Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Justice Of Israel's Battle

The Jewish State

If Israel's military operation in Gaza to root out terrorists and its infrastructure has shown anything it is that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the world, notably among those who call themselves Leftists. But they have loss the argument, which makes them more nasty, and more brutish. In the realm of mid-east politics, their arguments are not only dangerously foolish, but also irrelevant, which is what Jonathan S.Tobin has pointed out rather persuasively in Commentary:

Tobin writes:
That is why the energy expended by so many American liberals on behalf of projects designed to pressure Israel’s government to make more concessions to the Palestinians is not merely wrongheaded. It’s utterly irrelevant to the realities of both the Middle East and the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. Groups such as J Street that are predicated on the notion that Israel must be saved from itself by principled liberal critics are treated as both serious and representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media. But that group has little to say about the current conflict that requires our notice. Nor are its efforts to distinguish itself from far more radical anti-Zionist groups that openly support efforts to isolate Israel economically and support protests against its right of self defense of any importance any longer.

At this moment it is no longer possible to pretend that the conflict can be wished away by Israeli concessions that would, if implemented, create another 20 Gazas in the West Bank. Nor can one rationally argue that more Israeli forbearance toward Hamas in Gaza and a less vigorous effort to take out its vast system of tunnels shielding its rocket arsenal and terror shock troops would bring the region closer to peace when the only way to give that cause a chance is predicated on the elimination of Hamas.

If, at some point in the indefinite future, the Palestinians turn on Hamas and its less radical allies and embrace a national identity that is not inextricably linked to Israel’s elimination, perhaps then we can resume the debate about settlements and borders that J Street craves. But until that unlikely event happens, it is imperative that Americans realize that the J Street critique of Israel that is often echoed by some in the Obama administration and throughout the left is over. The only question to be asked today is whether you stand with Israel’s right to defend itself or not. Jews and others who consider themselves friends of the Jewish state must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate. Viewed from the perspective of the last week’s events here in Israel, anything else is a waste of time.
Nothing further can be added, other than if you care about the values of democracy and classical liberalism—as I strongly and passionately do—then you, as Tobin says, " must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate." Now is not the time to be silent.

For the rest, go to [Commentary]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Apollo 11: 45 Years Later

The Lunar Landing

Neil Armstrong descending the nine-rung ladder of the lunar module on July 20, 1969.
Photo Credit: NASA;
Polaroid image of slow scan television monitor at Goldstone Station. S69-42583. Source: NASA
On July 20, 1969, I was 11; I remember this day well. Our whole family gathered that mid-afternoon (around 4 pm) in the living room in front of our b&w console TV watching the lunar landing and later on that evening (around 11 pm) the lunar walk of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Michael Collins was piloting the command spacecraft); who can forget the immortal words that Armstrong said when taking his first steps on the moon. It was one those unforgettable moments that you always remember. For more of that day and the Space Race, see here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Engineering Chabad's Publishing House: The Rebbe

Hasidic Life

The Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1954: Seeman writes: "The energy of modern Chabad stems in large part from the way in which Rabbi Schneerson managed to combine the distribution and publicity-minded ethos of American publishing with ritual models embedded deep in Chabad theology."
Photo Credit: TheRebbe.org/Chabad.org
Source: JRB
In an article in the Jewish Review of Books, Don Seeman writes on how Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, started and guided a publishing empire that brought Hasidic discourse to a wider audience of not only followers of Chabad but to other Jews interested in delving into the history and knowledge of Hasidim's most successful and well-known Jewish sect.

Seeman, associate professor of religion and Jewish studies at Emory University, writes in "Publishing Godliness: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Other Revolution; July 16, 2014:
When Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson arrived in the United States in 1941, his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, asked him to head the new Chabad publishing house, Kehot. It was an inspired decision. A prodigious scholar and bibliophile, the future Rebbe devoted himself passionately to the task of spreading the “wellsprings” of Hasidic teaching “outward” (hafatzat ma’ayanot chutzah). Although Rabbi Schneerson’s charismatic personal leadership and the global network of shluchim, or emissaries, he established as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe have received a great deal of attention in the recent discussions occasioned by his 20th yahrzeit and the recent biographies by Joseph Telushkin, Chaim Miller, and Adin Steinsaltz, his work as an editor and publisher has been relatively neglected. Yet, it is in the light of this work that some of his most ambitious lifelong goals must be understood.

