Sunday, January 25, 2009

These And These Are The Words of the Living God

I owe thanks to Anonymous, G, and R' Gil Student for recommending that I read The Dynamics of Dispute: The Makings of Machlokess in Talmudic Times by Rabbi Zvi Lampel. The book has proved invaluable to me.

CORRECTION: Contrary to what I had thought, in fact the book IS in print, in a brand new edition! It is available from Judaica Press, or should be available in your local Sefarim store.

There is one particular chapter that I think should be xeroxed and handed out to every single Jewish teacher in every elementary school, high school or other place of learning. This is the chapter on the meaning of "Eilu V'Eilu," namely the adage that "These and These Are The Words of the Living God." It is Chapter 11. Having had this fight as recently as last year with a teacher I otherwise highly esteem, this chapter beautifully answered my questions as to the ways in which this adage can be understood, and the correct (and incorrect) application thereof.

Lampel includes a review section which reviews the differing opinions of leading figures as to how to understand the meaning of "These and These." I have reproduced it below, although one really ought and must read the entire chapter to understand how these viewpoints are formulated (he carefully provides both the Hebrew text and English translation in order to demonstrate how these points of view are derived).


The following is a brief summary of the explanations we have quoted for the meaning of "These and those are the words of the Living God."

Rav Yisroel Salanter: All valid attempts to reconstruct what Hashem told Moses are subsumed under the title of "Torah," including the opinions that are ultimately nullified as halacha.

The Yahm Shel Shlomo: Since a Sage's conclusions conform to sound logic, they are as valid and holy as the explicit words of Hashem. The kabballistic teaching that all souls were present at Mount Sinai and each perceived the Torah through one of forty-nine conduits supports this position.

Ritva (Eurvin 13a) and Tosefos Shantz (Aid'yos 1:5) cite another kabballistic teaching that Moses was shown forty-nine arguments to each side of an issue (totaling ninety-eight arguments to each issue) and was told that the decision was entrusted to the future Sages. We have suggested that we may here apply Rashi's understanding (Menachos 29b) that this happened prior to Moses' receiving the Torah. Thus, "These and those" positions conform to human logic and even the Will of Hashem before He prescribed the limitations and parameters of halacha.

Rashi according to our first understanding: Perceptions are subjective. Trust the perception of present reality determined by your authority, though another's perception may be different, because it is a true "reality."

Rashi according to our second understanding: The situations the Sages are ruling on are not really identical, and all authorities would agree on how to rule in any given time. Disputes across generations are only apparently disputes.

The Ohr Gedaliahu: There is a single unifying formula which really produces opposite results in different circumstances.

Drashos HaRan: Each opinion is potentially the official halacha, and the decided halacha is the one we must obey- whether it is true or false- because chances are that the decisions do conform to the "original intent" and the benefits we accrue by obeying the Sages outweigh and counteract the risk of harm.

Tosefos: Regarding opposite reports of past occurrences, there are elements even of Absolute Truth to each side of a machlokess, though one is dominant and the others recessive (the Maharal of Prague's concept of "They were all given by one Shepherd"). Whereas one version reports a tradition describing the actual event, the other reports a tradition of a strongly considered action.

Maharal of Prague: Two statuses are actually equally present. Neither one is recessive, neither one is dominant. This was true only of some machlokos, the first of which were those of Bes Shammai and Bes Hillel.

Rashi according to our third understanding: All the criteria and considerations introduced by disputing Sages play a role in determining absolute truth, although in each individual situation the aplicability of these factors changes, thereby changing the situation's status in terms of absolute truth. (However, such unstable and subtle considerations are too complex and cumbersome to be allowed in practical halachic decision-making, and opposite reports about the proper halacha and the proper criteria for determining it cannot both be correct.)


This review of how our classical commentators understood the adage "Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim Heim, These and those are the words of the Living God," showed that there are different ways in which it could be understood. But we can state unequivically that according to all, neither Hashem when He originally established the halacha nor Moses when he transmitted it, stated more than one halacha for a given case. So far as the halacha l'maaseh, the practical law that we should follow is concerned, two or more opposing Sages cannot both be stating what their teacher, or teacher's teacher, or Moses or Hashem originally said.

If Hashem told Moses that the law is one way, someone saying otherwise simply does not conform to that law. In this aspect, we cannot say that he is "right." "These and those" does not mean that. Nor does it mean that two Sages disagreeing over the meaning of another Sage's statements are both conforming to his actual intention. If their opinions are mutually exclusive, then that just cannot be. And we cannot imagine that two students could be both correct if they disagree over what their teacher's very words were. The opposite statements could not have issued verbally from their teacher's mouth at the same time. In all such cases, someone must be mistaken.

