Not Your Father’s Catholic Church

“There has never been a Pope with as deep an understanding of Jews as Pope Francis” states Rabbi Rosen candidly. “Of course Pope John Paul II had a unique childhood experience of the Jewish community in Wadowice. But by the time he was a priest, there was little living community left to talk of, so his engagement was not as a developed adult.

Francis, on the other hand, has not only nurtured lifelong friendships with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, with whom he has had “a vibrant interaction”, says Rabbi Rosen, but has co-authored a book with an Argentinian rabbi, Abraham Skorka, “thus addressing issues face to face with Jewish self-understanding and experience. This profoundly shapes his sensitivity and his commitment to the Jewish-Christian relationship.”

Source: Pope Francis and the Jews: the first six months – AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy

The Jewish-Catholic relationship is still on the mend after well over a millennium of anti-Semitic dysfunction that ranged from the dismissive to the the implicit countenance of genocide. It’s a large wound.

That said, since the “Nostra Aetate” declaration at Vatican II, the progress has been measured, but consistent and meaningful, and that looks to continue apace under Pope Francis, who has now taken the unprecedented step of calling upon all Catholics to cease the effort to evangelize Jews. We would do well to recognize that this is a controversial move for the Pope among his own flock, and that it was made in the effort to provide a comfortable “space” for interfaith discussion.

There are certainly good reasons to draw the line in that discussion at interfaith dialogue on doctrine: our beliefs should never be the subject of negotiation. At the same time, we must recognize – as did Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ZT”L, the Lubavitcher Rebbe – that there are commercial, philanthropic, civil, and economic issues of mutual interest about which there must be open channels of communication. And that proscription against dialogue on doctrine should never constrain leaders from either faith from dispelling real and often slanderous misconceptions held by one group of the other.

There is still much to be discussed in an effort to find a way to live together in a world where all faiths find themselves navigating a world with deeper and deeper sees of relativism. It is good to do so during a time when the attitude about Jews and Judaism projected by  most Catholics, lay and clergy, to be far more enlightened than has historically been the case.

 

 

Should Jews Live Apart Again?

Hebrew Union College Campus

One question that growth of Christian communities that are taking the Benedict Option poses to Jewish communities is whether more of us should be following them – and our Orthodox brothers and sisters – into lives of greater Jewish communalism in the face of changes underway in wider society?

(And to clarify – the Benedict Option is not an alternative to living within society at large, and does not contemplate disengagement or withdrawal, but calls for communal living within the broader context of society.)

We Are Used to Being Apart

Naturally, living apart – voluntarily or otherwise – is nothing new to Jews. At times, greater communalism has served us well, strengthening the bonds that unite us as a community, serving as a barrier to assimilation. and enabling us to better address and withstand persecution from outside.

Yet at other times, communalism became insularity, leaving us out of touch with the outsider world, and simultaneously making us easier to isolate, attack, and even (as in the Holocaust) exterminate.

There is an argument to be made that despite the dangers implicit in spreading ourselves among the goyim in the Diaspora (intermarriage, assimilation), there is the virtue of keeping us engaged, keeping us from being easily targeted.

But when being close to the goyim stops serving our purposes – when being a physical part of a wider, interfaith community leaves us cut off from the rest of our people and subject to harassment or worse, the attractions of communalism begin to eclipse the risks.

This is Urgent in Europe

We are probably not yet at the point in America where we are better off in our own communities. Many countries in Europe, however are in a different place. When we look across the Atlantic to our tribesmen and women in Europe, the trend in France, Germany, and other European nations appears to be to institute restrictions and condone public behavior that combine to make living among non-Jews increasingly challenging.

The choice is becoming stark: draw away from the wider population and form communities that combine physical proximity with strong support institutions; or emigrate. European Jews need to engage in country-by-country discussions about how they can continue living in a post-modern Europe, before weariness of persecution or outright fear drive them to Israel or America.

