Tuesday, August 30, 2005


We are off for a couple of days. No time for true vacation this summer, so the two last days of August will have to do.

When I started blogging nearly two years ago there were just a few of us Jewish bloggers. I would see who was there or get an email and link to the blog. I have noticed that since then many more people have joined us in the Jewish blogosphere. I have stopped trying to update the blogroll at the side since it is a bit of a pain. I really apologize to all those bloggers old and new (although this is not the most popular of blogs, so you haven't really been missing much exposure). So .... for all those bloggers, old and new, who would like to be linked to on the sidebar - please email me your information in the following format, so I can quickly update the list:

  • blog name

  • Be back in a few days.

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    Monday, August 29, 2005


    While some thought that the mystical messianism in religious-Zionism was so strong that the entire movement would collapse under its weight, some of us were more optimistic. It is still too early to tell what the long term lessons of the hitnatkut will be for religious-Zionist thought in general and religious-Zionist politics in particular but some optimistic signs are appearing.

    R. Ya'akov Ariel is the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan and was to be the chief rabbi of Israel had the haredim, led by R. Elyahshiv not intervened. They feared an independent talmid chacham – someone with the power of thought – instead of a figurehead. In a series of essays appearing in a parshat hashavua sheet called "Ma'ayanei Ha'Yeshua", R. Ariel has started to redefine certain concepts important to religious-Zionism in a non-mystical and more rational way. Last week he introduced the topic by speaking of the peaks and valleys of redemption and this week he deals with concepts such as "land", "building", "people", "redemption".

    The "land" has taken on too mystical a definition in religious-Zionist thought and R. Ariel tries to strengthen our connection to the land without relying on romanticism and mysticism. He writes that the return to Zion "is not just to the land but to the moral cultural, national and human values that are embodied in the holiness of it". For R. Ariel, the attainment of these values and culture is "not a cult of the land … but the opposite – the rebuilding of the man who redeems the land and is in turn redeemed by it by planting in it his values".

    R. Ariel is not the first to say things of this sort, but the fact that he is trying to re-educate our youth away from magical mysticism and towards real-life physical and moral "building" – the original Torah va'Avoda, if you will – is an important step.

    It will be interesting to follow the thought of R. Ariel and others - especially those who have over the last years preached the cult of the land over everything else.

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    Friday, August 26, 2005

    Marrying in Israel 

    I am never quite sure if this defense of monopoly is more a monetary thing or an ideological thing. Whatever it is, it is further proof of the utter corruption of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

    "When Matthew Gelband and Leah Waldman got married outside Jerusalem last year, it seemed only natural to invite Matthew's rabbi - a leader in New York's modern Orthodox community - to officiate. The couple went to the local rabbinate and tried to register, but were told by rabbinate officials that the rabbi in question, who is the founder of a yeshiva and also heads a large Orthodox synagogue, was unknown to them."

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    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    In Defense 

    Evelyn Gordon in today's JPost defends religious-Zionists:

    "Leading leftists have repeatedly urged soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories and at least 635 (according to Courage to Refuse) have answered this call, yet no one has ever suggested barring leftists from officers' courses. But when leading rabbis urged soldiers to refuse to participate in the disengagement, politicians, journalists and even senior army officers instantly asserted that religious Zionists can no longer be trusted – never mind the lack of evidence; we all "know" that they obey their rabbis blindly – and should henceforth be barred from becoming officers. Yet instead of rejecting the society that was so quick to reject them, most religious soldiers consulted their consciences and concluded that despite rabbinic urgings, their own opposition to the disengagement and the horror of evicting people from their homes, the rift that mass refusal could create in Israeli society was the greater evil. As a result, only 72 soldiers refused orders prior to the pullout and five during the evacuation itself – less than one-eighth the level of leftist refusal."

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    The Other Roth 

    If you have never read Call it Sleep by Henry Roth, you should. It is one of the great novels of the past century as it tells the tale in the first person of a young, Jewish, child immigrant during the early years of the century. For many years it was Roth's only published novel. Much later in life and after his death four more novels (good, but far from Call it Sleep) were published under the title Mercy of a Rude Stream(A Star Shines, Diving Rock, From Bondage, Requiem from Harlem). Mercy, like "Call it Sleep" is autobiographical – how much so, it is of course hard to tell.

    The Forward has a review of a biography of Roth called Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth in which he discusses some of the more disturbing aspects of Roth's strange and difficult life. The review is worth a read - "Call it Sleep" is required reading.

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    Wednesday, August 24, 2005

    If Israelis had a sense of humor ... 

    (WARNING: This post is in bad taste!)

    … the cell phone company Orange would have sponsored the anti-hitnatkut effort … Yossi Sarid would have volunteered to teach Hebrew in Kfar Darom … Ariel Sharon would have purchased a Greek Island for the refugees ... As a thank you for all the Christian support, they would have had a demolition derby in Neve Dekalim … Ehud Barak would have shown up in Netzarim wearing a dress … Bibi would have sent Sarah to Shirat Yam for vacation … R. Aviner would have sung "Born to Run" on his way out of Gush Qatif … The physicians of Gush Qatif would have joined Doctors Without Borders … The former residents of Gush Qatif would have applied to be helped by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) …Chevra l'Haganat Ha'teva (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel) would have declared residents of Gush Qatif an endangered species … Israeli military ethics specialist Asa Kasher would have declared IDF contact with "settlers" as ethically forbidden … Yossi Beilin would have planted bugs in Gush Qatif lettuce while having dinner with Abu Mazen … In solidarity with Netzarim residents Tel-Aviv University would have unilaterally withdrawn from their campus which is built on an abandoned Arab kfar …The rabbis would have let the girls carry the Torah scrolls out of the Bet Knesset in Neve Dekalim… The TA Stock Exchange would have started trading settlement futures …

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    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    Property Rights to Correct Wrongs? 

    George Melloan of the WSJ has an interesting take (paid subscribers only) on Gaza, the disengagement and things in general. He makes an interesting claim for private property and the rights that go with them.

