Sgt. Calvin Gibbs’s unit in Afghanistan paint a picture of him as the ringleader of murders of Afghan civilians for sport and the intimidation of fellow soldiers to keep quiet.
That is very interesting, I don't want to bother you but this is the continuation of the post:

Rachel X
i completely understand israel's view on the subject. however, that does not mean i'm going to agree with it. i actually posted this story because i was impressed with the way they handled this one considering the way they have dealt with t...hese issues in the past. these soldiers did something horribly wrong and of course a country can't be expected to have perfect citizens. a military court would not be necessary if their soldiers behaved the way that they should. i'm glad they found the soldiers guilty, as one of israel's favorite criticism of palestine is that their civilians that fight back use children as shields (even though it's just as common for israel). israel handled this one well, as i said before, which is why i shared it. i'm not saying the u.s. always handles things well by any means. we handles things horribly on many occasions. but israel happens to handle many of their cases worse than the u.s. does. a great example is of the soldier who got a slap on the wrist for shooting a little girl 17 times, some shots in close range into her skull. i have some serious issues with the ethics of the israeli miliary and while i will voice my opinion when they do so, i will also put up stories like these when i'm actually impressed with their actions

Abdul X:
Impressive? Do we really set such low moral expectations for the IDF so that the one time they decide to confront ONE of the many acts of murder and corruption, we praise them? What about the numerous accounts of soldiers blindly murdering ...innocent children which have yet to be held accountable? What of the man who was shot dead by the IDF for jumping over the ILLEGAL border fence. Continued Home demolition? Expansion? Occupation? Democracy..? Please, more like totalitarian state based off military campaigns and bloodshed.

http://www.btselem.org/english/human_shields/20060720_human_shields_in_beit_hanun.aspSee More

Rachel X:
Abdul, as you already know, I agree with you. However, if someone is constantly doing something you disagree with and they finally do something right, I think it's better to let them know that you're happy with them. And sadly yes, considering what they've done in the past, we do have a low moral standard for them sadly. It's the precedent that they set for themselves. It's our only expectation.
I would recommend not basing one's opinion only on accusations on the internet. It is important to meet both Israelis and Arabs and get a real sense of what's going on.

The Arabs clearly need great improvement in their lives economically, politically and socially. And the faster the better. When you meet average Arabs, as we have, you see they are normal people with healthy hopes and dreams like anyone else. There is real suffering that needs to be alleviated. There is also a strong extremist element undermining that progress, and moderates from within must speak out to stop them.

When you meet Israelis, including soldiers, (as we have) you also see that they are warm, wonderful, normal people with healthy hopes and dreams. There are certainly extremists trying to undermine peace, and load powerful moderate voices in all aspects of Israeli life fighting against them.

Rather than blaming one side or the other, it will be more productive to encourage the voices of moderation on both sides. For example, the Palestinians need help getting their own Btselem type organization running to protest abuses from their leaders. And they need clergy who openly protest acts of violence against Israelis, like the kind you see in the following article.

Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Shlomo Riskin among those that visit mosque; bring new copies of Koran to replace those that were burned.

There will always be extremists in every camp. Let's focus on the hard work being done by people of good will on both sides, and celebrate and encourage it. Let's not be anti-Israeli or Palestinian. Let's be pro-both. I think that's what Rachel is getting at in her last comment, and I commend her for that. 
she posted back with a lot of untrue history..

this is what it said,,i havent had the time to respond thought

you act as if i've never met an israeli before. trust me, i've met plenty and i have no problem with them. in fact, one of my best friends is israeli and i love her to death. however, just because there are israelis that are good people doe...sn't mean that their government is good. there are plenty of iranian people who are good people, but that doesn't mean i like ahmadinejad.