What about the U.S.?

In the United States, at the very least we need to avoid being boiled frogs. American Jews, particularly those of us who do not presently live frum lives, should begin discussing at what point it makes sense for us to start basing our decisions about where to live on the proximity to strong Jewish communities, and when it would make sense to reinforce and extend the our communal institutions to better support us in a changing world.

We do not have to surrender our practices in order to cleave closer to the observant community, and to broaden the role of our community institutions. Nor am I asking the Charedim to invite Reform Jews to live among them. I am simply suggesting that we will survive against the coming storms only if we are one people, a community of communities, a “Kehillat Godol.”

And we do have to start responding as a community to movements in wider society that threaten our ability to practice our faith in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Vegetarian Jews must recognize a commonality of interest with their omnivorous tribesmen on questions of shechita. Public education advocates among us should also support measures that make Jewish education accessible to those who choose it. We should all take a stand against efforts to criminalize practices that lie at the core of our faith, including circumcision.

And it behooves us to watch out for other potential challenges to our faith, whether in the form of institutional anti-Semitism, the toleration of exclusionary practices or persecution, or efforts by outsiders to make Jewish practice illegal.

At the very least, we should consider whether we have allowed certain practices and institutions in our communities to whither, and whether it is time to return to a policy of more actively supporting them.

History has proven that as we live in nations aside from our own, the strongest guarantee of our continued safety and prosperity lies in the construction of strong communities and institutions. We don’t need to adopt the “Benedict Option:” we created it. We simply need to return to the time-honored practices that have served to shield our communities, our faith, our families, and ourselves from the vagaries of a non-Jewish world.

Judaism and the Benedict Option

As described by conservative commentator Rod Dreher, who is both an expert in and advocate of the practice. the “Benedict Option” refers to the voluntary withdrawal by contemporary Christians from the wider society into segregated, or even cloistered communities, much in the way that Benedictine monks did during the more unsettled parts of the middle ages.

These modern Benedictines have, in Dreher’s words, “ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.”

Dreher continues:

“Put less grandly, the Benedict Option — or “Ben Op” — is an umbrella term for Christians who “accept [Alistair] MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, and who also recognize that forming Christians who live out Christianity according to Great Tradition requires embedding within communities and institutions dedicated to that formation.”

The public discussion among observant Christian communities around the Benedict Option reached a crescendo during the latter half of President Obama’s second term. At the time, it was possible to foresee America living for decade under a government that was unsympathetic to the concerns of Americans shaken by the speed and magnitude of change in public mores. It has since dropped off, but one gets the feeling that observant Christians are waiting to see how far Trump is – or is not – willing to go to reverse that trend, or even to slow the pace of change.

The logical question when reading about the Benedict Option is to ask whether there is a Jewish version. Are observant Jews in America as alienated by the changes in American society as are observant Christians? And are they ready to change the structures of their communities to address them?

Few who read this would disagree that they already are, and have been for centuries. Indeed, as Dreher and others have noted, the most relevant model for the Benedict Option in the context of a modern society is not the original Benedictine communities themselves, but observant Jewish communities. The place of worship becomes the center of the community. Communities establish religious schools offering different mixes of secular subjects and religious teachings as an alternative to public schooling. They build social institutions designed to support observant life. And they are serious about weekly communal activities.

Two questions emerge from this, then.

  1. How are we as Jews – as individuals and as a community – to respond to Christian communities taking the Benedict Option?
  2. Is it time for Jews of all denominations – Conservative, Reform, and Deconstructionist as well as Orthodox – to begin rethinking our physical assimilation into wider society?

I’ll address each in separate posts in the coming weeks.

German court justifies synagogue attack 

Source: German court justifies synagogue attack – Europe – News –

The echoes of approaching jackboots haunt the streets of Wuppertal, Germany at night. You can almost see the flicker of the torches.