    There is almost no private property in Israel. Most of the land belongs to the Israel Land Authority- ILA (Minhal l'karkaei Yisrael). This means that if you own an apartment or house in Israel the chances are that you do not own the land itself. You lease it for 49 years (a little Judaism snuck in?) after which you have to lease it again (and not at symbolic prices). There are exceptions. Kfar Saba for example has a lot of land that was purchased by private individuals and not by the Jewish Agency or the JNF. Sharon's estate, Havat ha'Shikmin from what I understand is one of the few large tracts of land that the ILA actually sold to an individual (this I have heard from a variety of sources, but don't know 100% for sure).

    In any case – Melloan's claim is that with private property and with property rights, land could not just be taken for settlements – or taken from people in settlements.

    Melloan writes:

    "Individual Jews and Arabs have one common bond: For years they have been pawns in a political chess match, with only limited rights to what U.S. founding fathers held most dear, the ownership of property.

    Some of the Jewish settlers had been in Gaza for over 30 years. They owned cars, furniture, outdoor grills and all the appurtenances familiar to suburban Americans. But they didn't own the real estate they occupied. What had been provided to suit Jerusalem's strategic and paternalistic ends was just as easily taken away. We've witnessed this sad exodus because Mr. Sharon, his cabinet and the Knesset decided that there was no future for Israel in Gaza.

    The Arabs of Gaza have even fewer rights. They are 1.3 million souls packed into this tiny enclave on the Mediterranean, with Israel on the north and east and Egypt to the south. Only a privileged few own land. Most of the others are trapped in a squalid welfare state operated by the United Nations."

    Melloan claims that "U.S. Gen. William Ward, who is monitoring PA reforms, commissioned a study of transitional problems from Strategic Assessments Initiative, a Dutch-Canadian think tank. The recently leaked report said that, 'lack of clarity in relation to the future of settlement assets, land allocation and property rights may present a threat to stability.'

    That may be the understatement of the year. The ambiguities of property rights have been a source of strife in the Mideast for decades. Everyone fights over land, but nobody actually owns it."

    The real question though is that in Israel – in the middle-east - are there really any individuals or are we just members of some group?

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    Cool, Crisp and Clear 

    We spent a few hours today at the gates of Gan Edden (Garden of Eden). The midrash (I am not sure which one, but it has been quoted to me by so many local residents I am sure it exists) states that the Bet Shean valley is one of the gates to Gan Edden. This is so because of all the natural streams and pools coming from the Gilboa mountains above it (although the intense heat makes you think it is the gate to some other mythic location).

    So we took some time (very little time in this vacation-less summer) and drove northeast up Route 6, down through Wadi Ara, to Meggido, past the Yael and Hever settlements and on to Emek Bet Shean past Bet Alfa and Hefzibah to Sahne – excuse me, THE Sahne.

    The Sahne is a series of natural pools, some of which are four meters deep or more and small waterfalls. The air is oppressively hot but the water – ah the water. Cool, crisp and clear. If you go to the beach in the Mediterranean or at the Kinneret – the water is warm and not usually all that refreshing. But the water at the Sahne! When you are in the water you don't really believe that it is that hot out – but then thirty seconds or so out of the water and you are reminded.

    Take a trip.

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    Monday, August 22, 2005

    From Where New Leaders? 

    This country is in desperate need of new leadership. The old guard has outlasted its welcome as a lack of self-confidence has not permitted the next generation to get rid of its current crop of leaders. This is as true for the right (Sharon) as it is for the left (Peres) as it is for the religious Zionists (the various rabbis) and the haredim (ditto in bold).

    Sharon and Peres were great tacticians who have yet to create a strategic victory (for the hitnatkut the book is still open, obviously) and the religious-Zionist rabbis led by R. Avraham Shapira have obviously failed their flock as the rabbis once again have proven that they have no grasp on the modern world. They led us astray in Europe by ordering the Jews to avoid both Zionism and that treyfe medina – America. We all know the result.

    This time it was the religious-Zionist rabbis to lead their flock into folly. Starting with the false hope of an immediate redemption and a settlement program that lost touch with reality to causing grief in old and young alike who bought into the rabbinic infallibility thesis and believed – truly believed until last Shabbat - that the hitnatkut would not happen.

    One thing is sure in the religious-Zionist world. The leadership must abandon the haredi belief that all is in Torah and Torah is all there is and return to our "Torah im Derech Eretz" roots. This means that the leadership must be educated in diplomacy, in war, in economics, in the sciences and in the humanities and in Torah. The leadership can, but need not be rabbis and the rabbis need not always be in the leadership. Religious-Zionism over the last forty years or so signed up for the whole enchilada. We wanted to be involved in more than the Ministry of Religion (now thankfully defunct) but we refused stand up to the rabbis and demand that they be educated or stay in the Yeshiva.

    A good friend who is also a professor of Jewish history at an Israeli university once told me (in relation to the proud academic, smart and nice guy and political failure, Shlomo Ben-Ami) that universities should never let their professors out – they do too much damage. The same ought to be said about yeshivot.

    Let the students be educated to lead the country and let the rabbis (the ramim in local parlance) stay in the bet midrash where they can do some good. Let them have some humility (Rav Lichtenstein comes to mind) and allow those who know more than they do formulate policy and lead. Let them give moral and Halakhic guidance and not dictates.

    The new leadership of the religious-Zionist movement will have to come from the yeshivot and the universities and the army – all together. In Israel, (religious) leaders need all of the above – not one or the other. They also need real life experience, be it in the business world or in public service, in development towns or big cities, in setting up new settlements or new businesses.

    One thing is sure – they cannot have spent their lives in the yeshivot. That is a recipe for the disaster that we are now working to overcome. Who are the leaders that will arise out of the rubble of Neve Dekalim? Where will they have been educated? What will have been their real life experiences? Which of our young, veterans of the good fight will rise respectfully in front of their rabbis and say – "ad kan" (until here) – and present an alternate to the current crop of failed leaders?

    And who amongst the secular-Zionists of the right and the left will respectfully thank their current leaders for all they have done and say "dai" (enough) – you are too caught up in your egos and your power and have lost sight of future of this country?

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    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    Dalia Rabikovitch, z"l 

    Poet, writer and literary translator Dalia Rabikovich died in her home in Tel-Aviv at the age of 69.
    Yehi Zichra Baruch.

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    Will a new and younger religious-Zionist leadership spring from the hitnatkut?