there is one very important difference to see in this issue. israel is a country blessed with a strong military and loads of money (coming from themselves and other countries). they have a stable government recognized internationally. they have the backing of the strongest military in the world and receive billions a year from the united states. the palestinians on the other hand have no military. they are extremely poor, which as you know always leads to violence as it has in many other countries. they have two small areas of land so they are a completed divided nation physically. they appeal annually to the united nations to become a country and are rejected year after year. they do not have the support of the united states, which makes their situation very difficult. think about the situation of the palestinian people for a moment. they have no military and are up against the 6th most powerful military in the world (which has the backing of the #1 military). a country was built in the middle of their country without one thought of concern for their people. settlements are continually built on their land, causing even more poverty. yes, there are israelis that will speak out against their government's actions on the palestinians and i think that's wonderful. however, the israeli government itself won't even freeze construction of illegal settlements that contribute to so many issues in the peace process. while i don't agree with actions taken by hamas, i struggle to think to myself that i wouldn't support their actions if i were in the shoes of palestinians. they have no one else to back them, so who do you expect them to turn to? again, i'm not blaming every israeli soldier (if i was, i'd be blaming every citizen of israel), nor am i saying the palestinian leaders are without any kind of blame. however, i'm blaming the actions of the israeli government. two completely different things.

and yes, my point in posting this article was to focus on good will. however, just focusing on good will doesn't make the issue just go away. you do have to focus on the bad if you ever hope to fix anything. and i'm not anti-israeli. i think they have a corrupt government, which can be said of many many many countries around the world.



Its true that Israel is more powerful. That is what makes it so frustrating when every time Israel tries to offer a compromise they are rebuffed. With all of Israel's power, why is there a PA at all? If Israel want to crush the Palestinians, and is willing to commit war crimes to do it, why are there millions of Palestinians living there lives? When you visit their towns in the West Bank, you see poverty - true. But you also see schools, people going to work, stores and restaurants, etc. They have police armed with weapons provided by Israelis, use Israeli health care, and go to Universities built under Israeli rule. They have no state and continue to be occupied in the West bank because when they were offered 97% of it in 2000, they rejected the offer.

By the way, Hamas operates out of Gaza, which is not occupied. Hamas should be building factories and infrastructure, not weapon bunkers. Their goal is not only to liberate Palestinians, but to destroy Israel. I have sympathy for the former, not the latter.

The Palestinians need to recognize that they will live in a state next to a Jewish state, and accept that. It will be in the West Bank and Gaza. The two state solution was voted for by the UN in 1947, and nobody has found a better plan yet. Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, and has offered withdrawal from the West Bank. (with land exchanged)

The Israeli government is certainly not blameless. All governments will do things wrong. But the Israeli government is trying to find a solution with a group that won't recognize its right to be a Jewish state, (Fatah) which can at any time lose control of the Palestinian people to another group that beat them in a free election and demand the complete destruction of Israel. (Hamas)

And imagine if the Palestinians only used peaceful protest. Wouldn't their cause be much further? Israel would have no excuses and the international pressure on it would be unbearable.

Criticizing Israel is right and good. Blame is a strong word, and I would suggest that it clouds the difficult spot they are in. Would another democracy do as well in their position? Would another democracy allow 1 million arabs to be citizens of their state, be members of Parliament and openly criticize the state itself?

Israelis are terrified to offer peace. After the offer in 2000 there was no Palestinian counter offer or negotiation, just the second intifada that left hundreds of dead Israelis. They withdrew from Gaza, and where hit by thousands of rockets. The government has to convince them that this time it will be different, and genuine peace talks will lead to genuine peace. This will not be easy. Is the Israeli government perfect? Far from it. Are they in a tough position with a seemingly insurmountable challenge?

There is enough blame to go around. I can blame the Palestinians for rejecting compromise and embracing terror. You can blame Israel for the occupation. And we are right where we started.

From the tone of Rachel's writing, she seems like an impressive person. She is respectful, insightful, passionate and polite. That is the makings of a great political conversation. And I think her looking at the issue from the perspective of Palestinians is the right thing to do. She also looks at it from the perspective of average Israelis, which is beyond great. Its rare to find someone willing to look at both sides like that.

Part of understanding the issue is to also look at the perspectives of both governments. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ambassador Michael Oren Q&A on Vimeo

He does such a great job. See for yourself:

Ambassador Michael Oren Q&A on Vimeo

Honestly, I didn't think there was an argument to be had when I posted this.