Make no mistake, my friends. The surrender of Germany to the Allies on May 8, 1945 did not end anti-Semitism, racism, or Naziism in Germany. It just drove those things underground, where they lie dormant.

We are watching the black shoots of hatred sprout anew from the European soil.

This time, let us not go gently.

Fight the darkness with light.

My Jewish No-Read Zone

B”H

I am, as I write this, 52 years old and, thank G-d, in good health. I estimate that, between work, family, scouts, writing, and sleep, I probably have time left to read about 1,000 books in my life, at the very most. Confronted with that figure and the realization that my library already has thousands of unread volumes, I have by necessity become quite picky about my reading.

One filter I have added to my quest for erudition has been the resolution to avoid writers who were openly anti-Semitic, or who had the reputation of being so in their private lives. For these reasons, I will not be spending any more of my increasingly precious hours reading the works of T.S. Eliot, Roald Dahl, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Edith Wharton, Kingsley Amis, Ezra Pound, GK Chesterton, or others similarly biased.

People I respect tell me that in doing so, I am closing off a large and important swath of literature, and that is true, but only to a limited degree. When I was younger I read widely, and I spent time with the works of many of these authors. I’ve sampled the wares, as a good reader should, and I would never urge my son or any other student to shy away from any author because of their beliefs.

But the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the world today makes it necessary to filter out what I can. What is more, I am blessed in this age to have access to such a massive scope of works that I can readily go through life avoiding anti-Semitic writers (and any hatred that might seep into their words) and still have a full literary life.

And, oh, the choices make it simple. I shan’t miss GK Chesterton when I’ve yet to sample the oeuvre of Primo Levi. Why bother with Kingsley Amis when Bernard Malamud beckons? And do I need bother with Roald Dahl beyond Mr. Wonka when the late Elie Weisel’s Souls on Fire and Night both taunt me, unread, from my bookshelf?

And that’s before I even bring up Martin Buber, Adin Steinsalz, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the raft of brilliant sages dating back to the Rambam, the Ramban, Rashi, and beyond.

You get the point. It is hard for a quinquagenerian Hebrew to justify spending time on anti-Semites when so many great Jewish authors and works lay waiting on the shelves.

A Pause

I have of late (and all too frequently) found myself drawn in this space into impassioned posts concerning Israeli politics, the international relations of the Middle East, and anti-Semitism.

While these are issues of profound import to me, I have discovered that they draw me away from the core purposes of this blog. Worse, the frustration they incite frequently drags me into the gutter of rage.

There have also been times where I have believed that my learning and wisdom are so insignificant that I have no business addressing matters of Torah, and that I am better off fighting the political battles to which I am better qualified to speak.

I will, therefore, try to avoid such discussions going forward. Teshuvah is the light I wish to follow here, not anger.

I pray to Hashem that this is the correct path.

What about Justice for Jewish Refugees?

Some 900,000 Jews from Arab countries have fled their homelands since 1948; they left behind an estimated $30 billion in property, including buildings in dozens of Jewish communities.

Source: No solution for Palestinian refugees without justice for Jewish ones – Israel Opinion, Ynetnews

Lest we forget – this gigantic injustice has been ignored and buried for six decades.

Equally important – this is the treatment the Jews and Christians of Israel could expect if the “Palestinians” achieve their ultimate aim.

On Shaming an Anti-Semite

Lisa Marie Mendez, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student and employee at the UCLA Medical Center, has made her extreme distaste for “fucking Zionist pigs” crystal clear this past month in her rant against Jews on Facebook.

