Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gaza and Ferguson

In Ferguson, I think we can all agree, violence is absolutely unacceptable. And those who engage in violence should be subject to due legal process and punished. However, I think we can also all agree that the fact that some engage in violence doesn't mean that the protesters don't have legitimate grievances and that those grievances shouldn't be addressed. Further, I think we can agree that those engaging in violence, wrong as they might be, wouldn't be doing such things without the injustice present that created the underlying tension.

Now, with due disclaimers that I am not drawing a 1:1 comparison, just for a thought experiment, please replace the word "Ferguson", above, with "Gaza", and read the paragraph again.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is terrorism anyway?

DISCLAIMER: I am in NO way making excuses for the terrorism of Hamas. I'm just musing on the nature of warfare.

It's interesting - Israel is negotiating with Hamas for a long term cease-fire. So even though we say that terrorism, in the form of shooting rockets into cities indiscriminately, is not legal warfare and should only be answered with force, we nonetheless negotiate with them as if they were playing by the rules.

Of course, the idea that innocents shouldn't be targeted during wartime is a fairly recent one. For most of human history, war, people expected war to bring rape, massacres, expulsion, and people being taken into slavery. That was just the way of things. The notion of human rights didn't exist.

Now, we pretend to be more civilized. Yet only 70 years ago, the United States, which is supposed to be a bastion of human rights. dropped weapons of mass destruction on innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing between 150,000 and 200,00 people. By all definitions we use today, that was a massive and horrific act of terrorism.

People make a lot of excuses. The say there was no other way to end the war. Or that it saved millions of lives.

But can't Hamas claim the same thing? Can't they also say that they have no other way of fighting?

In my book, terrorism is terrorism. Hamas shooting rockets at Israeli cities is terrorism. And the US using the atomic bomb on Japan was also terrorism - pretty horrific terrorism at that. But the idea of terrorism is a fairly new notion. Before that, it was "all's fair in war" and "might makes right".

How do we get to a point where all players agree that targeting civilians is off the table? Will we ever get there?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Supporting Israel doesn't mean supporting the right-wing there

Earlier, on Facebook, I criticized the establishment of a new settlement in the memory of the 3 boys. I suggested that if they really wanted to honor their memory, they could give tzedaka, learn mishnayot, even establish a new yishuv inside the green line, rather than creating a political provocation for the PA at a time when Yehuda and Shomron has, thankfully, stayed relatively quiet as compared to Gaza.

Of course, a number of you strongly disagreed with me, as I expected. But one comment really bothered me, implying that since I don't live there, I shouldn't question these types of decisions.

Here's my issue with that attitude.

Even if you accept the "you're in chutz la-Artez, you can't judge the war in Gaza" argument (which I don't), this case is entirely different. This has nothing to do with protecting people.

I happen to have consistently supported the incursion into Gaza (despite the horrific consequences, which I blame on Hamas).

This has nothing to do with protecting our brothers and sisters from rockets and terror. This is a political decision to make a right-wing political point, and there is NOTHING unseemly about criticizing it.

Supporting Israel in a time of war means supporting the army and the fight against the enemy. It does NOT mean unquestioning support of damaging right wing policies.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why do we still fast on Tisha B'Av?

From 2010 (slightly edited):

There are voices that assert that we should no longer fast on Tisha B'Av, that if we wanted to rebuild the temple, we could simply do so, and that with a rebuilt Israel and a rebuilt Jerusalem, Tisha B'Av should be obsolete.

These people certainly have a point. It’s ironic to see people who live in fancy houses in Flatbush, travel to Israel on El Al several times a year, and have full religious freedoms in America begging Hashem to “end the terrible golus!”

But there’s another way of looking at it, and it’s the way I choose to look at many of our traditions. What we commemorate on Tisha B’Av isn’t just the loss of the Temple. It isn’t just a yearning for the Beit HaMikdash to be rebuilt and for sacrifices and a monarchy to be reinstituted. To tell the truth, how likely, practical, or even desirable does that really seem?

Instead, it's about something much bigger. We fast because we’ve fasted for 2,000 years. We mourn for the very real people who died for being Jews throughout our long history. We fast because our parents, their parents, and their parents fasted. Looking at the tragedies of Judaism, we also gaze at our rich and varied history.

There’s a myopia sometimes, in the way that many frum people look at Judaism. It’s a focus on a history that ended 2,000 years ago, and a focus on a future that has not yet come. There’s a lack of internalizing the richness of our history and of how Judaism (and Jews) changed and evolved and grew for millennia. It’s as if all of that time was just a holding pattern and is only religiously significant in terms of what came before and the hope of what will come.

The exile created the Judaism we have today. It’s a far different religion, and we’re a far different people, than what we were in the year 70 AD. Part and parcel of that religion is fasting on Tisha B’Av. It’s not just about the destruction, it’s about who we are now, who we were 100, 500, and 1,000 years ago. The kinot we read aren’t just about the destruction. They’re also about the time they were written in, the beautiful poetry of Eliezer HaKalir in the early medieval period or the ones written in the wake of the tragedy of our times, the Shoah.

It’s also about hope. People claim that since Eretz Yisrael is under Jewish control and we could rebuild the Temple should we choose, there’s no need to fast. But as I wrote above, yearning for the redemption isn’t just about the Temple and the monarchy. Instead, it’s about yearning and hoping for a world at peace, where war and hate are no more. It’s a vision that can transcend sectarian differences and is unencumbered by petty differences of theology. Instead it’s about hope.

And that’s why we fast.