Chabad is often described as the most intellectual of the Hasidic schools that first arose in 18th-century Eastern Europe. While other Hasidic groups are designated today almost exclusively by the names of their towns of origin— Kotzk, Breslov, Chernobyl—only Chabad has come to be known for the distinctive form of contemplative divine service it promoted, as well as the town (Lubavitch) in which it once flourished. The term Chabad is an acronym for the three cognitive faculties (Chochmah, Binah, and Da’at) that link the human to the divine in Jewish mystical psychology. While other Hasidic schools have tended to concentrate on emotional experience, especially in ecstatic prayer, Chabad leaders have always insisted that feeling follows thought. They have remained focused, moreover, on the radical demand to make “godliness,” as Rabbi Schneerson would later write, “visible to eyes of flesh.”

The contemplative study of Chabad texts was meant, among other things, to make the absolute contingency of the world upon divine vitality perceptible to the reader. This, in turn, would help to make this “lower” world a fitting “habitation” (dirah ba-tachtonim). Yet while the Tanya, written by the movement’s founder Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and a few other key Chabad texts became well-known even outside of Hasidic circles, most of the tracts written by successive generations of Chabad leaders remained in manuscript form, passed from hand to hand as precious heirlooms. On his deathbed the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, reportedly told his son and successor, “my soul I return to my Maker, the ksavim [manuscripts] I leave to you.”
The Rebbe worked tireless and intelligently, and might I add with heart and passion, to build a publishing empire, to bring Hasidic thought and discourse into as many Jewish hands as there were Jews. Part of his success might be attributed to his innate talent for making leaders of men and women, and for them to internalize the importance of his vision; and part of his success might be attributed to his engineering skills, where he was able to efficiently utilize his seemingly unlimited energy for a higher purpose.

For more, go to [JRB].

Saturday, July 19, 2014

George Eliot, The Jews & Zionism

Jewish Affairs

George Eliot [1819-1880]: In a letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Eliot writes: “As to the Jewish element in “Deronda,” I expected from the first to last in writing it, that it would create much stronger resistance and even repulsion than it has actually met with. But precisely because I felt that the usual attitude of Christians towards Jews is—I hardly know whether to say more impious or more stupid—in the light of their professed principles, I therefore felt urged to treat Jews with such sympathy and understanding as my nature and knowledge could attain to."
Photo Credit & Source: The Forward

In a book review article of Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, Lawrence Grossman in The Forward (June 17, 2009) examines the relationship that British novelist George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) had with the Jews and why she felt morally compelled, it seems, to raise the question of a Jewish national homeland; Eliot was a Zionist before the word came into existence.

Eliot not only remains one of the greatest British writers of the nineteenth century, she ranks among my favourites—a woman of high intellect, morality and sense of humour.

Grossman, editor of the American Jewish Year Book, writes in "Eliot's Zionism Before Zionism":
Eliot, like Himmelfarb, turned her literary attention to Jews late in life, publishing what turned out to be her last work of fiction, “Daniel Deronda,” in 1876. Several years prior to the first Zionist settlements in Palestine, and two decades before Theodor Herzl launched political Zionism, the book’s title character discovers his Jewish identity and ultimately abandons the life of a British gentleman in order to travel to “the East” and work toward the establishment of a Jewish state. Eliot returned to proto-Zionism once more in a nonfiction piece that appeared as the final essay in her last book, which appeared in 1879, the year before her death.

Why did the lionized author of “Adam Bede,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Silas Marner” and “Middlemarch,” all of which probe universal questions of morality and individual responsibility, follow them up with a treatment of the parochial “Jewish question”? That the choice of topic had deep meaning for Eliot is clear from her diaries and notebooks, which show that she studied Hebrew and read extensively about Jewish religion, customs and history in preparation for writing “Deronda.”
A people has every right to define itself; and although persecution has tragically been a constant part of Jewish history, it ought not be its defining characteristic or sentiment; after all, this is not who the Jewish People are and how they developed as both a people and a nation. The People of the Book have endured thanks in large part to the Book that records and recounts its beginnings, its history.

With such a resonating thought, Grossman ends this essay with an idea that requires wider currency, if not understanding and possible acceptance:
Himmelfarb nevertheless believes that the message of “Daniel Deronda” deserves a rehearing, “that Israel is not merely a refuge for desperate people, that the history of Judaism is more than the bitter annals of persecution and catastrophe…. It was not the anti-Semite who ‘creates the Jew.’ It was Judaism, the religion and the people, that created the Jew."
To that I say, Amen.