    It seems pretty clear to anyone who pays attention that the two former chief rabbis, R. Shapira and R. Eliyahu have uttered their last words as moral and rabbinic leaders. R. Shapira not only encouraged but absolutely demanded that soldiers refuse orders. He did not pull any punches in his pronouncements and it is pretty clear that he has no followers in the vast religious-Zionist presence in the IDF's officer corps and amongst its conscripts (including the rabbis and students of the hesder yeshivot).

    R. Eliyahu absolutely guaranteed that the hitnatkut would not happen. SMS messages were sent on last Wednesday, when it was all but over, instructing people in which chapter of Tehilim (Psalms) to recite in order to thwart the hitnatkut. Although I have heard of lone cases where people are distraught over the fact that they were sure the messiah would come and stop the hitnatkut, there was no belief amongst the overwhelming majority of the religious-Zionist rank and file of the prophetic powers of the good rabbi.

    Of the old-line rabbis who were in Gush Qatif, praise should go to two rabbis who helped calm things down – R. Shlomo Aviner and R. Ariel (chief rabbi of Ramat Gan). R. Aviner, with whom I disagree on most matters acted responsibly and in his weekly article distributed in synagogues in Israel called on burying the hatchet. R. Ariel's weekly article spoke of the peaks and valleys of the "atchalta d'geula" (beginning of the redemption). This obvious statement was not so obvious to the Greater Israel crowd (although Oslo should have been a hint). But, better late than never.

    All in all, the tone in the synagogues in Israel this Shabbat was a combination of sadness, anger and optimism.

    The sadness is at the scenes of Jewish refugees, the anger at the government for either carrying out the policy or by messing up the civilian side of it (too many stories of not enough places for the residents to live and utter chaos on where to send them).

    The optimism?

    I don't think too many people in Israel really believe the security situation will improve. Even those who supported the operation and who are glad to be out of Gaza understand that from a security perspective there will be tough times ahead (PA president Abu Mazen said the "little Jihad is over, the large one is about to begin").

    I think that optimism comes from the possibility that new and younger leadership will arise and renew efforts at Zionist settlement activity by religious and secular alike. As we have written, settlement is to Zionism as entrepreneurship in to Americanism. Both require risk and idealism and both require determination and hard work. If for over 30 years the religious have taken over the settlement flag from the secular pioneers there is a feeling that along with the end of the Greater Israel movement there has also come to an end the post-Zionist movement. It may remain in the universities and in some neighborhoods of Tel-Aviv but as a movement for the hearts and minds of the people, the tears of the residents of Gaza and more importantly, the mature and merciful behavior of the officers and soldiers of the IDF have finally buried it.

    Along with a new and young religious-Zionist leadership that we hope will assert itself in a religious-Zionist renewal, we certainly must hope that a new and young secular-Zionist leadership also shows itself capable of renewing and reenergizing Zionism in general. The secular-Zionists must take up the settlement mantle and also work to minimize if not erase the religious-secular divide.

    For renewal, even as we agree to disagree is what we need.

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    Friday, August 19, 2005

    Nachamu, Nachamu Ami 

    Sometime in my high school years I realized that the Shabbat after the 9th of Av was important. I new it was called "Shabbat Nachamu" (the Sabbat of consolation) and knew it was called that because the haftarah (portion from the Prophets) read that week came from Isaiah 40 which started with God's words to a broken people "nachamu, nachamu, ami" (Comfort, oh comfort, my people). What I failed to notice though was the importance of this haftarah and the six that follow it in leading up to Rosh Hashanah and then Yom Kippur.

    I couldn't really imagine that people could actually be comforted by words from the prophets. Maybe it was my yeshiva education which concentrated on Talmudic study and did not allow us the opportunity to see the Tanach for what it was. Maybe it was the crassness of popular culture and the cynicism with which it treated things serious- religious and not – that didn't let us see the Tanach as personal and timeless at the same time.

    This week has been a most difficult week for the people of Israel. I don't want to start with historical comparisons and statements about the "first time in history …" because the last sixty years has been the first time in history that the Jewish people have had to deal with the many issues that arise from the running of a modern nation-state.

    Nonetheless, we could do worse than to look to the Tanach and to the seven haftarot that start tomorrow and extend until Rosh Hashanah to gain comfort, perspective, consolation and intellectual succor. Isaiah certainly has more to say to us intellectually, psychologically and theologically than all of the psychologists, social workers, professors, news commentators and yes, even rabbis (and bloggers, too) that are sure to want to fill our ears with their words over the next few weeks.

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    Thursday, August 18, 2005

    Failing to Succeed 

    For all intents and purposes the hitnatkut (disengagement) is over. The violence that was promised by a gleeful media never happened. The best they got was a bunch of kids throwing blue water and other things off the roof of a synagogue for about 15 minutes. The religious-Zionists did not "hitnatek" (disconnect) from the State of Israel and the young, the old and rabbis had their say and acted well. The army and the police acted with sympathy and determination – sympathy not only for the families but for the cause they were trying to uphold. There were many stories of soldiers dancing with the residents in the synagogues and of soldiers being invited over for dinner at the homes of those they were to "evacuate" the next day.

    But the hitnatkut was for those who thought it would destroy religious-Zionism, a failure. It did not break the back of religious-Zionism. As a matter of the fact, the hitnatkut boomeranged back into the faces of the anti-religious left by making thousands of soldiers realize that "settlers" and the religious are actual people. And the residents and their sympathizers sympathized with the plight of the soldiers and officers asked to do the impossible. The entire country was impressed with the patience and the maturity of its army.

    This has been a defining moment in the lives of our children. Those that are in junior and senior high-school have never in their busy lives been as aware of and involved in the lives of others as they were these past few months. They have learned how to read newspapers and listen to news broadcasts with a critical ear. They have listened to rabbis and teachers and professors and parents and madrichim and friends and news-people and strangers and have developed the ability to think and act on their thoughts.

    Some acted like adolescents acted and got punished as adults. Some screamed and complained and some calmly asked what they could do next. They are all now veterans of a major political battle and in their defeat they will find strength. Instead of loosing faith and detaching themselves from their country: Instead of leaving their real world lives for the haredi escapting that are the shtetls of Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim they will internalize the lessons they have learned and use them in the future.

    I stand by what I wrote in a JPost article back in May:

    "This summer will see the best religious Zionism has to offer. There will be emotion and intellect, power and silence. Some will resist what they view as a betrayal, some will acquiesce all the same. Others will support the withdrawal while feeling the pain of evicting good Jews from their homes. Sadly, we will see a small group of violent offenders whom the press will portray as the true face of religious Zionism.

