Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Rebellion of Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. By Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

The rebellion of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. By Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Jerusalem Post, July 9, 2013.

Where rabbis feared to go, he traveled on his own to challenge not only the Jewish community but the world at large.

Reversing the Decay of London Undone. By Jonathan Sacks. NJBR, January 2, 2013.


Let it be said. Jonathan Sacks has been a rebellious chief rabbi.
Over the years, most of us rabbis have become irrelevant on a global level. We wanted to be spiritual leaders, teachers, serve our congregants, and become heads of yeshivot. But we shunned the idea of going beyond these noble tasks and taking on the world.
That religious faith was challenged worldwide as never before did not bother us. It was for the goyim to deal with. We buried our heads in the sand and lived happily ever after.
By doing so, however, we robbed the rabbinate of one of its most powerful tasks: to challenge, disturb, rebel and send a strong, passionate message that is not always to our liking.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once observed that religion has to function like a thunderstorm, but that over the years it invented sundry lightening-conductors and lost its purpose. The same is true about the rabbinate. It has become a pleaser, a comforter, as opposed to a biting critic of our moral failure and our spiritual and intellectual mediocrity.
The rabbinate was meant to be a test tube in which its own foundations could be challenged and new ideas experimented with. It was supposed to redeem Judaism to once again become a vibrant experience.
Instead it denied its task of being “a light unto the nations” and decided to be a dwindling night-lamp.
That is why Rabbi Jonathan Sacks became a rebellious man. He was bold enough to challenge the very institution he headed. Where we rabbis feared to go, he traveled on his own to challenge not only the Jewish community but the world at large.
His confidence in the power of Judaism and its infinite wisdom enabled him to enter the lion’s den, taking on famous philosophers, scientists, religious thinkers and sociologists and showing them that Judaism had something to teach that they couldn’t afford to miss if they wanted to be at the forefront of philosophy and science.
He showed us that science had to justify itself in the eyes of religious belief, and not just the other way around. His observations disturbed and put arrogant people, who spoke in the name of science and philosophy, in their place.
The truth is that Rabbi Sacks left the chief rabbinate years ago and went his own way, becoming a lonely chief rabbi, little appreciated by his own colleagues. While we rabbis convinced ourselves that to engage and challenge the academic world was not possible, the chief rabbi showed us that we were using this argument to cover up our own limitations.
We knew there were Jewish Orthodox institutions that taught how Judaism could exist in a secular world and even thrive, but to maintain that Judaism could actually challenge the scientific, philosophical and academic communities was unheard of and belonged to the sphere of wishful thinking.
Rabbi Sacks was able to do so only because he didn’t learn in conventional yeshivot. He had to discover Judaism on his own, guided by some great teachers. People can grow into outstanding leaders only when they encounter doubt, struggle with their own faith and are challenged to the extent that they nearly fall off the cliff. They cannot grow in an environment where religion is taken for granted and observance is obvious.
Of course, this is not the case for most of us, for whom a yeshiva education is crucial in order to avoid falling into the abyss; but for truly great men such institutions are only obstacles.
What Rabbi Sacks did and what few have done is to lead the ship of Torah, in full sail, right into the heart of some of the most gifted and influential people in the world. He took them all by storm. And along the way, he also disturbed the Jewish religious establishment, making him a rebel and often the object of suspicion.
When faced with the failure of the Israeli chief rabbinate, one can only admire Rabbi Sacks even more. One does not have to agree with all of his policies, decisions or philosophical insights, but nobody can doubt his contribution of many splendid theological ideas to Jewish tradition, ethics and general philosophy. The Israeli chief rabbinate, in contrast, has been silent on all these fronts since the days after chief rabbi Shlomo Goren stepped down.
Not only have its rabbis made no contribution to the development of religious thought in the general world, they have not even made an impression on the intelligentsia in Israel. This should have been their first concern, because it is the intellectuals who determine Israel’s future. The rabbis probably do not even understand some of Rabbi Sacks’ writings, since they lack all background in religious and secular philosophy, have never contemplated the issues that Rabbi Sacks struggled with, and have never learned the art of thinking independently.
They are seemingly unacquainted with works of other important monotheistic religions, with Hinduism and Buddhism, and with the writings of people such as Avraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Buber, Mordechai Kaplan, David Hartman, David Weiss Halivni, Arthur Green, Paul Tillich or Reinold Niebuhr.
With the stepping down of Chief Rabbi Sacks, British Jewry’s most illustrious institution will cease to be a world player. In whatever form the chief rabbinate will continue – and we wish the new chief rabbi every success – it will lack its influence on the broader Jewish and non-Jewish world. World Jewry has bitterly failed to educate a young man who would be able to take over the task that Rabbi Sacks had laid out for himself, and move beyond him, confronting many important matters that Rabbi Sacks couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with, correctly or incorrectly.
There is an urgent need to address the issue of the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as to ensure that Zionist rabbinical judges will sit on London’s Beit Din. It is crucial to deal with the status of women and conversion in Jewish law, as well as to see that halacha is viewed as something exciting and ennobling, not just as a dry legal system that has stagnated, becoming irrelevant to most secular and even religious Jews.
But the most important pursuit is to ensure that a highly intelligent Jewish religious voice will continue to speak to the outside world – especially to the academia and to the policy makers in government and high-ranking institutions.
British Jewry will yet regret having let Rabbi Sacks go. Although I fully understand his decision to step down – it must have occasionally been frustrating, boring and lonely at the top – his resignation is not just a loss to British Jewry but to all Jewish and non-Jewish communities the world over.
We can only hope that he will become more and more challenging, disturbing and daring. He no doubt has more up his sleeve, and we pray that he will have the courage to persist and do what needs to be done. It may sometimes be painful, but the benefit will be priceless.
Rabbi Sacks surely believes in God, but more important is the fact that God seems to believe in him, and that’s what counts. The best is yet to come!