~The Dynamics of Dispute, Chapter 11, pages 224-226

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

God's Plan

How strange to discover the way I've always felt in a book published in 1970. Our world and its creation, our scientific advances and everything about us in the end are for naught, quite like Ecclesiastes declares. We'll be brought to completion, the Messiah will come, and then a new world will dawn, with its new inhabitants, mission, and its own quest for the Messiah. And so it will happen, time and time again, for eternity.


"After what I heard in that courtroom," Abe said, "after learning what people can be made to do to people and after the holocaust seeing it still go on and on, I feel that we are wrecking our world beyond our ability to save ourselves. We have polluted our planet, and the creatures who live on it. I swear to God, and we have destroyed each other. I think we've run out of time, and space, and I think it's not a case of if it is going to happen, it's only a matter of when. And from the way we're behaving, I think God is getting very impatient."

"Oh, God is patient enough," Thomas Bannister said. "You see, we mortals are so pompous that we have deluded ourselves into believing that in all of eternity, and all of the vast universe, that we are the only ones who have undergone the human experience. I've always believed that it's happened here before, on this very earth."


"Well, in God's scheme what is a few billion years, here and there. Perhaps there have come and gone a dozen human civilizations in the past billion years that we know nothing about. And after this civilization we are living in destroys itself, it will all start up again in a few hundred million years when the planet has all its messes cleaned up. Then, finally, one of those civilizations, say five billion years from now, will last for eternity because people will treat each other the way they ought to."

~QB VII by Leon Uris, 424-425

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


There is an entire world we do not know and understand, and that is the world that exists in filth, in slime, in dust, in dirt, in squalor.

Squalor. The very meaning of the word is forbidden. We don't even show it in the movies. Carnage, yes, blood, yes, but artfully spattered blood, decorative and symbolic. A smudge across an iconic soldier's face. A carefully timed defiant yell. Where the life, the humanity, the slime, the dirt, the sewage, the feces, the filth, the vomit; where is everything that truly depicts life, in its darkest and ugliest moments?

In our appreciation of beauty, we must not forget the shocking ugliness that can be our lot. We don't understand people who live in shadows, in slime, in dirt; we have an obsessive desire for cleanliness. Even the Metro system here in New York, even the subway stops and the MTA for the most part, is clean in that way. One does not slog through swamps of filth, sleep in grimy clothes, not shower for weeks. One does not learn what it is like to feel like less than a human being...unless, of course, one is in the army or homeless. But there is an entire facet of life we don't understand and won't understand; it's the kind of thing that may appear to resonate, for a moment, in the luminescence of words as they sparkle on a page, but it will never truly resonate until we face our fear of...not the painful, but merely the grotesque, the disgusting, the leper with his oozing sores, suppurating and pus-filled, the drunkard lying in his vomit. The colorful scenes of life we have tried to hide away in our desire to provide a cleanliness that manages to sterilize our world. To be clean is no crime; to try to sterilize life is. Because life is sometimes lived best in these raw, ugly moments, with the blood and pus and dirt and scum and slime.

We are privileged here in America and most of us will never even know how privileged because we'll never venture somewhere that doesn't have a shower, running water, and other methods to retain cleanliness. That's not a sin; it's merely a fact. What it means is that a whole aspect of the human experience has been closed off from us, that we simply do not understand squalor. Ugly, disgusting, filthy, loathesome, suppurating squalor...and yet, that too is part of life. And as we fail to understand that, we also fail to understand other natural functions, such as the mother giving birth; that too becomes covered in our queasy layer of detachment and desire for sterilization, to know as little as possible about the body, its functions, its crevices and nooks and crannies, its glistening layers of tissue, its beautiful construction.

There is beauty even in squalor, even if it be the too-cloying scent of a rotting fruit on its way to decay which simultaneously attracts as well as repels. And certainly, certainly in every natural life function there is a great and terrible beauty, human fluids or feces or other secretions notwithstanding.

Would if we had a world that understood natural functions and did not feel pressed to hide them away....hiding away the slaughter of an animal, the flies feasting on its dead body, subsequent decay...smells we cannot bear because we are no longer used to them, having replaced them with the polluted scent of smoke and artificial's not that everyone should walk around painted in blood, with dirt on one's hand and nose, but there should be an appreciation for the natural and the way the world works, even if, due to our weak dispositions, we have chosen to hide that ugliness far away.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


When first we come into the world, we do not see them as separate from us. Indeed, the only reason they exist is because we do. Their functionality is entirely dependant upon ours. Our god and goddess, Mother and Father, grant us everything we need- safety, security, love, food, someone to hold us close when we are scared and to comfort us when the night comes creeping in. Indeed, some of us believe they truly are immortal. I myself believed that parents never got sick. I had never seen my mother sick, and the first time I did, evidenced by the tissues floating around her bed and the used box of Kleenex beside her, I will never forget the horror and doubt that assailed me. Could that be she? Could it be her? And terrified, I did not know what to do. My fear knew no bounds. If Mommy could get sick, then the world had shattered. And this was not something that only happened when I was younger, 10 or so, but any time my parents suddenly became human, less than entirely capable, crying out in pain. For one who expected her parents to act as caregivers, I did not understand their ability to exist outside myself, to feel pain that was not mine, to have lives I did not know about, a past I did not understand.

