Flight Attendants and Maimonides

As I sit here in seat 7D about 32,000 feet above the North Pacific, I am in danger of losing my superb kosher dinner as I cannot help but overhear the married gentleman in 8C shamelessly hit on each of the Japanese flight attendants (including the Purser) every time they walk past. That he was American, clearly practiced at his pitch, and more boorish than suave makes it all the worse.

I’m not going to comment on the gentleman’s marital status or his apparent readiness to set aside the Seventh Commandment: his marriage could be on the rocks, or maybe he lives in an open marriage.

But in this case, the FAs are in a position of disadvantage, in that they are obliged to serve all passengers with courtesy, especially in business class. Does any moral code make it permissible for this “gentleman” to take advantage of the flight attendants in this way? Mine does not. Maimonides makes clear that “the way of the pious and the wise is to be compassionate and to pursue justice, not to overburden or oppress a servant.”

You want to hit on flight attendants? Fine. But do it when they are off duty, at least, and can safely tell you to get stuffed without risking their livelihoods. To do any less is reprehensible.

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.

It is just this simple

“The frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance. Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion?”

– Ronald Reagan, August 23, 1984

There is no more excuse for irreligious intolerance than there is for religious intolerance.

I’m willing to say “live and let live.”

Are you?

The Other Side of the Coin

Religion is at its core a philosophy designed to answer questions that science cannot. Science is a methodology to describe what and how. Any effort by scientists to disprove religion takes them into territory wherein they don’t belong, just as any effort by theologians to disprove science takes THEM into territory wherein they don’t belong.

Knowledge and Morality

Review: Mr. Brooks’s Miracle Elixir | The National Interest.

From the review of David Brooks‘ Book The Social Animal, (which is now ensconced behind TNI’s paywall), comes this interesting tidbit:

A great deal in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology remains speculative and controversial. Where they seem reasonably well established, the findings of these new sciences do not always support Brooks’s conception of virtue. Recent inquiry—as well as centuries of literature—may suggest that we should favor “the idea that we have multiple selves over the idea that we have a single self”; but it is hard to square this plural view of selfhood with old-fashioned notions of character. Advancing knowledge may undermine simpleminded rationalism, but it also undercuts traditional morality. As to the overall impact that science may have on human values, no one knows.

Emphasis mine.

More knowledge is not more character, or better character. Hence, more knowledge does not make us better people per se, and is thus no substitute for traditional morality.

Morality and knowledge are complimentary, not substitutes.

An Air Force Colonel Calls for Holocaust Rememberance

In a short but clearly heartfelt article in this month’s issue of The Wright Stuff, a monthly publication of the U.S. Air Force’s Air University, Colonel Michael Underkofler calls on his fellow airmen to remember the Holocaust during the Yomim HaShoah this month.

Col. Underkofler, who commands the 514th Air Mobility Wing, reminds us all that the Holocaust does not just hold lessons for Jews, but for everyone as we consider the dangers of intolerance and prejudice.

Seeking a Solution to the Gay Marriage Issue that is Fair to All Sides

One of the primary justifications used by advocates for legalizing marriage between members of the same sex is that the legal and financial protections normally accorded to spouses in heterosexual unions is not available to same-sex life partners.

One way to address this without hollowing out the institution of marriage as practiced by people of faith (or rending the American polity) would be to recognize in both law and language a clear distinction between civil unions and religious marriages. A civil union would be a strictly legal binding process, whereas a religious marriage would take place within the laws and customs of a faith. The state would have no power to order a priest, imam, minister, or rabbi to conduct a same-sex union, and each religion/order would be free to address the question independently.