The Racist Romance of the Arab Village. By Seth J. Frantzman.

Terra Incognita: The racist romance of the Arab village. By Seth J. Frantzman. Jerusalem Post, July 9, 2013.

This romance of the “primeval” landscape, juxtaposed with Israeli activists and European NGOs who tell their story and save the villagers, is a classic motif.

Why Does Washington Still Think Egypt Was Its to Lose? By Aaron David Miller.

Lost. By Aaron David Miller. Foreign Policy, July 9, 2013.

Why does Washington still think it can control what happens in Egypt?

Radical Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe Supports a Binational One-State Solution. By Nigel O’Connor.

Q&A: Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. By Nigel O’Connor. Al Jazeera, July 5, 2013.


AJ: Do you consider yourself a supporter of the one-state solution?
IP: Yes I do. I believe in the one-state solution as the only just and functional settlement for the conflict. I think anyone who is more than five minutes on the ground in the West Bank realises there is no space there for an independent Palestinian state. And moreover, anyone who ponders a bit deeper about the reasons for the conflict understands that only such a political outfit could respond to all aspects of the conflict: the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948, the discrimination against the Palestinians in Israel and the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
AJ: How do you assess the success of the campaign for a one-state solution?
IP: The main success of the campaign was to offer a new conversation about an alternative. Its strong aspects are that it relates much better to the reality that unfolded in Palestine since the late 19th century, where we have now a third generation of settlers who did not succeed in emptying the country they invaded, and both sides have to reframe their relationship on this mutual basis: you cannot get rid of the settlers or the native population.
Its second advantage is the total failure, after more than 65 years, of attempting to partition Palestine in various forms and junctures as the best solution. We now know it is not going to work, and an alternative would have to be found.
Its disadvantage is that it is not yet a popular movement, and has no inroads and power bases in the political structures on both sides. Also, the international community and the Arab world do not support this idea – although I think public opinion in the world and in the region supports it full-heartedly.
AJ: How can such an objective be realised if it is largely confined to intellectual circles, while seeming to hold little support among ordinary Palestinians or Israelis?
IP: The power of these ideas lies in two blueprints: one of an intensive work that has begun to disseminate the idea among those who are already part of representative bodies, especially among the Palestinians and external bodies. The second: there is a need to show, even theoretically at this point, how life would look like in all its aspects within one political outfit.
AJ: How do you characterise the Israeli political establishment’s approach to achieving its objectives in the Palestinian territories, and what do you see these as constituting?
IP: The objectives today are not different from those set by the Zionist movement very early on, when it had appeared in Palestine: to have as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians in it as possible. The tactics keep changing. In 1948 it was achieved through ethnic cleansing; up to 1967 by imposing military rule on the Palestinian minority in Israel; after 1967 by incarcerating the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a huge mega-prison, while annexing half of the West Bank to Israel and de-Arabising it, and by Judaising the Galilee and the Negev.
These goals have not been completed because of Palestinian steadfastness and struggle, and hence they will continue to be the tactics in the 21st century.
AJ: Have you seen the nature of Israeli society change during your lifetime and, if so, would you say these changes are presenting an obstacle to achieving a just outcome to the conflict or acting as an enabler?
