March 17, 2014
Holocaust survivors hand gift baskets to asylum seekers

From the article:

A group of 20 Holocaust survivors arrived on Monday at the Population and Immigration Authority Bureau in Tel Aviv to distribute water and Purim gift baskets to the hundreds of asylum seekers who have been waiting outside the bureau to renew their visas.

The initiative to involve Holocaust survivors, as well as workers and volunteers of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, came about after many of them noticed the harsh conditions asylum seekers have been facing in recent weeks.

Batya Rapaport, a 75-year-old Holocaust survivor, explained that this is an initiative by survivors and the foundation’s workers “who every day see people waiting for hours in the rain, in the cold, and in unbearable conditions. As a Holocaust survivor it raises thought, it takes you back to a time in which you were constantly chased and your life was in danger.”

According to Rapaport, who as a child escaped Warsaw Ghetto before it was eliminated, the survivors seek to convey a message: “Beyond politics, we want to say that human beings cannot overlook the suffering of other people.”


"When I saw the people waiting here my heart broke," Esther Miron, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor told Ynet. "When I see people who fled their homes and were left with nothing, I cannot stay silent – I was in that situation too, we too were refugees. The Israeli society has a history and that is why we cannot stay indifferent to human suffering; that should be our primary thought. We established a country here to set a moral example.” Hungary-born Miron was deported during the Holocaust to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where many of her family members were murdered.

February 18, 2014

There is no question that Charles H. Manekin is a rarity. Not because he is an Orthodox Jew who keeps the Sabbath, refraining from driving, turning on lights, even riding in elevators on Saturdays. Rather, this philosophy professor at the University of Maryland is rare because he believes that his Orthodox faith calls him to take stands against Israel.

Professor Manekin, 61, became Orthodox in college and became an Israeli citizen in the 1980s. Yet in an interview this week, he denounced Israel’s “excessive reliance” on military force, its treatment of Arab citizens and its occupation of the West Bank. Although not a member of the American Studies Association, he was pleased when the group voted in December not to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions — the “academic boycott.” He is “sympathetic” to B.D.S., as the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel is known.

“As a religious Jew,” he said, “I am especially disturbed by the daily injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians.”


Mark Oppenheimer.  Oppenheimer also interviewed Corey Robin, a Jewish Political Science professor at Brooklyn College, who writes, “There are lots of ways to be Jewish, but worshiping a heavily militarized state seems like a bit of a comedown from our past…I love being Jewish. I just don’t love the state of Israel.”

January 19, 2014

Interesting story from haaretz:

What’s so unnerving about New York’s new Central Synagogue rabbi? It’s not that she’s the first Asian-American rabbi, or that she’s a woman, or that she’s only 41. It’s because she talks about God. After becoming senior rabbi at one of America’s biggest Reform synagogues, Angela Buchdahl tells Haaretz about the challenges ahead.

11:12am  |   URL:
Filed under: politics judaism 
January 17, 2014
Struggles With Zionism

Ned Rosch discusses why it was difficult for him growing up to not side with the State of Israel in the realm of politics:

Named after a Holocaust victim, I grew up in a family where commitment to traditional Judaism was only exceeded by our reverence for Zionism, and where Israel was the remarkable manifestation of a 2000-year-old dream come true.  Zionism was in the air, and Israel was a significant part of what it meant to be Jewish, for if the Holocaust broke our hearts, the creation of Israel was our redemption.

I thought I was being open-minded when I held to the conviction that there were two legitimate claims to the same land, and that was why it was so unsolvable. What was really unsolvable was the battle that raged in my heart. I had become a progressive on every issue, except one. I marched for civil rights, women’s rights, and an end to war.  But when it came to Israel-Palestine, internally I was torn up. [The Government of] Israel had ethnically cleansed the indigenous population, but how could I turn my back on my people after the thousands of years of suffering Jews had endured?

My dual-narrative world began to unravel when a friend challenged me to see not two conflicting narratives, but one history of what actually happened. His challenge took me on one of the great journeys of my life – the struggle to fundamentally reconcile my politics around Israel-Palestine with my values.

Rosch continues:

I came to understand that my liberation as a Jew is intrinsically bound up with the liberation of Palestinians, and that the Jewish tradition of “justice, justice thou shall pursue” required me to stand with Palestinians in their struggle. In doing so, I was not only not turning my back on my people, I was upholding Judaism’s highest values, and reclaiming them for myself in a deeply meaningful way.

Rosch also discusses the relationship between anti-semitism in criticism of Israel:

It is imperative to understand that being critical of Israel is not tantamount to anti-semitism. If people are engaged in this struggle because they dislike Jews, they likely are anti-semites. If, however, they do this work because they believe in justice, that is hardly anti-semitic. It’s called having a conscience. What part of supporting an oppressed people is against Jewish teachings?