    We will survive the ordeal not because we are unified but because we are pluralists by nature. After disengagement there will definitely be some religious Zionists who will give up on Zionism or on religion. But most of us will continue as a community to pray, to learn Torah, to study the sciences and the humanities, to work, to defend the country and raise our children as Jews and Israelis.

    I don't doubt that there will be trouble. I also don't doubt that, in the end, the haredi and secular leadership will be disappointed when we pick ourselves off the ground, dust ourselves off and continue to be in the vanguard of building the only Jewish state we have.

    The good-bye party for religious Zionism will have to wait."

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    Rooftop Politics 

    The media finally got some of the violence they have been waiting for. While attempting to remove the kids (mostly the 'noar gvaot' - the kids who are the most radical, the least disciplined and for the most part spend the school year as truants) from the roof of the bet knesset in Kfar Darom, they poured some acidic material (I think fire extinguisher foam) on the policemen. Ten were painfully burned, but were able to walk away on their own.
    But that seems to be all but over.
    For all intents and purposes, the hitnatkut is over.
    Was it a success?
    It depends for whom.

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    Second Shul 

    The police (not the army) have entered the bet knesset in Kfar Daron in riot gear. There doesn't seem to be much violence other than to the holiness of the place.
    Since the army and all the commentators are reporting that the hitnatkut is way ahead of schedule one has to wonder where the order came from to enter the synagogues after only a few hours of negotiation. Especially since there doesn't seem to be enough places to put everyone. Before this all started a good friend of mine told me that although the army will be ready the government will screw up all the rest. Since there are all too many reports of families evicted with no place to go, I think he was right.

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    Now the Shul 

    They have started to clear out the synagogue in Neve Dekalim of people. The men are in the Ashkenazi bet knesset and the women in the Sepharadi. The men are first. They are lying on the floor holding arms in a chain. The soldiers are coming in and trying to carry them out, one by one. There is resistance. Not heavy, but certainly violent. Those members of the media in the studio are gleeful - finally some action - while those in the field understand what is going on.
    On the one hand I can't imagine that Israeli forces would have gone into a Mosque so quickly. On the other hand I can't understand how the men and boys can act as they do in a Bet Knesset. The soldiers are our friends and neighbors.
    Emotions are heavy, mixed. Sympathy goes back and forth.

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    Twice in Two Weeks 

    The OOS son number two is in the Nitzanit refugee camp, today helping families thrown out of their homes to unpack and get settled. Instead, because of a burreaucratic error he is helping a family that left their home two weeks ago to pack again. It seems they were sent to the wrong place and now must pack up and leave again.

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    Last Bamba 

    From YNET:

    מסדר הבמבה שערך איתמר (צילום: תני גולדשטיין)

    אמו של הפעוט איתמר, שפונה מתל קטיפא, נהגה בדיוק כך. לשעה קלה הפך איתמר לידידם האישי של כל החיילים שבאו לפנות את משפחתו. איתמר החליט לכבד את החיילים בבמבה והתעקש: כל חייל וחיילת בכוח הפינוי יקבל חטיף במבה אחד מהשקית לפני שיסכים להתפנות.

    החיילים נענו לבקשתו של איתמר, התייצבו בשני טורים מסודרים בחצר הבית, ואיתמר אכן עבר ביניהם וחילק במבה לכל חייל. כש"מבצע במבה" הסתיים בהצלחה אמרה אימו של איתמר בעיניים דומעות: "זהו, איתמרי. צריכים ללכת".

    ... After an hour, young Itamar became a friend of all the sodliers that came to remove his family. Itamar decided to give the soldiers Bamba and insisted that each soldier present receive a piece of Bamba from his bag before he left.
    The soldiers agreed and stood in two rows in the yard of his house, as if for inspection and he began to give them from his bag of Bamba. When "operation Bamba" ended succesfully, Itamar's mother said, with tears in her eyes: "That's all, Itamari. We have to go now".

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    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    Donations Wanted: 

    The following items are desperately needed in this time of crisis in the State of Israel:

    1. Dignity
    2. Self-Respect
    3. Sense of Proportion
    4. Common Sense

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    Educating Grade 

    If you think Chaim Grade is as great a writer as I do, then this Tzemach Atlas post will interest you. Time to get his stuff back in print - especially The Yeshiva (both volumes).

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    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Letter from the Last Miluimnik 

    The following is a letter from Yonatan Sredni, a friend, fellow softballer (left fielder) who just finished three weeks of miluim (reserves) in Gush Qatif:

    The Last Miluimnik

    by Yonatan Sredni

    I had never done anything ‘historic’ in my life, but this last week I believe I set 3 unintentional records in regards to the disengagement from Gush Katif.

    I had just returned home a couple of days ago after 17 straight days doing guard duty as a reservist in Rafiach Yam, the southernmost settlement in Gush Katif. Rafiach Yam is a small settlement established in 1984 composed of 25 mostly secular families. As in other areas of Gush Katif, many of the residents earn their living through agriculture. Rafiach Yam, as it’s name indicates is located right next to Rafiach and the Mediterranean Sea and also lies near the Egyptian border and the famous Philadelphi Route.

    As Rafiach Yam is not a religious settlement, we reservists didn’t encounter any of the many obstacles that other settlements had to deal with. We didn’t have any orange clad teens sneaking into the settlement and camping out on the lawns, we didn’t have mass demonstrations against the disengagement plan, and in fact we didn’t even have much press hanging around (they all bypassed us looking for the ‘hot’ stories in places like Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom).

    In fact, all the residents of Rafiach Yam seemed to be very pragmatic and planned to be long gone by the time the final deadline arrived to leave the Gaza Strip. Most, if not all, had already found other housing, in “Caravillas” in Nitzan or elsewhere. Of course they all leave with a heavy heart, many of the residents have been there since the beginning, over 20 years, and for many of them this is the only home they have ever known.