There comes that moment for all of us, that break with the reality we thought we knew as we walk into one which is murkier, darker. With our parents, it is perhaps the strongest, that moment in which we suddenly step outside ourselves and realize these are people, too, people who have been shaped and who have had the forces of the world act upon them, people as weak and strong and fickle and stubborn as I, who have been hurt in much the same manner. Yet they chose, did they not, to get married anyway, and to bring me into the world, and so it becomes my duty and desire to learn as much as I can about them in my desire to understand, to delve into a world ever becoming clearer, to begin to know who they are beneath that surface- who these people whom I can almost see might be.

And it is on that journey of discovery, of understanding who one's parents are and how their past has affected them, changed them, molded them, that you also come to understand yourself. Learning about them leads to a sense of compassion, sensitivity, that you did not have before during all your fights and angry outbursts, when all you could see was the controlling figure and the one being controlled, the person protesting against your being fresh when you had no idea what they were referring to, the authorizer and authenticator. Suddenly you see a little boy behind the man's eyes, the little girl behind the woman's, and a wave of sadness and nausea overtake you and quietly, you learn to act better, or differently at least, because you are seeing the people, finally, the ones who do not quite let you know them all the way, for there must always be boundaries in a relationship like yours, but who nevertheless allow you glimpses, so that you catch what is remarkable and hide it away.

Far be it from you to ever remark upon it! Your parents will forever remain a source of contention, disgrace, and alternatively pride, but you will not give them the satisfaction of knowing it. The way you talk about them when they are not present is rarely the way you talk to them face-to-face; your anger or fury overtakes you then, at that times when you are fighting, and you say vile things, hurtful things, and later you are ashamed but won't take it back so as to save face. When you don't understand your parents, you tend to be less careful of them, and less able to see them truly. You don't understand what's making your mother act this way, or why your father won't permit you to do this simple thing that everyone else's parents allow them to do. You don't understand and you find it hurtful, and so you retaliate- because you haven't looked deep enough.

For everything there is a reason. One doesn't necessarily always know the reason; it's difficult to find, difficult to search out. But there's a reason people are the way they are, and that reason can be as divergent as drugs or genes or compassion or the lack thereof or growing up during hard times. Now, that reason may lead to different people. There's no book that explains that better than Stephen Chbosky's the perks of being a wallflower, where he says:

"But it's like when my doctor told me the story of these two brothers whose dad was a bad alcoholic. One brother grew up to be a successful carpenter who never drank. The other brother ended up being a drinker as bad as his dad was. When they asked the first brother why he didn't drink, he said that after he saw what it did to his father, he could never bring himself to even try it. When they asked the other brother, he said that he guessed he learned how to drink on his father's knee. So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we came from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them."

~the perks of being a wallflower, 211

Now, some people have the luck to be able to do that, and some people don't. But people don't just sprout up out of the ground fully-formed and act as they do without there being some kind of reason behind it, whether it's the wiring in their brains or the way they were trained up to be. The point is, once you understand the reason behind why they act the way they do, it's a lot easier to be tender towards them, because now you're on the same page. And you're no longer facing a controlling adult, but rather someone who was beaten up and bruised and hurt badly by this world, just like you're being hurt by it, and came up with some solutions and some answers and some ways to take on the world because of it. And maybe those weren't the right ways, but those were the ways he figured out, and the ones he's teaching you, and you're going to have to figure out one day whether those ways work for you, and decide to walk his path or a different long as you're tender about it.

It's the ones you love best that you hurt the most, for "each man kills the thing he loves," as Wilde said. That's possibly the saddest passage of the whole poem; it resonates often in my mind.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

Who do we hurt more than those whom we trust to forgive us for it? One wouldn't upset a potential employer at a job interview, or someone you'd just met, because that wouldn't be logical. But one's parents? One's family or friends? It's easy to hurt them, because they'll take you back anyway. And sometimes it's worth it to wonder- do I know them? Do I know this man I'm yelling at; do I understand this woman? Do I really know them? Do I know what their hopes and dreams were, whether they were able to fulfill them and what they had to give up in order to have me and take care of me? If you stop a minute and get to know these people, you'll generally feel a much stronger element of respect for them, because you'll learn about the sacrifices they made, the things they lost, the dreams that were shattered. A human's not human unless he's lost something he loved- everyone loses something. It changes as we grow. We can lose our sense of comfort, of home, objects that we cherish, people, lovers. But we all lose something, and that very loss changes us remarkably and forever. What did your parents lose? What made them the way they are?