A Progressive Jewish lawyer whom I studied under in law school recently wrote an op-ed that conveyed the same sentiment:

As a Jew, I reject the notion that criticism of the Israeli government constitutes anti-Semitism. Such a view trivializes the history of anti-Semitism.  The policies of the Israeli government — including illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and limitations on the academic freedom of Palestinian students and academics — are wrong. The Israeli government does not speak for me. Their polices do not reflect the lessons I’ve learned from my Jewish heritage or from the historical persecution and genocide to which Jews have been subjected. There are strands of Jewish identity that have long stood for peace and justice and that have seen commonalities among different groups faced with oppression. This is represented today by groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, of which I am a member, and by the many Jewish organizations and individuals in Israel who support Palestinian rights.

I think it’s important to highlight these perspectives because it helps shed light on the struggles many people have with Zionism as it relates to Jewish identity.  Many people who dislike the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians nonetheless fervently believe in Israel’s right to exist.  And since there are people in the world who would like to see Israel wiped off the map, it can be difficult to criticize Israel’s policies without feeling like one is necessarily threatening Israel’s existence.  

Nonetheless, there must be room for legitimate criticisms of the Israeli Government, just as there must be room for a legitimate debate about whether those policies reflect Jewish values.  Without these vital strains of dialogue, Israel will risk becoming further isolated from the international community, and less likely to embody the democratic values that its government purports to uphold.

h/t Jewish Voice For Peace

August 14, 2013
Gun Control And Holocaust Appropriation

Via priceofliberty, I encountered this quote from Gus Cotey Junior of Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership :

“[…] The inalienable and fundamental right to keep and bear arms which is enumerated by (but actually predates) the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not about hunting, gun collecting, or target shooting. Its purpose is to ensure that every responsible American personally possesses the means to defend the Republic from all forms of tyranny, within and without. It is what permits the other nine Amendments in the Bill of Rights to be more than mere hollow phrases on a piece of paper. Its free exercise is the antithesis of serfdom and the only meaningful form of holocaust insurance known to man. We must never insult and degrade the spirits of our Founding Fathers by permitting the Second Amendment, the pillar of freedom, to be destroyed by the cold flame of legislative ink.”

Whatever the merits of gun ownership, I have to push back against the idea of gun ownership as “Holocaust insurance.”  It’s problematic for a number of reasons.

Referring to the Second Amendment as “Holocaust insurance” is insulting to the survivors of the Shoah.  It assumes that if the Jews of Europe had simply armed themselves, they could have prevented their own genocide.  This necessarily implies that the Jews of Europe who did not seek to arm themselves must not have had the will to forcefully resist Hitler’s Reich (if they did, why didn’t they do so?).  

Ari Kohen once referred to this sort of thing as "playing politics with Auschwitz."  Michael Moynihan wrote a great article last year explaining why invoking the specter of Nazi Germany is a bad argument against gun control:

In his book It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong, [Andrew] Napolitano argues that Kristallnacht, the 1938 orgy of anti-Jewish violence that killed 1,000 people across the Reich, could only have happened to an unarmed minority. He further claims that the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising demonstrates that “those able to hold onto their arms and their basic right to self defense were much more successful in resisting the Nazi genocide.” According to Napolitano, members of the Jewish resistance in Warsaw “were able to kill about three hundred members of the German military and hold them off for almost a month,” from which he concludes that if other Jews “were able to maintain arms and fight for their lives like those of the [resistance] did, then perhaps the six million Jews would never have suffered their tragic horrific fate.”

Regardless of one’s view of Napolitano’s broader defense of gun ownership, his invocation of the Holocaust is factually and logically flawed. First, only around 20—not 300—Germans were killed during the Warsaw Uprising (historian Peter Longerich estimates that the Nazis “suffered several dozen fatalities”), while approximately 13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto, and the 50,000 surviving captives were quickly deported to concentration camps. Second, it is optimistic to think that revolt from poorly armed, poorly trained, and undermanned citizens against the mighty German military would have substantially altered the fate of German or Eastern European Jews.

What people often forget is that Hitler’s scapegoating of Jews could not have happened without the latent anti-semitism that still existed in most of Europe at the time.  Oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany thrived on a critical mass of popular consent that derived its existence from anti-semitism, which was exacerbated by the political and economic humiliation of Germany after World War I.   As Herman Goering said at Nuremburg:

We repeatedly called on the people to express unequivocally and clearly what they thought of our system, only it was in a different way from that previously adopted and from the system in practice in other countries. We chose the way of a so-called plebiscite. We also took the point of view that even a government founded on the Leadership Principle could maintain itself only if it was based in some way on the confidence of the people. If it no longer had such confidence, then [we] would have to rule with bayonets, and the Fuehrer was always of the opinion that that was impossible in the long run-to rule against the will of the people.