    And so it was on the Shabbat morning of August 6th, after what turned out to be the last Shabbat morning service in the small caravan synagogue of Rafiach Yam, I was invited to have Shabbat lunch with Shuki and Rachel Atias and their family. Shuki is known to all residents of Gush Katif as the school bus driver and Rachel is the ganenet (nursery school teacher) in the nearby settlement of Morag. Sure enough their children and grandchildren were there too, but over the course of the meal when all the talk was about disengagement and where and how they were going to move during the coming week, it became painfully obvious to me that I had become the last Shabbat guest (soldier or otherwise) of this family in their home in Rafiach Yam. After 20 years of hosting guests in this beautiful home overlooking the sand and the sea, I was the last person on their long guest list.

    Three days later on Tuesday morning I went to pray by myself at the Rafiach Yam synagogue/caravan but I had to maneuver around boxes stuffed with siddurim and chumashim and other religious articles as all the selves were now bare. As I put on my tefillin and took in the scene, Shuki appeared and quietly went about his business filling the remaining boxes with holy books. Now I realized that I was the last person who would ever pray in this synagogue.

    As fate would have it, two days later, last Thursday, I was guarding at the main gate of the settlement in the late afternoon. For years and years, groups of miluimnikim (reservists) just like myself, had done 3 weeks stints of guard duty at Rafiach Yam and then would be replaced by another group of reservists. It was not so this time. In the early evening some young 18 year old soldiers performing regular mandatory service replaced me and my fellow reservists at the front gate of Rafiach Yam. Once again I had made the record books, I had become the last miluimnik to guard Rafiach Yam.

    In 1999 my younger brother Yair and I went to a baseball game in San Francisco to watch our beloved Giants play. 1999 was the last year the Giants played in frigid, blustery Candlestick Park before they would move to their sunny, beautiful downtown ballpark in the heart of the city. All season the Giants promotions department hyped the move and the farewell season at ‘the Stick’. Their longtime radio announcer Lon Simmons had a famous home run call “Tell It Goodbye” every time a ball would sail out of the yard, and that became the Giants slogan as well for their final season at Candlestick. At the game we attended each fan got a large beach towel sponsored by Coca Cola and K Mart. The towel had a drawing of the outside of Candlestick in the background and in the foreground cartoon people celebrating and dancing in orange t-shirts (the Giant’s team color) with the words “The Going-Away Party 1999” below it. Not one of the 40,000 Giants fans questioned the contents on the towel as we all knew well that the Giants were moving from a dump of a ballpark to a really great stadium, so why not celebrate.

    I reached in my closet and took out that towel this week and thought about the people of Rafiach Yam. No going-away party for them. They would not be dancing and celebrating this week. They have already packed up their belongings and left their homes quietly before the deadline. Their future is unknown.

    As we drove out of Rafiach Yam last Thursday afternoon, I took one last look back at the sand, and the sea, and the houses on the hill. “Tell it goodbye!”

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    Monday, August 15, 2005

    No Voice 

    Eventhough the government today was debating the next stage in the hitnatkut, the police did not allow an anti-hitnatkut demonstration in front of the Knesset. No reason was given - it isn't even on the news (not that I found) - why a group of people cannot be allowed to communicate to their representatives through a peaceful demonstration.

    More lessons in democracy.

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    Agunot and Halakhahic Solutions 

    The current Edah Journal has an interesting give and take on the Agunah problem based on the review of a book by Israeli professor and rabbi Aviad Hacohen by Atlanta rabbi, professor and dayan, Michael Broyde (see also the Hirhurim post on the exchange). I reread the Broyde review in light of the exchange and the responses by R. Daniel Sperber (not really a response to the review, just a comment on the book), Hacohen, founding director of Agunah International, Dr, Susan Aranoff, Rabbi Dr. Haim Toledano – a dayan in the controversial R. Emanual Rackman Bet Din and Susan Weiss, an Israeli divorce lawyer (it is not clear if she is also a "toenet rabbanit" who argues cases before the rabbinical court, or only practices in civil court).

    It is quite difficult going through the various essays and taking out the condescending and personal attacks on all sides from the meat of the essays. Broyde, in his original review was condescending not only to Hacohen but especially to R. Rackman. For those too young to really know about R. Rackman (and maybe Broyde is too young, I don't really know) he is not just another rabbi, but a brilliant exponent of modern orthodoxy who probably would have been president of YU had the opening come ten years earlier. He was a close colleague and talmid of Rav Solioveitchik even if they didn't always see eye to eye. The disgusting way he was treated by Broyde should never have been allowed by the editor. For people who insist on being respectful of all rabbis - event the likes of the Satmar Rebbe, this is a strange way of writing.

    Further, in his response, Broyde takes a backhanded slap at R. Sperber after stating that he is a recognized Torah scholar.

    It doesn't stop of course with Broyde. Hacohen is none too respectful of Broyde or the American rabbinate and the other respondents for the most part follow suit.

    In order not to make this a how far you can you know what contest, there were a few curious statements and some interesting comments.

    For the purpose of these cases it has to be understood that a classical "agunah" and a "mesurevet get" (a women whose husband withholds the get or uses it for purposes of extortion) are not all that different today (apologies to the purists, but this is not an Halakhic discussion, per se). The argument is based on the utility of "annulments" in cases where there was a pre-existing condition in the man. The book that is reviewed is an analysis of the method that the Rackman Bet Din uses expansively while Broyde is in favor of using the method in limited circumstances only (a comprehensive review of the method by analyzing the Talmudic presumption "Tav Lemeitav" which states that women would prefer to be married to anyone, rather than be single – if you think this odd, strange, disgusting or true, read the article, don't comment on it here - is in an Edah Journal article by Ruth Halperin-Kaddari).

    I am not qualified to pass judgment on the Halakhic arguments here as both sides make interesting points. My guess is that Broyde's approach is much more faithful to the Halakhic process while the Rackman Bet Din tries to create new uses for what was established in the past on a limited basis.

    Broyde, ends the review with an Appendix presenting his prenuptial agreement – the Tripartate Agreement – which is his method of solving the agunah problem in the future.