Source: A UCLA Student Working At David Geffen Medical Center Told Jews To “Get The F*** Out of Here.” When Will UCLA Kick Her The Hell Out? | Daily Wire

Given how disgusting and abhorrent as this angry rant is, I am as tempted as many others who have read it to visit personal retribution on the individual who spewed forth these anti-Semitic sentiments. (And let us be clear – while the words may be couched in anti-Israel rhetoric, they quickly become anti-Semitic.) But I believe to do would be a bad idea for three reasons.
First, the more I read her words, I am stunned that they come from the hand of an apparently intelligent young woman who has earned the right to study at one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning, and work at one of the nation’s best medical facilities. The only conclusion I can reach is that Ms. Mendez is a deeply angry, deeply wounded young woman. A retributive campaign against her would only make her more aggrieved. It would neither heal her nor make her reconsider the error of her beliefs. What is worse, trying to get this young lady fired or expelled flies in the face of the core values of Torah that compel us to the mercy, justice, and compassion of Hashem. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Jews.
Second, the young lady has the right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to express her beliefs, irrespective of how hateful and stupid they are. What is more, she is a student at a major public university, and we should always work to ensure that those venues remain an especially open and free marketplace of ideas. As neanderthal and rodent-level as anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting are, they are laid most bare as foolish in an open community of scholars. As Jews, we must look to history and recognize that we have thrived in the Diaspora primarily in those places where intellectual expression was least constrained. We cannot defend the right of the talented and learned Mayim Bialik if we do not defend the rights of her detractor, Ms. Mendez. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Americans.
Third, the righteous fight against defamation must never sink to the level of a witch-hunt. The most effective approach to anti-Semitism is outreach and discussion first and foremost. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL,) in its response to this specific situation, sought assurances from both the university Ms. Mendez attended and the hospital for which she worked that they did not share her sentiments, and in fact sought to distance themselves from them. They ascertained that the student did not allow her beliefs to infect her work and devolve into discrimination or hateful acts. We should take it no further.
This is not to say that we should moderate or cease or active opposition to anti-Semitisim in all of its forms. It is, rather, to say that we must do so with compassion, with a respect for free speech, and an unyielding determination to draw a line between seething hatred and acts of discrimination or violence.
Ms. Mendes should be ashamed of the words she has written, and I suspect that the day will come when she regrets her words as importune or even unjust. But that is a very different thing than saying that she should be shamed. Public shaming only stokes the fires of hatred and resentment.

What Happened to a Moderate Muslim at Vassar

The BDS liberals at Vassar, like the Party in George Orwell’s 1984, want you to imagine a vision of the future where they stamp their boots on an idealistic, human face.

It is ominous that Vassar College does not allow a healthy intellectual debate to flourish on campus, which requires even more persistent care-taking than the weeds on the campus lawn. Students should be given space to grow on campus, but they must not be allowed to grow so out of control that they conceal those who bring vandalism and handsaws into Main Building, and with them, the seeds of academic destruction.

Source: Pro-Israel Muslim Vassar student’s lonely fight to defend Israel – Anti BDS, BDS News, Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) – SPME Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Extremely sad. We have now added to the college checklist for my son “a verifiable commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech.” Those things are more important than food selection in the cafeteria and rock-climbing walls.

Austria Says it is Legal to Call for Jews to be Killed

Prosecutor rules that Austrian hair stylist’s anti-Semitic Facebook posts are a legitimate way to criticize Israel.

Source: Austrian prosecutor: Call to kill Jews is legal criticism of Israel – Diaspora – Jerusalem Post

For most of my life I dared to hope that in the aftermath of the greatest racial atrocity in the history of mankind, Europe had risen above its Jew-hatred.

I was, apparently, wrong. And that hatred does not stop with fringe groups. It reaches right into the heart of Europe’s elite, into the offices of the leaders of Austria’s judicial system.

Austria has now added itself to the list of countries I am unable to visit, especially with my family. And I must plead with my fellow Jews who are living there: run, haverim. Take your families and all you can carry with you. Leave and do not look back. Darkness is descending upon Austria again.