Michael Naftali Unterberg

Michael Naftali Unterberg Hey! I'm in the news!

    • Marcy Spiegel Oster As long as you do not make the news.
      23 hours ago ·
    • Raquel Shamula Mishaan Bravo!!! Great way to make the news!!
      23 hours ago ·
    • Michael Naftali Unterberg Hmm. How do I respond to contradictory comments?
      Thanks, guys!
      23 hours ago ·
    • Raquel Shamula Mishaan Love what you said, Love that you had the guts to say it....posted it on my wall.
      23 hours ago ·
    • Alan Stadtmauer Very nice!
      23 hours ago · · 2 peopleLoading...
    • Raquel Shamula Mishaan oh...wow....we need Rabbis like Mike here in Flatbush
      23 hours ago ·
    • David Giller Impressive!
      23 hours ago ·
    • Lynda Steiner We read all about you on Friday.
      21 hours ago ·
    • Jocelyn Eckert “Trembling Before G-d” definitely made me look at the world differently; it's very cool that you made your class watch it.
      21 hours ago ·
    • Gabrielle Unterberg yay, abba!
      21 hours ago ·
    • Michelle Sanit Awesome!! :)
      20 hours ago ·
    • Abe Adler I knew I should have not have cancelled my subscription to Cleveland Jewish News!! Can you send me a signed copy so I can say I remember when....?
      20 hours ago ·
    • Neil Parks
      There is nothing wrong with "Don't ask; don't tell." What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes is their own business.

      If two members of the same sex share a home, I don't care whether they are a gay couple or merely an "od...d couple", and I don't need to know.

      If a Jew has a strong yetzer hora to eat pork, or to desecrate Shabbos, or to engage in a form of intimacy which the Torah prohibits, fine. Do whatever you want to do, but don't flaunt it in my face.
      See More
      20 hours ago ·
    • Jenny Drummer Salman Kol Hakavod, Michael.
      20 hours ago ·
    • Aaron Berger
      (of course you knew I couldn't just let this one pass)
      I'm all for treating everyone with respect, and what a person does in his bedroom doesn't concern me any more than any other mitzvot bein adam l'makom. And so, if someone quietly en...gages in homosexual activity, I agree that it's wrong to discriminate against such an individual.
      However, in the instance of someone who is openly violating a negative transgression, how can we condone such behavior?
      See More
      20 hours ago ·
    • Michael Naftali Unterberg God has not asked me to condone or condemn anyone. Has has asked me to love and treat my neighbor as myself. I obey His command. Most Jews violate most commandments, and most do so openly. My obligation remains the same to all, and I can't imagine any policy decision more important than that.
    • Joshua Caruso Michael, my favorite quote is "people are not taboo". Indeed, many gays and lesbians do not feel respected as people, and alienation occurs when they are treated as if they are "mukseh".
      19 hours ago ·
    • Michael Naftali Unterberg Thanks, Josh. Well put.
      19 hours ago ·
    • Aaron Berger Mike:
      Isn't there a difference between someone who violates Shabbat (even in public), and someone who advertises that he happily violates Shabbat and encourages others who violate Shabbat to join him?
      19 hours ago ·
    • Michael Naftali Unterberg
      First of all, I think the analogy is way off for several reasons.

      Regardless, the answer is no, my halachic obligation remains the same.
      And frankly, I'm much more troubled by the problem that Josh raises than principle that you raise. Real ...people are more important than arguable theoretical points.See More
      19 hours ago ·
    • Martha Brandt-Pollock Your usual clarity and insightful reasoning mixed with history, Hashem, and the experience of love, learning, and life. Miss you so much.
      15 hours ago ·
    • Michael Naftali Unterberg Thanks, Martha. Miss you too. ( and thanks for not picking on my poor writing) ;)
      15 hours ago ·
    • Ryan Kuhel Amen. Too much hate exists in the world already. No need to add any more.
      12 hours ago ·