Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Strengthened Jewish Unity?
Pass GO and Collect $100,000

Nominations for the 2007 Charles Bronfman Prize can be completed and submitted betweenAugust 1, 2006 and October 31, 2006

Click Here To Connect to the Nomination Process & Nomination Forms

The Charles Bronfman Prize is an humanitarian award created and funded by his children -- Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Andrew Hauptman together with Stephen Bronfman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman -- in honor of their father’s 70th birthday.Charles Bronfman has spent a lifetime developing, implementing and supporting initiatives that help to strengthen the unity of the Jewish people; investing in young people to strengthen their knowledge and appreciation of their history, heritage and cultural identity; and impacting on the direction of Jewish life and community.

The Charles Bronfman Prize awards the recipient(s) $100,000. It celebrates the vision and talent of an individual or team -- under 50 years of age -- whose humanitarian work has contributed significantly to the betterment of the world. The achievements of Prize recipients exemplify the Jewish values and regard for humanity that provide inspiration to the next generations. An internationally recognized panel of judges, each of whom represents the highest human and Jewish values, selects the Prize winner .

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why The Pope was Wrong

A lot of people seem to have a problem understanding why Muslims think the Pope was wrong for publicly saying what he did. Maybe the following story-in-a-story will help them understand.

I once lived in Kiryat Araba - Hebron. Several times a week I would walk down to the center of the Arab city where the central bus station was located and took an Arab taxi (Sherut) to Jerusalem. As I frequently traveled the same time day after day I often traveled with the same drivers, some of which I "befriended" to the extent that we had ongoing conversations of Jews & Arabs and the relations between the two.

One day I mentioned some item in the news expressing my lack of understanding of the motivations of the individuals involved. My driver that day, Achmed, laughed at my lack of understanding and explained that if I understood the Arab mind I would not find it difficult. My Arab mentor then proceeded to tell me this Arab "fable" to help me appreciate the Arab mind:

Youssef was hot and tired and decided to take a mid-day nap in the shade of his back porch. Just as he got comfortable the local kids charged into the yard to play some game. Their noise and confusion were not conducive to the rest he desired and he tried yelling at them to go somewhere else. Nothing he could do convinced them to leave. After a moment of reflection he decided that threatening them wasn't working, he'd try a different approach.

Calling the kids to him, he asked with all the sincerity he could muster why they were playing here in the yard, and why were they not down at the marketplace. When they asked him, why would they want to be at the marketplace he explained that right at that moment the vendors were giving away fresh dates to people for free! After a moment or two of reflection, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, the kids en mass rushed out of the yard on their way to the marketplace. Youssef laid back to enjoy his newly found peace and quiet to start his mid-day nap.

Not a few minutes went by and Youssef could be seen getting up and hurriedly rushing out of the yard on his way to the marketplace. How could he just lie around when the vendors were giving away dates for free.
I'm not certain what my "mentor" intended me to understand from this story. I know that it described to me an individual, Youssef, for whom the distinction between objective reality and subjective imagination were blurred if not totally confused.

You see, it doesn't matter what the Pope actually said, all that matters is what the Arab/Muslim imagines the Pope said

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Inherent Contradictions

"Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence," [Pakistani] Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
And what exactly did the man say?

The Pope began this speech at Regensburg University with what he conceded were "brusque"” words about Islam: He quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor as saying,

    “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
The self-evident contradiction between the condemnation of the use of violence as a "tool" in the sphere of religion, and the threat of violence if a full apology is not forth coming is too obvious to be ignored.

The world is in the throes of a conflict, if not of cultures, then ideologies, no less portentous than the conflict between the free world and Nazism or the free world and Communism. The question is how long will it take the Western democracries to wake up and appreciate the conflict for what it is ... an all-out winner-takes-all struggle.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The New Amelek

In the Torah there are two kinds of "enemies" the People of Israel must deal with in order to settle the Land of Israel and establish themselves as a nation. The first are the indigenous nations, in particular the "seven people" who live in the land before the arrival of the Jewish People. The Torah actually commands the complete eradication of these people, but only if they refuse to pick up and leave. The Torah is very explicit. The reason these people cannot be permitted to remain in the land is the negative influence they might have on the Israeli Nation. The issue is totally one of practicality. If a member of the seven nations left the Land of Israel they were not to be harmed.