IP: There are two aspects that always interested me about Israeli society: one is its relationship with the Palestinians - and in extension with the Arab world, and the other the internal dynamics within the Jewish society.
On the first account I have seen very little change in the basic attitude. The Palestinians were and are seen as alien usurpers of an ancient homeland and an obstacle for a thriving and peaceful life. The wish was not to be part of the Arab world, and this included unfortunately the Arab Jews, and this produced a mentality of a besieged Western fortress in the midst of a “hostile” region. The outcome of this mentality was an intolerant, high-strung and paranoid society that believes it can only rely on military power to survive.
As for the other aspect, I grew into a relatively modest society that cared at least about the other within the Jewish society, more egalitarian and secular. It has become more polarised between Americanised and hedonistic enclaves such as Tel-Aviv, and zealous theocratic spaces such as Jerusalem and the settlements.
AJ: Are you able to give an outline of how you see any political solution arising between the leadership of the Israelis and the Palestinians? Do you see the Arab Spring as altering the situation in the Israel-Palestine conflict?
IP: If there will be no change in the local, regional or international balance of powers, the relationship is not going to change in the future. Namely, the Israelis will assassinate those leaders that will resist its dictate and expect the others at least to remain quiet about it, even if they do not express support for it in public. Thus you can condemn the Israeli settlements in E-1 in greater Jerusalem, but you cannot support a Palestinian attempt to defend it.
If, however, public opinion in the world will continue to regard Israel as the new apartheid South Africa, as it does, this can lead, in the long run, to a change in the attitude of political elites, as the Arab Spring can one day solidify a number of new governments far more committed to the Palestine issue than they are today. Then the relationship could be between the Israeli leaders representing a settler community society seeking reconciliation with the leadership of the native population. This could be a new paradigm and a far more hopeful one.

Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on Puritans, Dies at 97.

Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on Puritans, Dies at 97. By William Grimes. New York Times, July 9, 2013.

“Reality Bites” Twenty Years After. By Jim Geraghty.

“Reality Bites” for Most Generations When They Enter the Real World. By Jim Geraghty. National Review Online, July 10, 2013.

Reality Bites (1994): Official Trailer. Video. thecultbox, July 29, 2011. YouTube.

Political Islam Is Dead. By Amir Fakhravar and G. William Heiser.

Political Islam Is Dead. By Amir Fakhravar and G. William Heiser. Real Clear Religion, July 10, 2013.

Math, Science Popular Until Students Realize They’re Hard. By Khadeeja Safdar.

Math, Science Popular Until Students Realize They’re Hard. By Khadeeja Safdar. Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2013.

Conservatism and Pop Culture. By Sarah Palin and Mark Judge.

Sarah Palin Talks Pop Culture, Rock, and Conservatism. Interview with Sarah Palin by Mark Judge. Acculturated, July 8, 2013.

Obama’s Second Chance on Egypt. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Obama’s Second Chance on Egypt. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, July 7, 2013.

The last thing Egypt needs. By Richard Cohen. Washington Post, July 9, 2013. Also here.

How America can best assist Egypt now. By David Ignatius. Washington Post, July 8, 2013. Also here.

Obama blew it in Egypt — again. By Marc A. Thiessen. Washington Post, July 8, 2013. Also here.

Two American Families: A Frontline Documentary. By Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes.

Two American Families. Video. Produced by Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes. Narrated by Bill Moyers. Frontline. PBS, July 9, 2013.

Watch This: Two American Families. By Greg Kaufmann. The Nation, July 9, 2013.