One is not meant to be friends with one's parents. That's disrespecting the bond and the relationship that exists between you and them. There is a certain respect that is owed them, a certain sense of authority that is always theirs. But it is worth it to take the time to look into their eyes- hard eyes, sad eyes, sweet eyes, whatever kind of eyes they have- and try to listen, to really see them, to attempt to understand them. You'll never feel a blow like the blow you have that night, after you've finished, after you've finally understood, taken in and understood, what it is they've done for you and because of you. The medical school they weren't able to attend, the man your mother didn't marry, the things that broke her heart or the dreams that her friend was able to fulfill while she stood by, always the onlooker. Everyone has a story and it's a different story. They're not all the same, but everyone has their personal sadness, their personal grief, the things that made them who they are, with the ideas they advance, the way they go about marking out your life. And though you may not agree with them and hell, they may even be completely wrong, it follows that they are generally trying the best they can.

So...would you say you know your parents? Do you want to? Have you ever thought about what made them the way they are, which authors influenced them, which musicians they admired, the politics they followed, the people they would have accompanied to the ends of the earth? Who or what did they love most, and what did they want most? Were they privileged and lucky enough to get it? If not, how did the lack of it change them, making them who they are today?

There are all kinds of parents, and just like us, they don't always get everything right. But we owe it to them to take the time to try to listen and to try to act tenderly towards them- tenderly towards these people who may not have had all the same chances we've had, who may not enjoy existing in a fake world with its shallow pretenses, who may have grown up to be the people they've hated, who may still be looking for a way out, not seeing one. And next time we begin to mouth off at them, maybe we'll founder and be a little quieter, knowing what we do, and where they come from, and who they are when they're not showing off in front of their friends, or otherwise parading around, who they are in their secret moments, as their real self, when they too are sad or unhappy or wondering or confused, but can't show it for your sake- because they've got to do their best by you. It's hard to know one's parents, because they won't show you everything; it'd probably be too much for you, for one thing, and for another, they too are entitled to their own secrets- but when one does know them, even a little bit, the way you look at them will never be the same.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I hate "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I hate it because it could have been good, and instead it was so terribly bad.

In a brilliant essay, Isaac Bashevis Singer scathingly remarks, "As a child, I was glad that I was told the same stories my father and grandfathers heard. The children of my time didn't read stories about little ducklings which fell into kettles of soup and emerged as clay frogs. We preferred the stories of Adam and Eve, the Flood, the people who built the Tower of Babel, the divine adventures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. We were never taught to rely completely on any authority. We tried to find motivation and consistency in God's laws and His commandments. A lot of the evil taking place today, I often feel, is the result of the rotten stuff this modern generation read in its school days."

As he so beautifully explains in his essay, stories are built on logic. Events could have happened in the way that you have described. Even when it comes to magic or the supernatural, there are certain laws one must play by. Demons have chicken feet and cannot hide them. There are certain curses one cannot perform. There is an element of the forbidden for every element of the magical. In short, there is a sense of give-and-take, of structure. Since everything could have happened, it becomes believable.

In the case of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," believability is not the problem. I have no problem suspending my belief when it comes to the fact that a man could have been born old. My problem has to do with everything else that transpired. This baby just happened to have been dropped off at an old-age home so that his childhood as an old man would be perfectly natural? His father just happened to meet him when he came home from his tugboat spree, recognized him and took him out for drinks? His father conveniently dies relatively young so that Benjamin can inherit his button factory and never really have to work? Are you kidding me? And most of all- where is the response of the press?

If somewhere were truly to have been born old, it would make all the papers. The newspapers would react. There would be a scandal. Scientists and doctors would kidnap the boy and pickle him, prodding him with needles and medicines. Everyone would want to try to figure out how this had occurred- a genetic mutation? Something else? The movie was smart in that at the very least it tried to provide an answer to the nice black woman who decided to take care of Benjamin; she believed in her preacher and the preacher blessed the boy. But is the filmgoer really supposed to believe that everybody else who lived at that point in time said nothing about this peculiar man who grew younger instead of older? Nobody breathed a word? Nobody tried to exploit him?

Hell! That's not real life; that's completely impossible! You want to tell a story; you've got to explain why none of those people said anything. Now, if they remarked on it and they weren't believed because they were old and senile, that'd be one thing. But nobody tells the press, not one of the men on the tugboat who notice this old man growing younger say a word? Nobody sells him out? The circus doesn't kidnap him; there's no freak show going on? And when he goes from five years old to a little baby- are we to believe that nobody notices, or is it again that somehow, strangely, no one lets out a peep?