BDS has become an Anti-Semitic Movement

JNS.org – Last month, in a breathtaking display of anti-Semitism reminiscent of Nazi Germany, members of the student government at South Africa’s Durban University of Technology (DUT) called for the expulsion of all Jewish students from their campus. The very next day, halfway around the world, the student government at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) engaged in a similar display of anti-Jewish bigotry, nearly denying a highly qualified young woman a position on the student judiciary board after four student representatives […]

Source: The BDS Movement’s Long Trail of Anti-Semitism | Jewish & Israel News Algemeiner.com

There may be quite well-intentioned people in the movement who are genuinely concerned about specific policies of the Netanyahu administration who hate neither Israel or Jews. But we cannot for their sake tolerate a movement that has become the vehicle for people who would see Israel destroyed and Jews made pariahs.

BDS has become a global vector of anti-Semitism. It is time for those in the movement who respect the right of Israel to exist and who are not anti-Semites to leave. Continuing to identify with this festering pustule of hatred is to become hatred itself.

Shoah and Understanding

The more you study the Holocaust, the less you understand. I spent a lifetime studying it, and I still cannot understand. There were string quartets playing in Auschwitz-Birkenau while a million and a quarter human beings were gassed, burned, and turned to ash. What happened in Auschwitz in the Holocaust was a terrible demonstration of the limits of civilization to civilize if we do not fear God and see His image in every human person.

via Rabbi Jonathan Sacks | February 13, 2015 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS.

Anti-Semites on the Pampas

From the Washington Post‘s editorial page of April 23rd (“Argentina’s President Resorts to Anti-semitic Conspiracy Theories“):.

WHAT DO lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the director of a Washington think tank have to do with hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and the Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who diedmysteriously in January? Well, according to Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, they are all part of a “global modus operandi” that “generates international political operations of any type, shape and color.” They “ ‘contribute’ to financial attacks or simultaneous international media operations, or even worse, covert actions of various ‘services’ designed to destabilize governments.”

It is sad to hear the paranoid fantasies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion echoed in the words of any public figure. It is more disturbing still when that figure is the leader of a nation of 43 million people. It is positively horrifying when that leader is responsible for the lives and well-being of 300,000 Jews.

But it should, perhaps, not be surprising. The Germano – Argentine community was very proud of its support for the Third Reich during World War II, and was an important factor in keeping Argentina neutral during that conflict. Colonel Juan Peron and his successors were arguably sympathetic with the aims and methods of National Socialism, and there was no shortage of Nazi refugees who found their way to Argentina during Peron’s rule. Indeed, Argentina was without equal in serving as a haven for unrepentant Nazis after the war, and not rocket scientists or former Luftwaffe pilots, but the blood-drenched scum who made up the core of the Gestapo, the SS, and the other organizations who carried out die Endlösung der Judenfrage. We cannot ignore that the Argentine president is a scion of this community.

I say this not to cast aspersion, but to raise a flag: as we all contemplate what must be done to save the Jews of Europe from the resurgence of anti-Semitic hatred, let us not forget the Jews of Argentina.

Ban the Snip, Ban the Tribe

In Europe’s Assault on Jewish Ritual Ben Cohen at Commentary leveled a double barreled j’accuse at the governments of Europe who are determined to outlaw circumcision and Kosher meat. His point, brilliantly argued, was a simple one: if you outlaw rituals that Jews are required to conduct as a core part of their observance, you are ipso facto outlawing Judaism itself, and making its practitioners criminals.
He does not stop there. He also takes on the apologists among our co-religionists who argue an equivalence between circumcision and female genital mutilation, or FGM.
To begin with, FGM has no religious basis, unlike male circumcision. Second, the removal of the clitoris entailed by FGM results in pain and medical complications that are infinitely worse than any of the outcomes of male circumcision; equally, it’s worth recalling that the benefits of male circumcision in fighting AIDS, as highlighted by the World Health Organization, are manifestly absent in the case of FGM. Third, the vast majority of men who undergo circumcision grow up unaware of the operation, whereas women subjected to FGM suffer hugely from the consequences for their entire lives.
Both his article and his response to a critical reader are worth a read.

