Stanford Professor thinks Obama’s Israel Trip is a mistake

English: President Barack Obama talks with Isr...

English: President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call from the Oval Office, Monday, June 8, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barack Obama’s Israel trip: Benjamin Netanyahu will learn that he can insult the president and fail to advance the peace process and still land a presidential visit from the White House. – Slate Magazine.

The author makes some fair points, and I have never been a huge cheerleader for either Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Obama.

Nonetheless, Ms. Zacharia overlooks an important political truth. I suspect Obama is not going to Israel to praise Bibi, but to give heart to the growing and increasingly viable moderate middle in Israeli politics.

The government just formed in Jerusalem is perhaps one of the most interesting, intelligent, and hopeful administrations that Israel has seen in a decade or more. It finds itself less under the sway of nationalist fundamentalists and more under those who seek practical, intelligent ways forward.

Israel cannot slam the door on peace, nor can it continue to hive off large chunks of its real estate without concessions in return. The new administration collectively gets that. If Obama does not step in to show support now, he is by lack of action giving aid and comfort to extremists on both ends of the spectrum and on both sides of the Jewish-Arab divide.

It is disappointing that a former Jersualem bureau chief of the Washington Post completely misses this point.

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From the Facebook Files

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Heb...

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Hebrew Bible, is a scroll of parchment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the words of one self-declared atheist in a superb debate on Facebook:

“How useful is the Bible in guiding our moral decisions?”

That’s a fair question. Indeed, it is worth widening it to “How useful is any textual guide to morality, ethics, or personal behavior?” Whether you follow Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, Buddhavacana, Shruti, the Avesta, or Peter Singer‘s Practical Ethicsthe question is the same. How useful is any of these?

The answer is that the core text of any ethos is only as useful as you make it. My family and I find Torah useful every single day, often many times a day. But I know plenty of my fellow tribesmen who do not. And I know the more I study, the more I apply it.

But the question cannot be answered by anyone who does not know because they have not made a good  faith effort to try.

How Spain Made Judaism

Boy reading from the Torah according to Sephar...

Boy reading from the Torah according to Sephardic custom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Jews of Spain
Jane S. Gerber
Free Press
390pp

To the extent that I grew up in a Jewish milieu, that milieu was heavily Askenazic. The traditions seemed to leap magically from the Eastern Mediterranean with the sacking of the Temple and the tragedy at Masada all the way to Eastern Europe. While I had known my Jewish education was lacking (I was 31 before I knew what the Talmud was, for crying out loud), I had not known how badly my views had been poured through the prism of Eastern European traditions.

Not, that is, until I picked up Jane S. Gerber’s superb history of Sephardim, The Jews of Spain. 

Gerber did more for me than describe the history of brothers and sisters I had barely acknowledged in the past, she also provided a massive missing link. There is no continuity to or understanding of Jewish history without understanding the Sephardim. As I read, disjointed pieces of Jewish history fell into place. Who was the Rambam, and what the heck was he doing in Egypt? Why were the first American Jews from Spain? And who carried on the richness of diaspora scholarship and culture throughout the “Dark Ages?”

In the course of the book, Gerber also weaves a rich tale, a story of which any people could be proud. I’ll admit, it took me some time to finish the book, but only because I found myself pausing every few pages, setting the book down, and rushing over to look up another great Sephardic work, personality, or city on the Internet.

By the end, I found myself no longer seeing the Sephardim as outsiders, but instead seeing myself as, somehow, Sephardic. It has changed our lives, and as we add customs to our observance and celebration of our heritage, we are starting to add bits and pieces from Sephardic custom as well.

A superb read, The Jews of Spain belongs on the bookshelf of every Jew.