Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another note or three about "Orthodox Paradox"

Regarding Noah Feldman's "Orthodox Paradox" article, which I addressed in my last post:

a) I'm sorry I called him an a**hole. That is an ad hominem attack, completely useless and peurile. I didn't receive any complaints about it, but I myself feel that it was beneath my dignity to use that particular word.

b) I have been quite disturbed by much of the response in the blog world (more specifically, in the comments to blogs), in which Jews across the Orthodox spectrum have basically proven that Feldman is correct: we ARE a bunch a racist, close-minded jerks. People! Argue his piece on its merits!

c) Case in point: vulgar arguments to the effect that Feldman was so overcome by sexual desire for a "shiksa" that he couldn't control his impulse to leave Orthodoxy behind, is sick. First of all, it ignores the fact that Feldman's wife is not only beautiful, she is also incredibly intelligent and accomplished in her own right. She's a person. And the word "shiksa" is a really nasty way to refer to a being who was created b'tzelem elokim, just as we were. It's one thing to note that in marrying out of the faith, Feldman has performed the supreme no-no of Orthodox Judaism, and therefore can't expect much pride from the school. It's another to make personal attacks about his wife and children, who have done nothing wrong themselves.

d) I haven't seen it noted elsewhere, so I guess I have to be the one to say it. Regarding the story about the rabbi who said that one should only break Shabbat to save the life of a non-Jew if doing so will avoid harmful relations between Jews and non-Jews (that is, not because the life of a non-Jew is inherently as valuable as the life of a Jew):

Feldman himself notes that we are a community in which actions are more important than belief, and that we don't go around asking each other what we truly believe, because we might not want to know the true answers to that question. In practice, there is probably not a single Jewish doctor alive, anywhere, who wouldn't, in practice, gladly break Shabbat to save the life of a non-Jew. Any non-Jew. In Israel, there are religious doctors who regularly break Shabbat to save the lives of Palestinians.

But let's talk about beliefs. The passages in the Talmud to which Feldman refers suggest that the life of a Jew is inherently more valuable than that of a non-Jew. Now, certainly, we all can agree that, though some things have stayed the same, much has changed since the Talmud was written. A lot has changed. The very way that people relate to God has changed. The freedoms with which Jews live in the Western world has changed dramatically, though we hold our breath for that to change again. We all can understand why, in a world in which Jews were a persecuted minority, in which the non-Jews around them did not assign any inherent value to Jewish lives, that the Jewish leaders would declare that the lives of the persecuting majority are important only insofar as they help maintain some peace and quiet for the Jews.

Does it matter that things are no longer quite that way? One of the hallmarks of Orthodoxy is that, in most areas, we don't think that any sort of change really matters: Torah is Torah, Judaism is Judaism, halacha is halacha, and everything else can change all it wants, but we still won't light fires on Saturday or eat a cheeseburger.

But a matter such as under what circumstances one can break Shabbat to save a life is not discussed in a vaccuum. The fact that many, if not most, rabbis today do encourage doctors to save lives -- any lives -- on Shabbat is indicative of where this discussion has moved in the last couple thousand years.

However, there is still practice, and belief. And so I ask you to take a moment to think: do you, in your heart of hearts, believe that the life of a Jew is inherently more worthy of saving than the life of a non-Jew?

If your answer is "no," if deep down you believe that, for all that our religion and history and mandate is special, Jews have no more inherent value in the eyes of God than anyone else, then please be honest to yourself and admit that, much as you may respect this particular Talmudic teaching, you have chosen, in your heart, to dismiss it as out of touch with reality - that you think it is wrong.

And if your answer is "yes," if you think that Jews are, by definition, born with a different spiritual makeup that makes our lives inherently more precious, regardless of how warm and just and tolerant and connected to God the non-Jew in question may be, then please be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you are racist. If you want to justify your racism with Talmudic discussions, or with the realities of Jewish history, or whatever, go ahead. But be honest: if the only reason you'd save a non-Jewish life on Shabbat is to help the Jewish community, then you might be a good doctor, and you might be treating everyone equally in practice, but in your heart you are racist. Just be honest about that.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hello again

So, here we are. I've been, thank God, extremely busy with work. And the best part is that I'm doing it. I mean, I'm doing it in a disciplined way which involves making to-do lists, setting aside time for tasks, and crossing everything off the list by the end of the day. Boy does that feel good. And it also explains why I'm not blogging much these days; the writing for which I am paid must take precedence. Still, I'm sure you are curious to know these thoughts which have been circling through my head:

1) A new article by Noah Feldman is scheduled to appear in Sunday's NY Times (it is available now to members of Times Select) in which he has some very nasty (technically accurate, but overblown) things to say about the Modern Orthodox community in which he grew up. Noah and I attended the same Jewish Day School -- he was 2 years ahead of me, and his brother was in my class -- and he describes his experience there in some detail. It's amazing how he and I attended the same school and yet perceive it, and the world, and the way the school sees the world, so differently. Not completely differently -- like I said, his complaints are technically accurate, and his descriptions of teachers and classes brought back many memories -- but ultimately, his understanding of the Jewish Day School experience is effected (not affected, but effected) by his own personal hangups. (Just as mine is, I'm sure.)

As I just said to a fellow alumna who also read the article, "Noah is right. He's right, and he's an a**hole." I say this not because he has "aired dirty laundry" to the non-Jewish world -- he has, but often that has a place -- but because he's a hypocrite in his application of liberalism. This is the same man who says that moderate Islam should not be judged by racist or jihadist passages in the Koran, because a people should be judged by what they do, not by the texts they study.