Anti-Semitism and Free Speech

Let’s be realistic: anti-Semitism is already being discussed on campus behind the thinning veil of”anti-Zionism.” It is time for us to flush the haters into the open, compel them to drop their pretense, and say what they really mean. Frankly, I’d rather be able to see my enemy in the clear than have him camouflaged behind the fig leaf of BDS or “Palestinian” nationalism.

If we are going to allow anti-Semitism (whether open or under the rubric of anti-Zionism) to enter the legitimate realm of campus discussion, we must also allow open and free criticism of Islam, Christianity, the Queen, radical feminism, and every other sacred cow on campus.

And while we are doing so, let us recommit ourself to free speech. Let’s stop protecting each other from hurt feelings and grow some thick skin. The existence of the university as something distinct from the fifth through eighth years of high school is the need to expose young adults to all kinds of ideas so that they can improve their critical reasoning. Otherwise college becomes like the Internet: four years of your life spent with a bunch of like-minded people.

On the Mideast and Betrayal

Iran Remains the Threat in the Middle East :: Middle East Forum.

A fascinating read generally by Professor Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. It is a short but poignant dip into understanding why focusing on ISIS as the main threat in the region may miss the real problem.

But apart from that, I read this passage with some fascination:

Moreover, many of the Arab states failed to modernize and deliver basic services, allowing for alternative Islamist structures to do a better job in providing education, medical and social work services to the impoverished masses.

If that sound familiar, the Palestinian Authority has been accused of the same. Inbar continues:

It is worth noting that the Muslim Brotherhood was established as early as 1928. Ever since, it has developed grassroots by trying to take care of the masses, while subverting the statist order in Muslim states with the goal of building a new Caliphate. Pan-Arabism – a popular ideological inclination among the Arab elites – also undermined the legitimacy of the statist order, reinforcing Pan-Islamist impulses.

All of this suggests something rather nefarious. It implies that there is an Arab elite that is cynically using the Arab refugees from Israel in an effort to drive the Jews out of the region, thus clearing the way for a Caliphate that includes Israeli territory. The Arab refugees (“Palestinians”) would get their own state for a brief moment, only to be absorbed into the new Caliphate, their rights forgotten.

That’s a nasty scenario, it borders on the aluminum-foil-yarmaluke-under-the-watch-cap paranoid, and I am not sure I buy it. But I will file it away, because it bears watching. As the region faces the triple threat of a resurgent Persian empire from Tehran, the scourge of ISIS, and the neo-Ataturkian ambitions of the Turks, I suspect fault lines long buried beneath a sea of anti-Zionism are about to rear their heads again.

 

The European Left and False Equivalence

Both Jews and Muslims deserve to live their lives in Europe. But only Jews are being murdered on the streets of European capitals simply for being Jewish. That The Guardian and Simon Tisdall believe that there is some false equivalence between Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe demonstrates just how warped their ideologically inspired view of this serious situation is.

via Copenhagen terror: They just don’t get it | Simon Plosker | The Blogs | The Times of Israel.

Why the UN’s Report on Gaza was Horsefeathers

Even with its discredited chairman gone, the new UN report on the Gaza war will be every bit as biased. Such reports are dictated far in advance—by strong-minded people you’ve never heard of.

via Why the Schabas Report Will Be Every Bit as Biased as the Goldstone Report – The Tower – The Tower.

Superb article and a must read by the Executive Director of UN Watch.

“We No Longer Have a Place in France”

David Tibi, the then leader of Paris’s main Jewish umbrella group, left last July. As he told the Jewish Chronicle: “There is an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the streets. My daughter was attacked in the tramway, so was my son. The aggressors made anti-semitic comments and pushed them around. We no longer have a place in France.”

via Antisemitism in France: the exodus has begun – Telegraph.

When the equivalent of the president of the Jewish Federation of a modern European capital city believes that there is no longer a place of Jews in France, we have to help get our people out.