    This is an interesting method that has also been encouraged here in Israel through Kolech and other groups but does not solve existing problems. Hacohen attacks Broyde in saying that since R. Elyashiv does not accept it, it is irrelevant (more on that below). One of the respondents (Aranoff) has stated (and since Broyde curiously didn't mention it in his response at the end, I guess it is true) that her organization has dealt with two women who despite signing the agreement before their marriage, they have "suffered close to two years of agony before receiving her get despite having singed the RCA pre-nuptial. One woman ended up paying extortion to secure her get. Neither received the $100-125 per day which the husband was obligated to pay due to having withheld the get". The Bet Din of America, of which Broyde is a dayan was the Bet Din for the cases. (Could it be that the fact that the RCA pre-nup is not accepted by the haredi posek hador caused the Bet Din to blink when they had to uphold it?) The pre-nuptial states that 15 months is the time at which a get will be granted automatically. The groom signs, amongst other statements, the following: " … I recognize that my wife has agreed to mart me only with the understanding that should she wish to be divorced that I would give get within fifteen months of her requesting such a bill of divorce". Another issue not discussed with the pre-nup is the lack of a decision by the RCA to require the use of the pre-nup in all marriages. Without this requirement it will not even solve future problems.

    For all intents and purposes both sides appear to be in the forefront of trying to relieve agunot and mesuravot get of their agony. For Broyde, though, not every "problem in Jewish law [has a] solution any more than every sickness has a cure".

    Of course, that may be true from a purely Halakhic point of view. However, rabbis of the past have managed to create brand new rules that go against clear Halakhic norms in order to solve major problems – "b'sha'at ha'dchak". "Pruzbol" (permitting debts beyond the shemita year)and "heter iska" (allowing lending with interest) are perfect examples of the creation of tools necessary for the continuation of the Jewish economy in spite of the fact that they essentially cause the entire people to sin against a clear dictate from the Torah.

    It could be stated that risking a "mamzer" (a Jewish child born of relations with a married woman, by other than here husband, or through incest and who cannot marry another Jew – unless a mamzer, too) is too great a risk to allow leniencies in the freeing of married women. But the rabbis have done this in the past. The famous case of not declaring the child born to a married woman whose husband was away for 12 months as long as the husband does not complain means that it is more important to protect the innocent child than to keep a mamzer from marrying a Jewish bride or groom.

    The more interesting case though relates directly to agunot. According to Jewish law a Bet Din can only make a decision based on the testimony of two male, Jewish eyewitnesses. For the purpose of freeing the Agunah (and the classical agunah was a woman whose husband traveled on business, never to return) the rabbis decided that they would accept the testimony not only of just one witness, but of a woman and even of a non-Jew – and that they would accept hearsay and not only eyewitness accounts about the husband's death. Certainly, there was a great risk of the offspring of the agunah being mamzerim – yet the rabbis showed mercy on the woman and changed basic rules of evidence (and only in this case) in order to free her.

    So the question remains – why not a similar revolutionary change in the Halakhah (and by reading Broyde's analysis, this would be less revolutionary) in order to deal with a major problem in our own times?

    There are a few reasons why this is not being done (and I don't know if the Rackman solution or some other one is the proper one, only that one has to be found).

    1. For the leading posek of the haredi community, R. Elyahsiv, the agunah problem may not really be considered a major issue. This problem is probably more prevalent in the non-haredi community (and if not, R. Elyahshiv is probably under the impression that it is) and therefore from his point of view may not require a radical solution.

    2. Also, this agunah problem is essentially the result of modernity, of women demanding equality in their married life, making it a problem that R. Elyahiv may assume is created by the surrender to the modern world. This makes this a philosophical issue which R. Elyahiv opposes with all his might. For the great posek, the solution is probably to be haredi.

    3. For haredi posekim like R. Elyashiv and many modern-Orthodox and Religious-Zionist posekim solving the Agunah problem could be seen as a surrender to Orthodox Feminism. For many of these rabbis, this would open the floodgates to more "feminist reforms" by admitting that women need equal rights in marriages. This is more radical than it seems for the haredi world and for much of the religious-Zionist world. My guess is that is an unstated issue for many American modern-Orthodox rabbis as well – especially those who are "rashei yeshiva".

    4. For the MO/RZ rabbis, another reason for not solving the problem is the need to be accepted by the haredi rabbinic leadership. Sure enough, R. Soloviethcik opposed R. Rackman's method – but no one could say what he (or for that matter someone who was more lenient on these issues – R. Moshe Feinstein) would say if he (they) saw how deep the problem has gotten. But, as I stated, the Rackman solution might not be the right one.

    True enough, a pure utopian look at the Halakhah may not create a solution to the problem. But that has not really ever been the approach when the times created a new major problem.

    To my view, the main reason that a solution is lacking is not the Halakhic difficulty of finding a solution (and I am not belittling the difficulty), but that not enough rabbis and posekim see this as a major problem. It is not, for them "sha'at ha'dchak". For them, the agunah problem is a philosophical/ideological problem that requires a change in the behavior of the community rather than a change in the Halakhah. It is a problem created by the "surrender to modernity" and is a problem that is championed by orthodox feminists. For them, the problem is not the mean, nasty spiteful husband but the wife whose views of Jewish family and marriage are different than theirs.

    I am not accusing Rabbi Broyde of this view (as a pulpit rabbi and a dayan he has certainly seen more ugliness than I have) but clearly he, the Bet Din of America and the Bet Din of the Rabbanut here in Israel are fearful of the reaction of R. Elyahiv and the other haredi posekim. They should have courage though to unify and find a solution. They should offer the solution to R. Elyashiv with the understanding that if he doesn't accept it, they will go ahead with it anyway and any future problems will be on his head. Even though 97% of divorces brought before the Bet Din of America (see the Hirhurim post, cited above) are finalized within an acceptable period of time, the amount of divorce in Jewish America (and Jewish Israel) make this an unacceptably low figure. The growing problem of spousal abuse and other aberrant behavior make this a "sha'at ha'dchak".

    An Halakhic solution to the agunot and mesuravot get must be found. Period.

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    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Neither a Toy, nor a Game 

    Tisha B'av is approaching and the day after that, the hitnatkut.

    And the only thing I can think about is that this country is neither a game nor a toy. What goes on here is not a game. There are no winners or losers, only those who continue for another day – and those who don't. We in Israel and our friends and relatives in the Diaspora are intensely involved in the politics of the times. We all care and we all like to yell and scream hoping our opponents come to their senses. But in the end – there will be those who continue to live in Israel, who continue, in the words of Emil Fackenheim, the "Jewish Return into History".