When your own neighbors are conspiring against you to mobilize State power to your detriment, it becomes difficult to argue that an armed minority of citizens can somehow break their chains if only they had guns to defend themselves.  This would have simply given the Nazi regime all the justification it needed to exterminate the Jews wholesale, rather than slowly over time under the pretense of “labor camps.”  Uniform armed resistance by European Jews would have simply validated Nazi propaganda about Jews being a subversive element in German society, and made genocide that much easier to accomplish with the consent or toleration of non-Jewish European citizens. 

This is why gun ownership would not have saved European Jews from the Holocaust.  The State was not the only enemy of the Jews during the Third Reich.  The oppression of European Jews during the Third Reich was a product of both private anti-semitism as well as State oppression.  Furthermore, several well-armed and adequately supplied European military forces were unable to stop Nazi Germany.  It is therefore strange to suggest that a few gun-owning Jews could have stopped them.  An organized armed Jewish rebellion would have simply sped up the genocide through direct confrontations with a superior military force—and it would have been done with the fuller consent and toleration of non-Jewish citizens.

Again, this is not an argument for or against gun control per se.  It is simply an argument against the idea that gun control was the reason 6 million Jews died during World War II.  There is a reasonable case to be made that broader gun rights are a good thing.  The idea that it could have prevented the Holocaust is not one of them.

May 14, 2013
"If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness."

A phrase that was carved on the walls of a concentration camp cell during WWII by a Jewish prisoner (via onlytheilluminatisurvive)


(Source: notclarissa, via brooklynmutt)

December 18, 2012

“The Hebrew Bible [Torah] makes only one reference to abortion, and this is by implication. Exodus 21:22-23 states: “And if two men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, accordingly as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, thou shalt give life for life.”

There is a significant parting of the ways in the interpretation of this passage between Judaism and Catholicism which will, in turn, mark the much more lenient rulings on abortion of the former and the much more severe views of the latter. According to the ancient Rabbis, the text is to be read simply as written. The Bible talks of a woman who is hurt by a man in a fight and loses her child. Monetary restitution is paid for her miscarriage. But if the woman dies, then one must take a life for a life. The passage does not say that a fetus is alive but that the mother is.


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.  The article is an excellent piece of biblical scholarship and an extraordinary exercise in intellectual honesty from a man who tends to lean politically Conservative.  I disagree with Rabbi Boteach on several issues, but this was an excellent read.

April 14, 2012
Towards A Historical Jewish-Islamic Relationship

One of those trends of history that most educated people encounter is the cyclical oppression of Jews in Europe.  Concurrent to that trend is the religious tolerance that was shown to Jews by certain Muslim nations in centuries past; especially when compared to their European counterparts.  In this vein, I recently (re?)discovered the Alhambra Decree, which you can read about via that great depository of cultural knowledge, Wikipedia:

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon (not from the Kingdom of Navarre) and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year.

Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had occupied and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula. Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered “People of the Book”’ and given special status and often thrived under Muslim rule. The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers of al-Andalus attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce.

However, things went South after the fall of the Umaayad Caliphate, which was accompnied by conquest from Catholic nation states:

The Reconquista, the gradual reconquest of Islamic Iberia by the Catholic kingdoms, was justified by a powerful religious motivation: Iberia was being reclaimed for Christendom following the fall of the Visigothic Kingdom to the Umayyad Caliphate centuries before. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal, had been regained from the Moors.

As you can imagine, things only got worse from there:

Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Catholicism; they were commonly called conversosNew Christians, or marranos. At first these conversions seemed an effective solution to the cultural conflict: many converso families met with social and commercial success. But eventually their success made these new Catholics unpopular with some of the clergy of the Church and royal hierarchies.

After the expulsion, most of the Spanish Jews who didn’t convert fled to Northern Africa, Turkey, Serbia, and Middle Eastern Mizrahi communities.

As I was reading about the Alhambra Decree, it made me reflect on just how tragic the modern conflict between Israel and the Arab community really is.  There are times and places in history when the Jewish and Muslim community had a relatively benevolent relationship.  It serves as a reminder that the complicated and violent relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors need not be one of perpetual antagonism.  Obviously the unique circumstances of Israel’s genesis adds fuel to the fire that did not exist in 8th century Iberia.  But the historical cooperation of Jews and Muslims in Moorish Al-Andalus presents a vision of an abstract ideal which reminds us that such a benevolent relationship is possible.  Israel, Palestine, and their Arab neighbors need not be caught in a perpetual political struggle.  Ending that struggle may take more time (and tragically, blood) than any of us would like.  But if history is any guide, it is possible.  Hopefully, that end will come sooner rather than later.

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