The Fall of the American Worker. By George Packer. NJBR, July 4, 2013.

Watch Two American Families on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Andrew Jackson Still Rules. By Walter Russell Mead.

The Meaning of Massachusetts. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, January 21, 2010.

Andrew Jackson Still Rules — and Sarah Palin Knows It. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, December 4, 2009.

Egyptians: Stop Calling Our Revolution a Coup. By Kirsten Powers.

Egyptians: Stop Calling Our Revolution a Coup. By Kirsten Powers. The Daily Beast, July 10, 2013.

The military stepped in as a response to the outcry of the people, Egyptians tell Kirsten Powers.


Egyptians have been jubilant that their autocratic and dangerously incompetent president, Mohammed Morsi, was removed from power one week ago. But they are also frustrated with lectures from American congressional leaders and some American journalists who have characterized the Egyptian people's popular uprising as an undemocratic power grab. The Obama administration has avoided the word “coup,” which would jeopardize under U.S. law the $1.3 billion in aid we provide to the Egyptian military—but expressed “deep concern” over the ousting of Morsi.
If there was one message I heard repeatedly in speaking to Egyptians who were active in the protests, it was this: “Stop calling our revolution a coup.”
Their president, the Egyptians note, was given the opportunity to meet the demands of the people but instead delivered a defiant speech making clear he would continue to rule in an undemocratic fashion. The military removed him, and Adly Mansour, the head of the Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court is now the acting president. He issued a decree Tuesday that calls for a constitutional referendum in November, followed by parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in February.
Yes, this is messy. It’s not what Americans envision when they think about democracy. But the U.S. has been at this for centuries. It’s been a year for Egypt.
It’s important to remember that the military stepped in as a response to the outcry of the people. The legacy of Morsi’s short reign was an economy in freefall, electricity blackouts, and gas and water shortages. Morsi’s abuses were legion, but among the worst was a constitutional declaration that included the edict that “[t]he president is authorized to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve and safeguard the revolution, national unity or national security.”
Twenty-two million Egyptians risked their lives to sign the “Tamarod sheet” opposing Morsi, which included their government I.D. numbers. “I was scared when I signed it,” one 30-something Egyptian mother of two told me. Egyptians have no memory of a government that doesn’t abuse human rights and repress the people with vicious impunity. This is not signing a petition. In Egypt, signing your name to a statement opposing the government is an act of immense bravery. A reported 33 million Egyptians flooded the streets to demand the ouster of Morsi, a number vastly greater than the 13 million votes that elected him.
The idea that because Morsi was democratically elected Egyptians should wait until the next election is simplistic and shortsighted. Lucy Shafik, who protested daily in Cairo with her entire family, said via email, “If we…waited out [Morsi’s] presidency for another three years, there wouldn’t have been a country to rule anymore.” Moreover, those who turned out to call for Morsi’s ouster didn’t believe there would be any more elections if he stayed in power. “One election, one time” is something this region has seen too many times.
In a May 2013 interview, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson was asked to explain how the U.S. was helping to address human rights violations, which the Egyptian interviewer pointed out had “risen considerably since Mubarak’s ouster.” Patterson replied that, “We do not agree with claims that human rights violations are worse than ever under the new regime. It cannot be ignored that freedom of expression has improved in a number of ways under the new regime, exemplified by the media and the freedom to talk openly and publicly chastise political figures. Look at the press, or any of the political talk shows on TV: Egyptians did not have such freedoms under Mubarak.”
Two months prior to Patterson’s statement, Bassem Youssef, a popular Egyptian TV comedian sometimes called the Jon Stewart of Egypt, was charged with defaming Morsi. The LA Times reported that “more of these complaints were brought in the first few months of Morsi's rule than in all of Mubarak's 30-year reign.” The same month as Patterson’s interview, prominent Egyptian youth leader Ahmed Maher was arrested for leading protests against the Morsi government.
The U.S. has had a real knack for getting on the wrong side of history in Egypt. Maybe it's time to change that.

Our Rhetorical President’s Unserious Speeches. By Walter Russell Mead.

Our Rhetorical President’s Unserious Speeches. By Walter Russell Mead. Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2013.

Obama seems to think that eloquent words are a replacement for deeds.