    That history includes the great events such as military victories, the founding of Tel-Aviv, the liberation of Jerusalem and the settlement of the Land. But it also includes the small everyday things like the education of our children, the production of milk, oranges and software, walking the streets and attending the birthday parties, bat mitzvot and weddings of our children. It includes visiting friends and going to synagogue. All in Israel. It includes reading literature great and less so, learning Torah of all sorts. All in Israel.

    Israel is life – it is not a toy or a game that you play with when you feel like it. It is not a vacation spot, not a place to find yourself, not a place to work out your life's problems and not a place to build your own utopia. Living in Israel is living reality. And reality demands compromise and ugliness.

    Living in Israel requires strong and brave army. If our army were to take one hour off, thousands of Jews would loose their lives. There are times when an army is asked to do the impossible and there are times when it is asked to do the difficult and the ugly. It does them not because it is a professional force which "does its job" it does so because the soldiers and officers in it realize that when a difficult task is shunned, Jewish people – now or in the future – will loose their lives and the Jewish people might have to exit history once more. These soldiers are not some abstractions but our neighbors and sons and daughters. We can criticize their actions and we can point out their sins. We cannot de-legitimize them or their tasks.

    Only people who believe that Israel is a toy, or who can pack up and go home to wherever that is in the Diaspora (or an Israeli yeshiva or university), can approach the next week or two in messianic terms – and I mean this from the left and the right.

    If you believe that our right to Israel is based only on utopian/messianic moral grounds then you believe either that we must leave Gaza at all costs, or stay at all costs.

    If on the other hand you believe that we cannot under any circumstances let Israel fall, then you will respect what the army needs to do at this point because the alternative is to treat the State of Israel as your own personal toy that you can put on the shelf when you are tired of it.

    None of us can afford to do that. None of us can now raise a generation of children by telling of the evil done by the State of Israel and its army to its own people. We can't abandon Zionism - for if we do, we have abandoned Judaism and therefore we have abandoned God. This Tisha B'av we should remember that, for good or for bad, the fate of the Jewish people is not dependent upon the amount or quality of Torah learned in Lakewood in Washington Heights in Chicago or in Baltimore. It does not depend on the number of kosher restaurants in Teaneck or the number of cookie manufacturers that get the OU.

    It depends on our ability to live life as Jews – and to defend it, in Israel.

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    I hope that the good people in Gush Qatif, take this good professor's advice.

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    Wednesday, August 10, 2005


    Micah Odenheimer has a long article in Ha'aretz on the phenomenon that is Lakewood, NJ and its being the new in-place for American haredi Judaism (a few months ago, the in-place was Brisk Yeshiva in Jerusalem – I guess haredi fads last as long as the fashion season). What is odd is that the title of the article is "Only in America" – where this seems to be a near carbon copy of haredi life in Israel. The only exception is that the support comes from wealthy fathers-in-law instead of the coffers of the state. The author seems to have missed the main point, which is the Israelification of American haredi Judaism.

    My question is, how long can this go on? At some point its growth will outpace the supply of girls with rich fathers. I have no doubt that this new Jewish phenomenon (and it is new, as Odenheimer points out) that is haredi Judaism can survive a socialist Israel, but can it survive a capitalist America?

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    Tuesday, August 09, 2005

    Jewish Europe? 

    An oxymoron.

    I am with Stuart Weiss on this one:

    "I find the thought of spending Jewish money to build shuls and yeshivot in the decimated Diasporas of Europe sad, even offensive. If, in one period of our history, we were driven to the four corners of the world and forced to build our 'miniature sanctuaries' in far-flung places, that era is mercifully behind us."

    Read the whole thing.

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    The four and a-half year effort of a woman to receive a get from her husband (the story that Miriam at Bloghead and others have been following for some time) finally came to an end after the Bet Din, led by Cheif Rabbi Amar, threatened jail time to the husband had he not signed and given the get.
    The husband continued his games until the very end. Ma'ariv has the full, sad story of today's day in court.

    The time has certainly come for the rabbis to unite and give themselves stronger powers to literally force these men to act. Four and a-half years is too long to wait.

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    The Analysis of Messy Data 

    From the May, 2005 issue of The New Criterion, "The Determination of Free Will" by Gary Saul Morison:

    "I know a Russian economist, Aron Katsenelinboigen, who once sat on the commission planning the entire Soviet economy and, eventually recognizing the impossibility of responding to constantly unpredictable obstacles or opportunities, gave up the ideal and spent the rest of his life trying to understand how best to orient oneself to uncertainty: War and Peace was his bible.

    Aron liked to ask impishly why evolution, which has designed structures so complex we cannot come close to making them ourselves- think of the liver – has never designed an animal with wheels. Wheels seem so efficient: who would walk, rather than drive, to San Francisco? As I pictured a wheeled cheetah speeding across the Serengeti, Aron reminded me that the world is not paved. In a world of relative certainty, like our highway system, wheels make sense, but imagine a wheeled animal trying to get around a fallen tree in a forest. Legs, though less efficient in a regular environment are much more versatile. Their universality testifies to the most fundamental fact about the biological world: it is uncertain.

    In the social world it is even more fundamental that order is not given, does not underlie apparent disorder, but is always the result of work. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson composed a series of dialogues with his daughter, who posed the question: why is it that if my room is neat and I pay no attention it will soon get messy, but if my room is messy and I pay no attention it never gets neat? Things messify, never neatify. They tend to disorder, and the fundamental state of the social world is mess."

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    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    Do We Need Proof? 

    When did the Jewish people first live in that part of the world from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? Was it from the time of Abraham? Joshua? King David? King Solomon? Hezekiah? Ezra? the Macabees? Herod? Jesus? R. Judah HaNassi? Did any of these people really exist? Are they myths? Are some of them myths?

    Does it matter?

    In October, 2003, in response to the famous Tony Judt screed against Israel's right to exist, I wrote about an argument made by Professor Yosef Ben-Shlomo claiming that the (at least) 2,500 year old narrative that connects the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is more important than proving that Abraham or King David actually walked the land or controlled its territory. (You can read the whole essay if you'd like, I won't repeat the arguments here.)

    The Shalem Center, (see the Azure article on the politics of Biblical archeology) though has thought it useful to sponsor a dig by an archeologist who claims to have found King David's palace. According the article in the NY Times, the finds are important, whether they turn out to be the Biblical king's or not. But the tone of the article has turned everything upside down. Yassir Arafat's claim that Jerusalem was never Jewish is given equal treatment with the Biblical account. The fact that no one really challenged these facts a mere ten or fifteen years ago is irrelevant to the Times. Politics trumps all.