This is aside from the completely implausible idea of an old man working on a tugboat, and far more importantly, for a drunken captain to get up 0n a Sunday morning just to take an old man and his young companion, a little girl, out for a spin. That would never happen. So let's establish some ground rules: There has to be some sort of structure to a movie, some way of having it make sense, rules by which it works.

I'll tell you what would have been a good movie. We have an example of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" where people react with the appropriate shock and horror, including the media; he's big for a while, people call him a freak, a demon, a Satan-like monster, and then it dies down because he goes away and people think he's dead, or something to that effect. Or where the old people at least try to tell somebody even if they aren't believed, or he has himself tested by a doctor to try to figure out why he's different from anyone. But nobody just lives their life calmly and peacefully, with none of their neighbors ever interfering, when they are that different. To suggest that is to completely suspend human nature and human character- and that is not something you can ask your movie audience to tolerate.

The movies are a labaratory for the soul. It's where we can place ourselves in the body of the man or woman onscreen and think about their choices; do we agree with them, do we disagree? But there have to be rules. There cannot be an endless series of coincidences, happenstances, overly convenient situations; the director can't have it both ways. Either I completely suspend my belief in anything, and all the laws governing everything break loose- in which case pigs start to fly as well- or, if it's my normal human world with my normal human people, events must progress in normal human fashion, with all the logical repercussions. This film was done poorly; it was a mix of logic and complete and utter non-logic, and did not respect the viewer for that very reason.

This is aside from the fact that the scenes with the daughter reading to the mother and finding out about her father in this way, fraught with tension because of the imminent arrival with Hurricane Katrina, were unsatisfying and unnecessary. As was the daughter's complete lack of reaction (why the hell isn't she more unwilling to accept this diary as being truthful?) And we never receive an explanation as to why the mother put off telling the daughter for so long, and while the daughter advances that she hopes her mother isn't disappointed with her, we don't find out what the daughter has done, or hasn't done, which makes her mother likely to be disappointed with her. The end of the movie is completely inconclusive, in that the daughter runs out of the room in order to try to find out what is going on, the mother dies, and everything blacks out.

This movie should win absolutely no awards at the Oscars; it was a good idea, poorly executed, poorly written, and ridiculously developed. It had the potential to be something great, something that could really resonate with people where we could feel for the pain of this old man trapped in a young person's body, something along the lines of "The Elephant Man" or "The Phantom of the Opera," where people are given talents they can't express due to their physical form. Instead, it was a flop, a complete, utter, and total, utterly pointless, flop...and it was the worst kind of flop because of what it could have been if only the screenplay had been written by a half-competent screenwriter.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Script

The particular difficulty in recognizing to what extent our wishes—and our thoughts and feelings as well—are not really our own but put into us from the outside, is closely linked up with the problem of authority and freedom. In the course of modern history the authority of the Church has been replaced by that of the State, that of the State by that of the conscience, and in our era, the latter has been replaced by the anonymous authority of common sense and public opinion as instruments of conformity. Because we have freed ourselves of the older overt forms of authority, we do not see that we have become the prey of a new kind of authority. We have become automatons who live under the illusion of being self-willing individuals. This illusion helps the individual to remain unaware of his insecurity, but this is all the help such an illusion can give. Basically the self of the individual is weakened, so that he feels powerless and extremely insecure. He lives in a world to which he has lost genuine relatedness and in which everybody and everything has become instrumentalized, where he has become part of the machine that his hands have built. He thinks, feels, and wills what he believes he is supposed to think, feel and will; in this very process he loses his self upon which all genuine security of a free individual must be built.

~Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm


We believe that we live in the land of opportunity, that we have the ability to act, react, think and assess in accordance to our will. This is not so. In fact, everyone has been handed a script, or rather, their choice of scripts. They have the ability to act in a way that will determine what their neighbors think of them, and they can choose the script depending on who their neighbors are. We often refer to this script by names such as "box" or something to that effect; we believe that everyone can be fit to categories, boxes or the like, and in part, that is due to the fact that we have these scripts to choose from, almost as though we were actors in a Hollywood movie, and each of us has the ability to portray a particular character.

The only catch? The Script exists in order to characterize us for the sake of itself. If one is a Liberal, he must be liberal for the sake of being liberal. Controversial for the sake of being controversial. Traditional for the sake of being traditional. And there is a core thread or theme that must be maintained if you want to correctly follow the script. The qualifications to being a liberal include acting in a bleeding-heart fashion toward people who want to kill you (aka civilians in Gaza who support Hamas), acting nicely toward LGBT folks, saving the environment and so forth. What happens if someone doesn't give a damn about the environment but does care about LGBT folks? They will gravitate toward the group who holds the script with which they have most in common, and for fear of being abandoned by the core group, will attempt to learn how to care about the other issues they ought to care about, and may even feel guilt for not caring about.

