The A.I. Problem

Reading an excellent article about artificial intelligence last week, I began to wonder which force was the greatest danger to Yiddishkeit: radical secularism or artificial intelligence?

But thinking about it on the plane to China the other day, I realized that they are actually two parts of the same problem.

At its worst, radical secularism is mankind’s Oedipus Complex. Kill the Father to supplant Him, to become Him. If we “kill” G-d, we take upon ourselves the power to create sentience without any obligation to pause and question whether we should do it in the first place.

Fear for any individual – or species – who places the power to do something before the wisdom to ask whether it is the right thing to do.

Seven Reasons I’ll Be On Trump’s Muslim Registry

Donald Trump’s policy advisers are discussing plans to establish a registry for Muslim immigrants in the US, a man believed to be a key member of the President-elect’s transition team has revealed.

Source: Donald Trump team ‘discussing plans for Muslim registration system’ | The Independent

If the president-elect goes ahead with this plan, we must each choose how to address it. Some will support it, and in the case of some, their reasons will be both understandable and rational. Others, including myself, will resist it in different ways. We could send our checks to the ACLU, but I think that this sort of thing demands more than a well-funded court battle: it demands a bit of moral sabotage.

As a Jew, I will be placing my name on that registry, as, I think, should every clear-thinking descendant of Abraham in the United States.  I will do it:

  1. To remember the Holocaust. We will not feed our fellow Americans into that same kind of nightmare.
  2. To remember all of the brave souls who, at the risk of their position or their lives, resisted Nazi oppression to help save Jews from the Holocaust.
  3. As an act of peace toward all Muslims everywhere, to show that whatever our disagreements, we are all brothers.
  4. Because in doing so we openly defy a government act that is at odds with the Constitution.
  5. Because I need to show my son that we are never powerless in the face of injustice.
  6. Because if we don’t, we’re next.
  7. Because G-d is Great.

 

Sportsmanship

How is it, I wonder, that we can praise a man for being a great athlete despite being a lousy sportsman? Why is it too much to expect both, especially when others on his team appear to manage that without an issue?

When we teach kids to play sports, we teach them that sportsmanship and skill are both critical components of excellence. Do we suddenly drop the sportsmanship requirement when the television and gambling stakes reach a certain level?

My sports heroes are the ones who are both fierce competitors and gentlemen or ladies at the same time. That is the gold standard. We should hold it up for all players of excellence. And, BTW, for ourselves.

Is Outreach to Muslims the Answer?

Let us call the terror in Paris what it is: Islamic violent extremism. But in doing so, Deborah Lipstadt writes, let us engage the vast majority of Muslims who are the key to stopping this scourge.

Source: Best Way To Stop Islamic Terrorism? Reach Out to Muslims. – Opinion – Forward.com

Lipstadt has a point, provided that:

  • The Muslims with whom we engage are prepared to take an active stand against violent extremists rather than simply pay lip service; and
  • That we are not afraid to engage with righteous Muslims who are both dedicated to the cause of peace and whose voices carry weight among the faithful.

There are Muslims like that. HRH King Abdullah II of Jordan leaps to mind…

Not Yet Time for Vegetarianism

“[Rav Kook wrote that] the mitzvot light the way to the perfection of the future – a time when the animals will have been transformed into humans, and humans into angels. Thus kashrut is mean to prepare us for vegetarianism, a great step forward in the moral perfection of the human race – but must not be done before its time, for the complacency and self-satisfaction it might bring. Indeed, he wrote, one could imagine a bloodthirsty tyrant who prided himself on his vegetarianism, eerily presaging Hitler.”

Yehudah Mirsky

Remembering Mumbai

I wrote this letter not long after the Mumbai tragedy. I found it recently going through my files, and I wanted to share it as we remember the events of that awful day, and mourn the martyrs we lost, including Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg and Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, OB”M, pictured. 

As we all try to come to grips with the aftermath off the tragedy in Mumbai, it is only natural that we are afflicted by feelings of anger, or sadness, or hopelessness, or despair. Each of us will feel a different combination of these, and sometimes we will feel them all at the same time.

All of these feelings find their sources in the neshama, that spark of G-dliness that on the one hand cries in pain for our loss, and on the other calls for – indeed demands – a healing of the wound that this event has torn into our nation and into the body of mankind. Whether we stand among the wreckage of what days ago was a refuge of Torah in the heart of a bustling city, or whether we sit thousands of miles away, we are gripped by the desire to do something, the desire to respond, and the frustration that comes with not knowing how.

Yet as we mourn for those we have lost, as we worry for those left behind, act we must. For there is much to do.

Despite having lived through some of the greatest horrors in the history of mankind, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Of Righteous Memory), the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, understood that not only is it fruitless to respond to darkness, hate, and anger with more of the same, it works against the very nature of the Jewish People to stand as a light among nations, a Kingdom of Priests, a Holy people.

Instead, our Rebbe taught that the way to respond to anger and hate is to reply with love, the way to respond to destruction with charity, the way to respond to despair with hope, and the way to battle the darkness is not with more darkness, but with light.

With your help, we can spread light even into the darkest corners of the world this Shabbos, and help speed the day when Moshiach comes and brings the Light of the Master of the Universe to us all.