Thus, to the extent that there needs to be a civil framework for unions occurring outside theologically acceptable bounds, we need to arrive at a common (read “national” as opposed to “state”) set of legal principles so as to keep distinct sanctified and codified relationships. This is fair. What is not fair or correct, however, is a state-led effort that by word or deed dilutes the importance or value of a faith-based marriage. While the state may decide to place legal equivalence on faith-based marriage and civil unions, they cannot legislate a moral equivalence. To attempt to do so would see the government operating outside the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

It is important for us to get past this debate because we must stop focusing on the marital process and turn our focus where it belongs: on the creation and support of healthy, nurturing families.

Citizens Untied

If anything proves the inadequacy of law alone to guide current political outcomes, it is the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that essentially bestowed upon corporations the same status in a polity as human beings.

We understand, we intuit that a corporation does not deserve to be treated equally with a human. But rationality and law do not. Thus fictitious beings serving as sock-puppets for their owners – companies – are given a voice in our future.

How does this jibe with “one person, one vote?”

Law is an essential but insufficient defense for liberty.

The Rebbe and American Values

Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Image via Wikipedia

In God We Trust: A Handbook of Values for All Americans, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Compiled from talks and written works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (of blessed memory) makes a reasoned case for all in America to commit to a set of values that come from a place beyond man.

The Rebbe’s goal is not to convert anyone, make a case for Judaism, or suggest that America should become the kind of theocracy-in-fact that many fundamentalist Christians seem to support.

Rather, he suggests that the nation is better when we as individuals subscribe to and live by a set of values that is not subject to change at the drop of a hat. For those of us inclined to see the wisdom in what the Rebbe says, he makes an entirely satisfactory case. The Rebbe’s focus always was first and foremost to his own chassidim, his followers, and given that much of what was written here came from imprecations to the Lubavitchers in the original Yiddish, some of the material does not deliver the same force with outsiders as it might.

This is by no an aspersion on the Rebbe: when the occasion arose during his life (which, as he aged, was often) to counsel those of other faiths, he did so with a profundity and empathy that was as accessible as it was uncannily accurate. Those occasions – which came in primarily in the form of correspondence and personal meetings – are not captured here. If there is a weakness, it is in the necessary exclusion of those works (they were personal, after all) from the compilation.

Others, some of whom were the Rebbe’s Chassids, others who were not, have set out explicitly to lay out universal values, and have arguably done better. Denis Prager, Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, and (Think Jewish), to name a very few, have concerned themselves much more with the matter of the wider audience.

But what the work does convey is what is to me one of the most profound beauties of Judaism: its staunch refusal to position itself as the sole legitimate faith, and its explicit recognition that there are many nations, each with it’s own path to God.

Enriching the Haskalah

A Reform synagogue with mixed seating and equa...

Image via Wikipedia

While the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment movement, probaly saved millions of Jews from total assimilation, in its rejection of the Oral Law and much tradition as well as practice, did it not deny generations of Reform jews all knowledge of the richness of their legacy?

What I must wonder is how many we lost because of a shallow understanding of Judaism, and an ignorance of the true depths of its heritage.

Is it not time to consider turning the tide, to consider bringing to Reform and Conservative Jews a greater exposure to the parts of their heritage arbitrarily cast aside a century and a half ago?

Cutting Debate

The New York Times has run a piece in their Motherlode blog profiling the retired San Francisco hotel credit manager who is trying to make circumcision illegal. The comments are, mostly, a tiresome litany that belie the bankruptcy of a society that is slowly stripping itself of its moral foundation.

It is to me axiomatic that the latent tyranny of a majority (or vocal minority) with the best of intentions is the greatest shadow across the American polity. One can only believe this individual’s campaign hides a broader agenda. Yet no one is asking that question. To call an Atheist intolerant would be an unacceptable affront.

A Better China

Success of the Rule of Law depends on two factors:

  • Fair and effective enforcement of the laws, and
  • A population that is morally and ethically healthy.

China has neither.

Our quest must be to change that, not through evangelism, but by quietly demonstrating success does not need entail legal chicanery or moral bankruptcy. That’s a lot tougher than preaching, but it is the only way that will really work.