People follow scripts because of the way they want to be perceived. They aren't strong enough to think through the issues and come up with an individual opinion upon each issue. Therefore, they decide to follow the script, whether it be the "Liberal" script, the "Conservative" script, the "Modox" script. Anyone who truly dares to think for a moment will realize that every issue ought to be analyzed and decided upon in its own merit, not taken as part of a conglomerate in order to characterize someone as following a certain script. And yet, that is not the case.

Take the "Modox" affiliation. Can you imagine something more arbitrary? Modern Orthodoxy, in the way it is practiced (and not in its philosophical form) is mostly based on the fact that people decided to throw several issues together, tie it with a bow, and create a script. These issues have to do with believing that a boy and girl can talk to each other without immediately wanting to have sex with one another, one is a religious Zionist and supports the state of Israel, and one learns secular studies. Why are these tenets the script criteria? As I wrote once, "Why choose these factors by which to define oneself? Shall I create a title for myself because I keep yoshon (not eating any new grain before the Omer offering on the 16th of Nisan), do not support the current State of Israel, and eat kitniyos [legumes] on Pesach?" Why not take those factors, tie them together in a pretty bow, and create a new script? Give it a pretty new name, and create a whole section of people who subscribe to it?

What happens if one supports certain tenets of one script, but not those of the other? Issues ought to have nothing to do with one another; each issue ought to be analyzed on its own merit. If I analyze the issue of platonic relationships and decide they don't exist, thus forbidding males and females contact with the opposite sex, but simultaneously believe that one should learn secular studies, what in the world does that make me? Alas! I have dared to break the rules of the script; I've got some of the lines from the "Modox" script and some of the lines from the "Haredi" script; I'm terrifying! And yet, this oughtn't to be the case, where people are trying to create a common theme or bond between issues which in fact have nothing to do with one another.

And so, for someone to be liberal for the sake of being liberal, for the fact that someone supports saving the environment to have to reflect on that person's stance on the LGBT community or Palestinian civilians- is completely preposterous. I say, there ought to be no such thing as liberal, no such thing as conservative! There is only liberal and conservative with regard to each separate issue, each one having been analyzed separately, and a person having reached his conclusion about that topic separately.

What people should do, what they should be taught to do, is to analyze every issue with the information they have at hand, the opportunities and background that they have, and to reach a conclusion based on that. They should be taught that they should be willing to retract their opinions when new information presents itself, or when they realize something they have not realized before. They should be taught there is no shame in that. They should be taught, in other words, to be honest- to analyze each issue separately, without connecting one's thoughts and feelings about one situation to their point of view on a completely different event- and to do what they think is right. One can only do what he thinks is right if he takes the trouble to find out what that is without resorting to a pre-written script, even if these scripts do have nifty labels such as "Liberal," "Conservative," or the like. He has to think through an issue, reach a conclusion, and act on that conclusion. And if new information presents itself, he must think through that as well, and he may very well reach a different conclusion. But he does these things because he believes they are the right thing to do, not in order to conform to a label or keep to a script which in truth is stifling, individuality-suppressing, and entirely ridiculous. Much stupidity comes from these people who are clearly advancing opinions they don't understand simply because they have been taught they are part of the "script" in terms of the life they would like to live. Forget everything, forget being politically correct, forget who you have to please or whose good opinion you would have to have, and focus on the facts, focus on the issue at hand, focus on this goddamned problem without resorting to your pre-written script and its stupid solutions to every situation...and maybe you will surprise yourself. Maybe you will realize that you can support the environment and kill terrorists simultaneously, or alternatively, not support gay marriage and nevertheless buy clothing that was not made in sweatshops. People should not be able to be summed up by scripts. They should do what they think is right, and that may place them in many categories....conservative, traditional, radical, liberal, and so forth, so that they can never be accurately fit to a box at all....depending on the issue at hand.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pro-Israel Manhattan Rally on January 6!

The achdus demonstrated at this rally should be a zechus for Chanoch Shmuel HaKohen ben Shoshana Zipora, the chayal for whom I am praying/ learning, and for all the rest of our brave soldiers.


Hundreds of people, perhaps even thousands, congregated at 2nd and 42nd today to demonstrate their unequivocal support for the State of Israel. Joined by members of the band Blue Fringe, who performed live, singing their songs "City of Gold" and one where the refrain was Lo Le'fached, various dignitaries and officials, and passionate speakers, we all stood outside in the freezing cold and supported our country. The rally concluded with the song "Od Yavo Shalom" by Blue Fringe, which you can see below:

After the rally, Chabad members (who are amazing!) took people aside and inquired as to whether they would be interested in putting on tefillin.