The second type of "enemy" is that of Amelek. The issue there is not territorial conquest or negative influence. The struggle between the People of Israel and Amelek is strictly "ideological". The People of Israel aspire to live within a covenant between the people and a creator who dictates absolute rights and wrongs. Amelek aspire to subjugate all who cross their paths. The only "right" for Amelek is the "right of might" and the only wrong is to be defeated. The very fact that Israel aspires to live a life based upon some universal absolute values in a very real but subtle way challenges the very foundations of Amelek's existence. As long as Amelek continues to exist (as Amelek) the G-d of Israel commands the Jewish People to eradicate every last man, woman, child unto even the animals they own. The very "name" of Amelek is commanded to be erased.

Difficult to understand? Think about our attitude to Nazism. True we didn't (perhaps unfortunately?) eradicate every participating Nazi, but the world did seem to want to erase and forbid any expression of support for this very hated filled racial ideology.

It has occurred to me these past few weeks that "the more things change, the more they stay the same". It is quite possible that the only way the western world will survive the insidious systematic prolonged attack by Islam is by declaring every adherent of Islam equivalent to a member of Amelek. Only if/when a Muslim adopts the values of tolerance and co-existence do they in essence remove themselves from the camp of Islam which knows no tolerance and recognizes no co-existence except subservience. If the western world refuses to destroy these people, for obvious reasons, they must at least de-legitimize them.

If during the Second World War Britain and the United States forcibly removed "foreign aliens that originated from hostile lands" from the general population, their unwillingness to do so now will ultimately bring about the internal destruction of these countries. What Natzism and communism failed to do, this insidious cancer masquerading as a religion called Islam will accomplish.

Looks like I'm not the only one drawing this conclusion:
Some would argue that it is a crime and a betrayal of our own values to argue for excluding Muslims from our countries or even expelling some of the ones who are already here. I disagree. The relatively small number of Muslims we have in the West now has already caused enormous damage to our economy, to our culture and not the least to our freedoms. The real crime, and the real betrayal, would be to sacrifice centuries of advances in human freedom as well as the future of our children and grandchildren to appease Muslims who contribute virtually nothing to our societies and are hostile to their very foundations.
from Why We Cannot Rely on Moderate Muslims by Baron Bodissey

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Judaism versus Democracry

I tend to be pragmatic. As a result when the question of how an "authentic" Jewish state should govern itself, I tend to seek "what will work" rather than possible unatainable "ideals". Whenever the question of how to get large number of individuals with dissimilar ideas and beliefs to cooperate, I tend to seek the common denominator and workable compromises. My purpose for this preamble is to state that as much as I want to live in a Jewish state, I also thouroughly believe that some form of democratic process if prefered over any other, and that there is no contradiction between democracry and Judaism.

It was of great interest to me to read an article by Rav Ezriel Ariel of the community of Ateret in last week's "B'Ahava uB'Emunah" published by Macon Meir. He explores the commandment, embodied in Parshat Shoftim, to choose a king to rule over the People of Israel. The following are some roughly translated excerpts from his article. phrases in [ ] are additions to help make the terse Hebrew sentences more understandable.

"Israel were commanded three commandments upon their entrance to the land: to appoint a king ....to eradicate the seed of Amelek .... to built the Temple ..." thusly lists the Rambam at the beginning of the Laws of Kings.

The Torah, on the other hand, apparentrly expresses a very different meaning: "When you come into the land ... and you will say, let me appoint a king like all the other nations around me; Set above a king that HaShem your G-d has chosen ..." (Deuteronomy 17:4-5) The simple understanding of these verse is that the Jewish People are not obligated to appint a king, unless they want a king like all the other nations. In that case they must appoint a king that HaShem desires.

In the same vein writes Rav Avadiyah Sephorno that the appointing of a king is not an obligation but optional. It is clear to him (from Numbers 27:17) that HaShem wants Israel to have a leader, but a leader could be either a "Shofet" or judge but not necessarily a "melek" king. ...

The Rambam disagrees, and concludes from the gemara in the tractate of Sanhedrin that it is a commandment to appoint a king over Israel. If so the question remains unanswered, how can it be both a commandment and still require the will of the people? ...

To understand this we need the words of the Natziv of Volozin, that in his time knew the differences between a democratic state and a state governed by a king. [He explains that] ... The source of authority for the establishment of a kingdom is the people. If you force upon a people a form of government which they do not desire that country will not survive for long even if the type of government enforced is that determined by halacha. in order to appoint a king you require the concensus of the people.