    The Times writes:

    "The discovery is likely to be a new salvo in a major dispute in biblical archaeology: whether the kingdom of David was of some historical magnitude, or whether the kings were more like small tribal chieftains, reigning over another dusty hilltop.

    The find will also be used in the broad political battle over Jerusalem - whether the Jews have their origins here and thus have some special hold on the place, or whether, as many Palestinians have said, including the late Yasir Arafat, the idea of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation."

    I have no problem with archeological digs that end up proving some Biblical fact, large or small. But we should treat them as that - external proof to the Biblical narrative – and not as proofs that are necessary to justify our owning apartments in Jerusalem, Kfar Saba or Beit Shemesh. Archeology is history, maybe a science to a certain degree – but it is not and should not be a political, legal or moral argument. If it is, then we ought to get our great diggers on to Har BaBayit before the Waqf destroys all the evidence.

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    Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Tzav Rishon 

    Sometime after your 17th birthday you receive an order to appear at the IDF base at Tel-Hashomer in order to be prodded, stuck, examined and analysed to see your fitness for service in the Israeli army. You get two numbers - your physical profile, which you see and the super duper top secret psychological/socioeconomic/whatever profile called "kaba".

    The OOS number two son had his tzav rishon today. The long process starts anew.

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    Indecently Exclusive 

    Although unity at this point is way too much to ask for, a little decency is to be expected. According to YNET, the new settlement of Nitzan which is being created for those Jews being thrown out of their homes in Gaza, has, due to pressure from religious families, been declared to be for religious families alone. According to the report, there was heavy pressure by the religious families to exclude the non-religious from Nitzan – to the point where the non-religious were being offered more money to move to Ashkelon instead.

    I have always been against the exclusive settlements and neighborhoods. Mostly, (besides the kibbutzim) they are exclusively religious. In the Galil there are settlements only for secular – or only for college graduates. There are settlements where you have to take intelligence and psychological tests to gain admittance.

    These all smell of the worst kind of elitism and snobbism.

    But in a moment of crisis – as those being removed from their homes in Gaza are in – you would think that people would understand a bit more, that at some point , the slightest bit of tolerance and common decency is desirable.

    It is getting harder and harder to find someone to sympathize with.

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    Wednesday, August 03, 2005


    Apologies for seemingly turning this blog over to politics, but if you are in Israel you will realize that this is not "just" politics. I am not one of those who thinks that the hitnatkut is a betrayal of Zionism (although it is a betrayal of some Zionists) but what is currently going on here will have a lasting effect on Israel, Zionism and Judaism.

    On the one hand Moetzet Yesha has to be commended for sponsoring large, emotional and difficult demonstrations against a government policy they feel they had no opportunity to oppose. On the other hand, first their insistence on using the "Eretz Yisrael card" as the main discussion point and their continued insistence on trying to march to Gush Qatif and their insistence that they can still stop the hitnatkut, shows their utter lack of political leadership. This lack of leadership – meaning no day after strategy and no attempt to include the country as a whole – will resonate for years to come.

    From the Labor Party's point of view, their "hitnatkut at all costs" has from the start smacked of cynicism and messianism rolled up into one. Their neglect of corruption and refusal to even discuss security or other objections to the hitnatkut will come back to bite them in the tush. Their non-response to the Prime Minister's attempt to trample the rights of his opponents will also be turned upon them – and probably by Ariel Sharon himself.

    The court system has treated 14 year olds as if they are common criminals and they have showed their true colors here, too. Aharon Barak, supreme court chief justice and moral policeman par excellence also acted as if the smallest opposition (or the smallest opponent) to the moral imperative to "end the occupation" is as close to a capital crime as one gets in this country (in the meanwhile, the Shaback refuses to interrogate injured terrorists because they get sued in Israeli court for maltreatment of prisoners).

    The media …. Well. Ha'aretz's newfound fascism and Israeli television's disappointment that for the second time in two weeks there was no bloodshed, tells the whole story.

    The only one who is acting as he always has and who in hindsight has not disappointed is Ariel Sharon. It is not the hitnatkut itself that was par for the course, but the tactics he used first to push the hitnatkut through and then the tactics used to crush the opposition that are, for him, business as usual.

    One has to wonder what Menachem Begin and Levi Eshkol would be saying about all of this – not just the hitnatkut – but the corruption, the cynicism, the lack of leadership, the disaster for democracy.

    Apologies again – but the process that is the hitnatkut – as opposed to the hitnatkut itself is eating at our country and at our religion. For those of you in Israel, you probably know this – for those of you in the Diaspora, you will probably also suffer for this.

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    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    Hit 'em Where it Hurts 

    YNET is reporting tht the government has ordered foster parents in Gaza to find a new home within six days or their foster children will be sent to orphanages.

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    Rights Leaders? 

    According to Caroline Glick "Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia wrote that [14 year old] Chaya [Belogrodsky] must remain in jail for a period that could last months because she constitutes a 'danger to the society because of her ideological motivation.' The amazing thing is that if Chaya is convicted, according to her father the maximum punishment she is liable to receive is a monetary fine." ... PM Sharon did not allow debate on the police policy regarding the rally in Shderot... Moetzet Yesha agreed to end today's march in Ofakim and not go on to Gush Qatif ... Some anti-hitnatkut leaders vowed to go on to Gush Qatif ... police reneged on the deal with Moetzet Yesha and will allow only 10,000 people to exercise their rights to free speech in Shderot and only 5,000 in Ofakim ... YNET is reporting that Shderot residents are "preparing a mountain of couscous" in welcoming the demonstrators.

    The Yachad Party (formerly Meretz) led by Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid is scheduling a mass protest in Rabin Square against the denial of civil rights to opponents of the hitnatkut ...NOT.

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    Monday, August 01, 2005

    Who Next? 

    First, the JPost becomes an arm of Habad central and now Israel's channel One?

    " 'The Lubavitcher Rebbe [late head of the Chabad Movement] perhaps is dead, but his spirit has been reigning at Romema [Israel Television's headquarters] ever since Motti Eden became director of Israel Television,' is how a senior editor at Channel 1 described the phenomenon."

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