Here's a snippet of what was said by one of the speakers:

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Love Letter To Israel

I saw the film "Waltz With Bashir" this past Friday. It is a film about the Lebanon War, and more specifically, about the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Although some might see it as a social commentary about the futility of war, what it meant to me had more to do with the human journey along the path that brings us to war. The film helped me in that it stripped away the glory and the glamour from war; it showed me, in full color, that beyond honor and dishonor there is the boy, scared and frightened, shooting at anything that moves in an effort to keep himself alive. This is a boy who does not always know whether what he is doing is right, but follows his orders. This is a boy who waltzes with gunfire, living a reality that no one should have to live, in a world lit by the bright lights of falling flares, with the darkness that compels attack. And I imagined what it would be if I were that boy, scared and frightened, who deals with the different images that surround me by trying not to take them in, trying to push them away and walk through the world as though it were a film. I imagined the terror I would feel, pursued for no reason, running without cause, the things I might do and would later regret doing, and the terrible guilt I would feel. And so, peculiarly, it was this film, with its comic-book drawings and its intensely beautiful soundtrack that brought home to me the reality that war is neither glamorous nor filled with glory; it is simply what is, a dark reality that no one desires. That there are mistakes made in war, that not everything happens as it should. There are young, frightened people on both sides, and they cannot always act with the measured attention they should.

It was that more than anything that made this film valuable to me. It was the fact that it felt real, as though everything had been stripped away and I could suddenly see- beyond the propaganda and beyond the beauty- the terrible darkness, both external and internal, that is caused by the war that ravages our land. And what it does to a person, the nothingness or cruelty with which it fills him, so that he might survive. In a way more real than ever before, I felt this film, felt the fear and the anguish of the soldiers described therein.

After my cousin, myself and the friends that had accompanied him walked out of the theater, we were thinking about that war in relation to this one, the Chanukah War in Gaza. We imagined the kinds of things people would say, or for that matter, are already saying, about Israel and wondered what impact this film would have on their perception. But what mattered to me, the message that I took from this film, which demonstrates the deep regret and shame an Israeli soldier feels about the massacres at Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanon War- which were not even committed by Israelis, but rather by Christian Phalangalists- was that of the respect that Israel feels towards human life. I find it powerful and beautiful that an Israeli filmmaker creates a film demonstrating the guilt a soldier feels for the death of civilians, of women and children, that even suggests Israel should have ensured this not happen. I think that what this film so beautifully, powerfully, evocatively does is demonstrate the truth of the Gemara which describes the Jewish nation as one that possesses the quality of rachamim, mercy (Yevamos 79a.) So much mercy does the Jewish people have that the Jewish filmmaker, Ari Folman, felt overwhelmed by it and decided to make a film lamenting the death of innocents, for which he felt indirectly responsible.

I once wrote that I did not feel that I was a true Zionist, and I supported that by citing the Rav's definition of a person who was indeed true. But I think now this was a lie. Because love is an emotion that one feels for anything to which one is indisputably connected; it is not chosen consciously; it simply is. And I feel a strong love toward Israel and her soldiers, Israel and her stiff-necked people who live amidst the bombs and Qassams and the 15-second "Tzeva Adom" alert, running to their houses as rockets fall amidst them. Does it matter who they are? Does it matter if it's the soldier entering the Gaza Strip with the desire to disposess Hamas of the land it ought not to be allowed to govern, the Chareidi man learning in yeshiva, the bright seminary student who is on tiyul? It does not matter; they are all members of my people and I love them all. But more than that, I love my land, the land that God gave to me and to all the Jews, the land which He told us He would show to us, the land of our heart. We may deny it all we wish, but in the end, we are inextricably connected to the land, for when the land is in danger, or when her people are in danger, we are bound up with her, pray for her, desire God to have mercy upon her and her people.

How beloved are the Jews! These beautiful Jews who lament the killings of innocents and make films about that, the Israelis who do their utmost to avoid killing civilians or children, who are hated by a world who denies them the opportunity to defend themselves. Strong Israelis, and strong nation of Israel, to defend yourself when no one permits you the ability to do so! Surrounded by a hostile world, you are a single flame who attempts to shout into the madness, "Open your eyes! Look at what they are doing! And yet you desire us not to attack?" And yet your cries go unheeded; no one wishes to heed you. It is easier for everyone to tell you to use words and diplomacy, to forget the rockets they fire upon you, to sit back and wait to die, like sheep to the slaughter. But you are not sheep to the slaughter, o' nation who has been forced to military might. You are strong, you are prepared, you are God's children, and you answer to no one but Him. God Himself has given you permission to kill those who wish to kill you, and that is what you are doing. Who could dare to raise their voice against you?