He's also an a**hole because he spends hundreds of words talking about Baruch Goldstein, without fully addressing the shock and horror that most of the modern Orthodox world (at least in America) felt after Goldstein did what he did. In other words -- again -- it's technically accurate, and he does mention that not all Orthodox Jews liked what Goldstein did, but the nasty bits are discussed out of proportion to the values that, in my experience, most modern Orthodox Jews in America act on. And ultimately, actions speak much louder about our values than words do.

Anyhow, I can't wait to see the letters that will appear in response to his latest piece. This is going to get very heated. Fasten your seatbelts.

2) My copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been pre-ordered, paid for, and confirmed, and will, if all goes as planned, be ready for pickup exactly 66 minutes after Shabbat ends tomorrow night. Meanwhile I am avoiding any and all media articles or websites that even hint of spoilers.

For the record, here are my predictions of what will happen, based on my knowledge of Books 1-6 (slight spoilers of Book 6 to follow, but nothing major):

a) Harry will vanquish Voldemort
b) In the process, Ron will die
c) Snape will be revealed to have been on the side of Good all along (loathsome in personality, but acting on the side of Good)
d) Harry will quietly retire into the Muggle world, coming back now and then to the magical one to visit the Weasleys, Neville, Luna etc. I'm thinking maybe he'll become a detective or a policeman.
e) I think Ginny will go with him
f) Draco will redeem himself in some way, leading us to the conclusion that he will become the new Snape: loathsome, but, having done teshuva, acting now on the side of Good
g) In Book 7, Hogwarts will re-open on a small scale, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione won't return to it - they'll be busy looking for Horcruxes
h) On Mugglenet.com, there has been a suggestion that Hermione will end up with Draco. I find the idea intriguing, and theoretically possible IF Ron dies and IF Draco does teshuva . . . after all, Lilly Potter thought that James was a pompous jerk for years, as Hermione thinks of Draco. However, I'm not sure that Hermione would go for a guy who ever was in with Death Eaters, even if he DID lower his want before doing that evil thing in Book 6 that he'd been assigned to do. Still . . . do you think perhaps some of the animosity between Draco and Hermione is caused by sexual tension? A point to ponder . . .
i) RAB is indeed Regulus Black, and Harry will have to find Mundungus and Mundungus' clients in order to complete his quest for Horcruxes.
j) Dudley Dursley will suddenly show the ability to perform magic, sending himself, Petunia, and Vernon into a tizzy
k) Percy Weasley will still be insufferable at the end of the series
l) Bill Weasley is basically all right - no MAJOR harm done.
m) Bellatrix will be sent back to Azkaban
o) We will find out what is behind the veil
p) Harry will have one more magical encounter with the spirits of his parents

That's all I can think of for now. We'll see on Sunday how many of these predictions are correct.

Please, if you've read any of the newspaper reviews of the new book, or seen the contraband images which were posted online, do NOT put spoilers in the comments.

3) Shimmy was in town! My old friend! We've been friends for 19 years, longer by far than the amount of time we didn't know each other yet. It was great to see him, like old times.

4) I have been studiously ignoring politics because I can't handle it. However, I very much enjoyed the report from Beirut by my friend and colleague, Lisa Goldman. Let's see now.
Lisa: goes into hostile territory on her own, is accused of espionage by the Arab press, and earns international attention.
Sarah: producing good writing from the safety of Tal's Bagels.
Hm. I wonder which of us is more likely to win the Pulitzer Prize someday? :-)

5) UYO follow-up meeting on Monday night (a chance for people to "check in" and talk) was very special. It was very uplifting for me to see that something I worked on really helped people.

6) Process of looking for a new apartment (to buy, not rent) has begun. I've seen two so far, one of which was horrible and the other of which was OK but not for me. Apparently finding an apartment is like dating, you just keep looking until you find the one that's right. However, unlike men, apartments can be changed. With apartments, when one envisions what it COULD be like, what POTENTIAL it has, and how it could be CHANGED to be more like what one wants, then one is being smart, not unrealistic.

Ciao for now, and have a happy Saturday.

Friday, July 06, 2007

In the one minute before Shabbat . . .

I have time for a VERY quick update.

a) I just got back from a fantastic 5-day vacation at Lake Kinneret. It was a dream. I went with friends and we lounged at the women's beach (There is one near Tiberias, and it is at least as pretty as the regular beaches), rented motorboats to take out into the Lake, ate at Decks and at some bad fish restaurants, got sunburned, and had a really terrific time. Once again I stayed in "my" little cottage in the town of Yavna'el, and my friends and I had the swimming pool all to ourselves. Did I mention the bathtub jacuzzi? Like I said, a dream.

b) I attended the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League. I've written notes to make a blog post about it but haven't gotten around to writing it out completely. More to come later. (The basics: I cheered with the Boston crowd for the Pioneers (since their 2nd baseman is a Bostonian and a fellow Maimo grad), ate burgers, got sunburned, and had a terrific time.)

c) I'm being rehired to teach again next spring in the same program in which I taught this past spring, and am already looking forward to it. We had a little "English Department" meeting (all three of us) and decided to change the curriculum. Among other works, I'm now going to be teaching Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness and a collection of short stories by Savyon Liebrecht. If anyone in the Katamon area has copies of these books I could borrow over the summer I'd appreciate it.

d) Things my shaliach never told me: Apparently, leben works wonders on sunburns.

Have a shabbat shalom.