Our author, Rav Ariel, points out that the Ramam agrees with the Natziv that the gemara in Sanhedrin does not obligate the appointing of a king until the people desire/agree to it. He demonstrates this from Ramam's Laws of Gezila (Chapter 5) and concludes that "a kingship draws its authority from the people. He concludes with a facinating quote from Rab Kook (Mishpat Cohen pg 337):

It appears that when there is no king ... these legal rights are returned to the national collective ... and the issues of the Laws of Kingship, that pertain/relate to the governing of all, certainly also judges (appointed by) concensus and general presidents stand in the place of a king".

My personal matra is: the governing must be accountable to the governed; those who judge must reflect the values and (social) aspirations of the judged; and the authorities which enforce Law and Order are not above the law, but every aspect of their public and private behavioue embodies the law.

As I feel there is a greater likelihood we can convince a plurality of israel's to modify the existing democratic system to reflect these values than we will convince them to adopt a sanhedrin and kingship model of government, I am always looking for opinions that explore this question: can democracry be consistent with Jewish tradition and aspirations. On at least a "default" basis, Rav Ariel's article appears to indicate that it can.

What's your opinion?

[I just noticed an interesting article by Paul Eidelberg comparing and contrasting American Democracy with the Israeli system.]

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Commission of Inquiry Mandate

I read an very interesting article in last weeks' (Parshat Shoftim 2nd of Elul 5766) 'B'Ahava uB'Emunah' published in Hebrew by Macon Meir. the writer was Rav Menachem Man, formerly of Gush Katif, and he explored the necessity of widdening the mandate of any National Committee of Inquiry that might be formed (once Olmart & co. are deposed). Whether or not the suggestions in the article are very likely to happen is moot, but the ideas expressed were, IMHO, right on the mark. Here are a few roughly translated excerpts from the article titled "Vaadat Chakirah Shorshit" (Commission of Inquiry for Root Causes):

One of the key questions is what should the Commission of Inquiry that is expected to be set up investigate. A commission that will investigate only the Military and Foreign Policy of the past few years can only touch the tip of the iceberg. This is of necessity important, but will not bring about long lasting changes. Even if the commission should investigate the assumptions upon which the decision makers relied, assumptions about the Middle East conflict and how to resolve it - from this will not come the redemption.

It is difficult to disconnect the decisions of the upper eschelons of the military and government from the cultural foundations that are deeply rooted in the Israeli society. Some examples: A cultural in which quick and immediate gratification of needs and wants is central, causes those that are involved in creating policy to seek quick and immediate solutions to security issues. ... It is [therefore] important to widden the subject investigated to include the culture that influenced the way of thought that led to the mistakes [we are suffering from].

The central question in the topic of "culture" is "what is the objective?" What do we want here in the State of Israel? ... The central question [could be phrased], "Is the purpose of Israel to provide a 'safe haven' for the Jewish People, or a country the purpose of which is to make it possible to live a way of life where Torah and the Mikdash are central?"

A 'safe haven' implies that the purpose of the state is to protect the physical existence of each individual and the people. This purpose places the individual in the center. Making the life of the individual of primary importance causes the needs and wants of the individual to become of over riding importance. From here the road is very short to many of the short comings of our society. This same world-view caused the Supreme Court to place the rights of the individual above all others and in the name of this belief, to make decisions that endanger the entire country.

Placing Torah in the center of our lives creates an entirely different culture. Placing the "vision [of Torah values]" in the center, engenders life of truth seeking, of idealism and a willingness to sacrifice [for the common good]."

What interested me was the similarity of Rav Man's ideas with an insight I had when I first discovered Judaism and emersed myself in Jewish thought and values.

It became very clear to me that Western Society as I knew it from North America was a "Vertical" society which places the individual and their "pursuit of happiness (success)" as society's highest value. The result, in my eyes, was a society where individual clamoured over the backs of others in order to "get ahead (above)".

As I experienced Jewish community life and learned traditional sources it became apparent to me that Jewish society's highest value was the collective! A sort of "Horizontal" society. The expression and preservation collective ideals and values was a traditional Jewish society's raison d'etre. As such, individuals were more willing to sacrifice their own advancement, wealth or self interest to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the collective.

I haven't thought of this insight for decades until I read this article last week. Your thoughts?

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