My Israel, golden and green and beloved, land of milk and honey, of impossible colors that can be seen only in the eye of the imagination! I did not know how much I loved you until I felt you threatened; I did not know how much I cared for you until I saw what others wish you to do. They would like you to lie down before them, so that they can destroy you and your people. I have never been one to believe that to be an anti-Zionist makes one an anti-Semite and I will still not believe it; there are those who hold by the shita of the Satmar Rav who are not Zionists in the traditional sense, and yet they do not hate the Jews. But it is certain that one who is not a Jew and who is also not a Zionist quite often hates the Jew, the one they have described as an occupier, the son of a monkey or an ape. This is me you are describing, me as well! We are the same; we are one people, and if you hate them, and determine that they are killers, monkeys, apes and the like, you say the same of me. In this we are of one body, one people, one nation, one breath. When you kill us in Israel, you are killing us in America, in Britain, in Russia, in France, in Austria, in every place around the world that holds a Jew.

How can I do anything when I read about my beloved people entering danger, a place which is hostile to their physical bodies, in that there are bombs and bullets flying everywhere, and a world that is hostile to their very right to defend themselves? What can I say to these soldiers who are so weary, who simply want the end, want not to be frightened or hated anymore, want simply to return to their lives and progress in a world not overrun by war? And who am I to speak, who has the benefit of college and a country that is mostly at peace, or at least, where I am not directly affected by the wars being waged? I have no right to speak; I, who have lost no one, who have suffered nothing, who does not live with the daily terror of rocket attacks, with the fear of being cast out of my home, whose life progresses with many joys and much happiness and who does not run to join you in your existence amidst the gold and green lush land...

Does the average Israeli hate the American who lives so peacefully at home? I would not blame him if he did, yet each person feels differently. Some may despise the peaceful nature of our existence, believing us not to be true brethren in every facet of the world. Yet others may be glad that we propogate a nation that does not know the terror and fear that encompasses the one that is currently under attack in its true land. There are many ways one could react to me, an American who feels a great and searing love for a land I did not know I loved. I knew that Israel was mine, in that in truth it is my birthplace and my destiny, but I did not know what I felt for it until now.

Can you imagine a world in which Hamas succeeded in its goal? A world in which Hamas blew Israel off the map, destroying the country completely? We would continue on, but what a blow, what a blow that would be! As Jews, we would continue; God has sworn we will never be completely wiped out. But a people without a land once more, and what is more, without the land that is our destiny, that is as connected to us as our very blood...I cannot imagine such a reality. If it were to come, we would take it stoically; we would go on and we would continue, for it is our duty to continue no matter what darkness claims us. But my very blood protests against the idea that this could ever happen, because the land is ours and it resonates in our very blood. The land calls to us, a siren song that we can never truly escape...we can deny it for a time, but it is never truly gone. We push it off, we feel that we have escaped it, but in the end, if we allow ourselves to be touched, there is no denying that in this land of ancient history, the land that God created for us and that has been our creation, the land that we built up and that has been built for us, is the only place in the world where we will feel wholly complete.

It is not only Israel that I love, but her people, every one of them, the taxi-drivers with their politics and staunch opinions, the women begging for coins at the wall, the American tourists, the ancient and revered scholars, the Chareidim who openly invite everyone for meals when they themselves do not have enough to eat, the culture and even its modernization and Americanization. I may not admire, nor may I strive to be like, the brash, loud, rude, and overly in-your-face stereotype, but I respect it for what it is, a part of the land that I love, and that I want to see defended, remaining holy and strong.

And so, as we get together and pray for the soldiers, for those who are fighting in the country that lives in our hearts, let us thank God for the gift He has given us, the almighty gift of a land which is truly beloved and burns like a flame within us. We must yearn for her all our life, if we do not go- and there are those of us who cannot; our mission is elsewhere, and it cannot be abandoned. Nonetheless is it our land, however, land of history and mystery, of the imagination and the spirit, of the blood and tears that symbolize our people. Israel is our destiny; her people are our brothers, and the bond that draws us together is always stronger than anything which could attempt to sunder us. As our soldiers go to war, and face the hostility of a world that does not understand, alongside the artillery of evil men who desire to murder the very spirit of the Jewish people, we pray together, the love that stirs us fierce within our hearts, and we recall God's original words to Abraham, "וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר ."

And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curses thee, will I curse; so promised God to the first Jew to discover the land of Israel, and so it shall be again. May God be with our people in the land that is ours, may He strengthen and guide them in their war, whether it be a war waged through our prayers, our charity, our learning, our arms, our minds, or whatever other weapons we shall put before Him. May God hear our prayers and protect our brethren; may Hamas, the Haman of today, fail in their evil plan. In every generation, they arise to kill God, may You pour out your wrath upon them and may you utterly destroy them; may you kill all who desire to kill us, and destroy all who desire to destroy us. Bless your people and protect them; kill those who desire our death. And protect Your country, Your beloved country, for the sake of Your people and the love we bear toward her, and more, for the sake of Your name, which is blessed and sanctified. May God bless us and redeem us soon, and may we all be restored to Israel in peace. Amen.

Thursday, January 01, 2009